I always recommend hiring a professional editor; most writers are just ‘too close’ to their own work to catch typos, clunky sentence construction, or other mistakes that can create narrative confusion.
If you’re on a budget, however, or just plain stubborn, here are seven things to watch out for when polishing your manuscript for publication.
1. Double Spaces
Are you still typing double spaces after periods? This trend died with the typewriter. It may be hard to break old habits, but it’s worth it: continuing to use the space-space between sentences will instantly date your writing (since it’s not taught in schools anymore) and could make your publisher wonder just how ‘current’ you are on the literary scene.
2. Mis-Capitalization in Titles, Headers, and Subheads
Four types of words should never be capitalized in your titles, headers, and subheads—unless, of course, they’re the first word. These are articles (like a, an, the); prepositions (think in, out, on); conjunctions (and, but) and be verbs (is, was).
3. Passive Voice
Back to those be verbs (i.e., any form of the verb be): yes, they get your meaning across, but they’re pretty boring to read. All writing sounds better in the active voice. That means substituting action verbs for be verbs. Instead of falling back on “was” and “were” all the time, try more colorful verbs that bring to life the action on the page.
Ask three different editors, and you’re bound to get three different opinions about the Oxford comma (the comma that follows every item in a list). I highly recommend using the Oxford comma, and here’s why. [What’s wrong with the following sentence?] “I like cooking my family and my pets.”
Commas also always go before the name of any person being addressed. EX: “Can I help you, Alex?”
An em-dash is two hyphens together with no space on either side, such as: “The boy said he was hungry—but really, he’d just eaten breakfast thirty minutes ago.” Em-dashes create a pause like a comma, but stronger, and will help clarify your meaning.
One space should precede and follow each set of ellipses. EX: “ … ”
The names of books, TV shows, and movies are always italicized. Song names can be indicated by double quotes.
EX: Katy Perry’s song “Firework” was featured in the show Glee.
Italics also indicate internal thoughts.
EX: My first thought was, This has got to be a joke.
Good luck! And when in doubt, hire an editor.