From Rick:

Back in 2013, I did a three-part series on formatting your manuscript. You can look these up under the topic FORMATTING in the categories on the left of the blog. I covered a lot of material in some detail in those posts. In 2015, I did an eight-part how-to series on self-publishing that included formatting.

So why am I doing another series on the topic? Those previous series covered a lot of ground, and you’d have to slog through several posts to extract find the basics that I want to cover in this week’s and next week’s posts.

These posts will be a fairly no-nonsense set of instructions for a preliminary cleanup to prepare your book manuscript for editing. I don’t know what other editors do initially, but before I begin editing any manuscript—novel or short story—for a client or a story I’m going to publish on Fabula Argentea, I perform these basic steps.

Every manuscript I encounter has things that have snuck in—extra spaces, stray tabs, a linefeed instead of a paragraph mark. Even my own manuscripts need a bit of cleanup because it’s easy for extra spaces to creep in.

Many of these cleanups won’t matter to the editing itself, but they can mess up formatting for an ebook or an online publication in particular. Tabs in particular cause problems because they may masquerade as a space, depending on where they fall on the line, but in other places they lead to large spacing between words in ebooks and even on the printed page. Linefeeds will rarely cause problems in print, but they can cause some bizarre issues in ebooks.

Now let’s get to the actual cleanup process. Tthis should take place BEFORE you begin editing (if self-editing) or before you send it to an outside editor because you can’t be sure the editor will bother with this type of thing unless you are paying for formatting as well. The editor may simply edit and nothing more.

For Part 1, I will cover the common stuff. In Part 2, I will show you how to clean up some more sophisticated stuff. We’ll be using Word’s FIND & REPLACE. I am not going to lead you by the hand in using it. If you need more guidance check out the earlier posts. Mostly I will simply tell you what to put in the “find what” box and what to put in the “replace with” box.

If after reading the steps below you don’t want to be bothered with the cleanup, just be aware that this is just as important as the editing. A well-edited manuscript that looks bad format-wise won’t make a good impression. If you don’t do it yourself, then be sure that someone does it for you.

NOTE: The instructions below refer to any version of Word 2010 or later, and I believe they work for Word 2007 as well. In the “find what” or “replace with” instructions below “(spc)” means to type a space. For everything else, type the letters (lower case) or the characters shown. The caret mark ^ is above the “6” key.

IMPORTANT: Make sure to do all of these steps on a COPY of the original in case you mess something up badly. If you know you messed up a single step, you can UNDO it and go back through it again. Even a “replace all” can be undone. I recommend doing a SAVE after each step.

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Let’s begin…

First, turn on the SHOW/HIDE feature in Word.

Here’s an article to explain that in detail along with the various format symbols:

FORMAT MARKS IN MS WORD

1. FIRST LINE INDENTS: Eventually you will want the first line of every paragraph indented using “first line indent” NOT with tabs or spaces. The instructions below will eliminate the tabs and spaces you have used to achieve these indents. I will provide a basic fix here and a more detailed one in PART 2.

NOTE: Some first lines (like chapter titles and scene breaks) you do NOT want indented, but to ensure that everything else is, you will have to fix those separately by hand.

2. REPLACE LINEFEEDS (manual line break) WITH PARAGRAPH CHARACTER:

FIND WHAT: ^l (a lowercase ell, not a “one”)
REPLACE WITH: ^p

FIND NEXT to see if any exist. If so, REPLACE. Verify that it worked then REPLACE ALL.

Do FIND NEXT again to be sure you caught them all.

*** NOTE: Be sure you clear out the FIND and REPLACE boxes before each new search because Word leaves the previous things in there. Otherwise, you could end up adding things you didn’t intend or messing up the manuscript further.

3. CLEAN OUT EXTRA SPACES:

FIND WHAT: (spc)
REPLACE WITH: (spc)(spc)

REPLACE ALL.

Repeat the REPLACE ALL until no more are found. If you got really sloppy and used spaces to indent or center things in your manuscript, then this is going to take you a while to clean up. Think of it as penance for not knowing that you shouldn’t have been using spaces like that in the first place.

4. REMOVE SPACES AT THE END OF A PARAGRAPH:

FIND WHAT: (spc)^p
REPLACE WITH: ^p (no spaces before or after it)

REPLACE ALL.
Repeat the replace until no more are found.

5. REMOVE SPACES AT THE START OF A PARAGRAPH:

FIND WHAT: ^p(spc)
REPLACE WITH: ^p (no spaces before or after it)

REPLACE ALL.
Repeat the replace to be sure no more exist.

6. REMOVE TABS AT THE START OF A PARAGRAPH:

FIND WHAT: ^p^t
REPLACE WITH: ^p

FIND NEXT to see if you have any, then REPLACE ALL.
Repeat to be sure you found them all.

7. REPEAT STEP 5 ABOVE:

We need to do this because if you had a space after a tab, it would not have been removed previously.

8. ADDRESS ANY OTHER TABS IN THE DOCUMENT:

This step needs to be done carefully and manually, one at a time (no REPLACE ALL), because you don’t want to mess up something else.

FIND WHAT: ^t
REPLACE WITH: ^p (I’ll explain this in a moment)
Click FIND NEXT (not Replace All). If nothing is found, then congratulations on having known what you were doing in the first place and not having had a stray finger press on the TAB key.

For each TAB you find in the middle of a line, click into the document and remove the tab. You may need to put a space in place of it.

If the TAB occurs at the end of a paragraph with a paragraph mark before or after it, simply delete it. If there is no paragraph mark where there should be, then click REPLACE. (This is why I had you put ^p in the REPLACE WITH box.

Continue the FIND until ALL tabs in the document have been dealt with.

9. REPEAT STEPS 3, 4, and 5 to be sure that you fix anything left behind after removing the TABS.

At this point, your manuscript will probably look like a mess if you didn’t use “first line indent” originally. Let’s fix that. Unfortunately, this will also indent lines that you may not want indented. We can fix those piecemeal later in Part 2.

Go to the top of your document and press CTRL A to highlight everything. On the ribbon at the top of Word, find the “paragraph” section and click the little arrow in the bottom right corner of it. Under the Indents and Spacing tab, under Indentation, look at the box marked “special.” Click the down arrow and choose “First Line” and next to it in the “by” box set it to 0.5 if it isn’t that already. Click OK. (As an alternative to all these steps, you can move the left-hand top pointer on the Ruler to 0.5”).

You can turn off the SHOW feature. Be sure to SAVE the document.

If you did everything right, your manuscript is much better than before, even if you can’t see all the differences.

In Part 2 we’ll clean up ellipses and dashes as well as handling scene breaks and some other stuff.

–Rick