So you think you’re ready for a copyedit? Fix these 4 mistakes first.
You’ve incorporated feedback from beta readers. You’ve had developmental and line edits. You’ve read through your manuscript what seems like a million times. Now it’s finally time for a copyeditor—almost. Here are four edits you can do before sending your manuscript to a copyeditor.
All of these edits use the find and replace functions, which will make them a quick fix. Microsoft Word has find and replace functions available in the Home ribbon under the Editing tab. You can click Find if you want to find specific words and phrases and click Replace if you want to replace specific phrases with something else. In Google Docs, you can find words and phrases by using the keyboard shortcut Ctrl+F. You can replace words by clicking the Edit drop-down menu and selecting “Find and replace.”
Remember, anything you fix using these four tips will lessen what you’ll pay your editor to correct. That’s a win for you and helps your editor out too.
1. Two Spaces After a Period
Let’s start with the easiest fix first—correcting spacing after a period.
Back in the typewriter age (which was not very long ago), writers were taught to use two spaces at the end of sentences for easier readability. Nowadays, two spaces are no longer deemed necessary. In fact, double spaces are currently considered incorrect usage in most style guides, including the one U.S. editors typically use (see The Chicago Manual of Style 6.7).
So the first edit to do is to find and replace that unnecessary spacing. After opening the replace function, simply put two spaces in the Find box and one space in the Replace box. Then click Replace All. Keep clicking Replace All until the program says that it made 0 replacements. Your first edit is now done!
P.S. Did you notice that the previous paragraph used two spaces after the period? Good eye, if you did! It’s subtle, but the trained eye will see even one instance of extra spacing. That’s why, even if you aren’t in the habit of using two spaces at the end of sentences, you should use this function anyway. I would bet money that extra spaces sneaked into your manuscript somewhere.
2. Em and En Dashes
Em dashes and en dashes are almost always issues that copyeditors have to correct. And that’s okay. Using an em dash incorrectly or too frequently is totally normal. That’s exactly what you are hiring a copyeditor to help you with! So don’t worry about getting the usage right.
But you can help your copyeditor focus on what she or he does best by making sure the dashes are formatted correctly. There are a lot of reasons why they wouldn’t be. For example, Microsoft Word automatically changes two hyphens into an em dash only if they are typed in between two words with no spaces. Sometimes the shortcut doesn’t go through or the wrong shortcut is used. It’s important to note that depending on the style guide of your potential publisher, an em dash may have spaces around it (in most U.S. literature, the em dash does not), but typing any space before or after the two hyphens will change them to an en dash in Microsoft Word.
Google Docs also has keyboard shortcuts for both the em dash and en dash. If you type two hyphens, they automatically change to an en dash, and three hyphens change to an em dash. Caution: These shortcuts might prove problematic when typing quickly or if you’re used to Word’s shortcut of two hyphens for an em dash.
So let’s find and replace again, this time putting a hyphen in the Find box. Put an em dash in the Replace box using a keyboard shortcut or copy and paste. Then click on Find Next. (Do not click Replace All.) Go through each hyphenated instance and click Replace for any that have hyphens where you meant to have em dashes. Then repeat the process by searching for any en dashes that should be em dashes. If you are unfamiliar with when to use an em dash, check out the article “How to Use an Em Dash.”
After you’ve finished replacing for em dashes, let’s make sure there aren’t any spaces around them (unless your style guide says otherwise). Type a space, em dash, and another space in the Find box and replace with just an em dash. Then click Replace All.
Now on to the en dash. Using the en dash is a whole other beast, so I strongly suggest reading our article “What Even Is an En Dash?” An easy rule of thumb for this quick fix is that if the dash is in the middle of two numbers (i.e., a number range like “98–99”) then the dash (most likely typed as a hyphen) should be an en dash. So again, find all hyphens in the document, but this time put an en dash in the replace box. Any time you find a number range, replace the hyphen with an en dash.
3. Spelling of People and Places
Names of people and places need to be spelled the same throughout your manuscript. This may seem obvious, but you’d be surprised how often copyeditors catch rogue spelling. The spelling mistakes could have happened because a name got changed partway through writing the story, or the spelling of a town was iffy. Whatever the reason, it happens.
To check the spelling yourself, list all the names from your document spelled how you want them (for real people and places, make sure you look up their spelling—even if you think you know it). Then find and replace every variation of the name you can think of. If you don’t know what variations you may have used, you can put a space followed by the first two or three letters of the name. This should give you most if not all instances when you used that name. For good measure, you can also search for the last two or three letters with a space after them, just in case typos cropped up in the beginning of the name.
To give you an example, let’s say I have a character named Alina. I could put the common spelling “Elina” into the Find box with a space on each side and “ Alina ” in the Replace box, then click Replace All. I could also find “ina“ with a space after it and go through each instance looking for any misspellings of the beginning of the name, such as if I typed “Akina” by accident. I can also enter space+Al and check for any misspellings at the end of the name, such as “Alena.”
If this sounds too involved for you, just create the list of people and places and send that over to your copyeditor so she can correct variations if she finds them.
4. Apostrophe Placement
By this point, you’ve probably guessed what we are going to do here. We are going to find all instances of the apostrophe in your document, then simply check each one to make sure the apostrophe is placed in the correct spot. Here is a list of possessive rules to follow:
It’s = it is. The possessive is written as “its” with no apostrophe.
The possessive apostrophe goes before the “s” for singular nouns and plural nouns that do not end in “s” (e.g., Mary’s and children’s).
The apostrophe goes after the “s” for plural nouns that end in “s” (e.g., shepherds’).
According to newer editions of The Chicago Manual of Style, the apostrophe + “s” is still used for singular names that already end in “s” (e.g., write Jesus’s, not Jesus’). (See section 7.17.)
Now you’re ready! Send your manuscript to your copyeditor with full confidence that you did your part to provide her with a clean and thorough copy. Then, let your copyeditor do her magic.