How to Copy Edit before You Submit
Written by
Bernadette Geyer
March 2016
Written by
Bernadette Geyer
March 2016

Writers of any genre want to make a good first impression on an editor. However, if editors see typos or formatting issues as soon as they begin reading your submission, chances are they won’t read all the way to the end before rejecting it.


Chances are you’ve already spent a fair amount of time drafting and revising your work. The final step before you submit it should be to have a copy editor look at it. Of course, that costs money, unless you have a copy editor as a friend and he or she is willing to work for you for free. If it’s just not feasible for you to have someone copy edit your work for you, here are some tips to help you review your own writing before sending it to an editor or agent.


1. Eliminate double-spaces between sentences.


Inserting two spaces between sentences is a habit formed in the days when people used manual typewriters. With word processing programs, such as Microsoft Word, you only need one space following a period or other punctuation that ends a sentence. If you send an editor your story or article with two spaces between each sentence, that editor may make assumptions about you or your technological capabilities before they even read your first sentence.


2. Ensure consistency of formatting.


If you are submitting prose, check to see that your font size and type are consistent throughout the manuscript. This is especially important if you have been cutting and pasting quotes from outside sources, such as websites or emails.


Next, go through your manuscript to ensure that your line spacing and methods of indenting (or not) paragraphs remain the same from beginning to end. Are you using headers and sub-headers? Make sure you format all headers the same way, and that sub-headers are formatted in a way that is visibly different from the way headers are formatted.


When submitting poetry to an editor, you need to confirm that you are formatting consistently within a poem. If your poem starts each line with a capital letter, it’s obvious to an editor when you “forget” to capitalize a line. Are you breaking punctuation rules on purpose? Be sure you do so consistently – make a style guide for the poem if it helps – otherwise it just looks haphazard.


3. Confirm the spelling of names.


Whether you are quoting another writer, using an epigraph, dropping names in a poem, or writing a journalistic article, confirm that you are spelling a person’s name correctly. Google it, even. If it’s a foreign name, it may contain special characters or accent marks. Microsoft Word allows you to insert characters from just about any language, so there’s no excuse for referencing Gabriel García Márquez without using the accent marks in his name.


This advice also applies to the names of companies, towns, states, and countries. An editor will suspect the veracity of everything else in a journalistic article or nonfiction manuscript if you misspell the names of locations or businesses mentioned in your piece.


4. Don’t guess at the spelling and accenting of foreign words and phrases.


Many foreign words and phrases have found their way into everyday English usage. When incorporated into poetry or prose, it is often the practice to italicize these words. The first time I saw “Walla!” used instead of “Voilà!” I could not believe the author had not even bothered to check the word’s spelling. Here, too, Microsoft Word’s “insert symbol” feature enables you to use just about any foreign accent or symbol you could possibly need. An editor will know immediately if you are just being lazy.


These are good tips to follow even if you are simply posting work to your blog or an online forum. Every reader – whether it’s an editor or an anonymous blog visitor – deserves your best.

Bernadette Geyer is a writer, editor, and translator. With years of experience as an editor for a small publisher and a literary magazine, she provides copy editing services for authors who are preparing their manuscripts to send to agents or publishers. She has experience copy editing novels, poetry collections, literary anthologies, journals, websites. and newsletters. To find out more about her copy editing services, visit Geyer Editorial Services.

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