Getting Ready for an Edit: How to Help Your Editor and Save Money

by | Nov 4, 2015

You’ve written a book, and it’s time to send it to your editor.

Or is it?

That depends on how much work you want your editor to do. It may also depend on how deep your pockets are!

What if we told you that there are some things you can do yourself, and that by doing them, you’ll learn a lot about writing and save on editing costs?

Below are four things you can do to get your book manuscript ready for your editor. Some of these tasks are on our list of editing pet peeves, mostly because they’re not the best use of an editor’s time. All are within reach of a writer’s abilities.

Some of the suggestions described below apply to nonfiction writers only. If you write fiction, you get a free pass on those.

Note: The list below assumes that you’ve already addressed big-picture items in your book, such as content, structure, plot, pacing, and any characterization issues.

    1. Assess Your Manuscript

      Before you attempt any of the tasks we suggest below, you’ll need to get a general sense of what your book needs and what you can reasonably do to help your editor. Two things can help you see your book through an editor’s eyes: revision tools and a style guide.

      Run Revision Tools

      If you’re not sure how to assess your book, run some revision tools on it. They’ll alert you to potential problems in your writing, so you can fix them. You’ll find tips for how to use revision tools at Tech Tools for Writers.

      Pick a tool and spend a few minutes learning how to use it. Using even one tool can save on editing costs and teach you some valuable lessons about writing that you can apply to your next book.

      Tip: If you only have time for one tool, we’d recommend the Hemingway Editor.

      Consult a Style Guide

      Now that you have a sense of what your writing might need, you can figure out how to fix those problems by looking them up in a writer’s style guide.

      We recommend You’ve Got Style: A Writer’s Guide to Copyediting, written by two editors we know <wink>. Not everyone has the time or interest to read the Chicago Manual of Style—an excellent 1000-page style guide geared to editors. But, if writing is your business and you want to become better at it, we think a short guide will help you to see what you need to.

      Editors do a lot of things to your writing to ensure a smooth reader experience. A style guide will give you a clear sense of what those things are.

    1. Pre-Edit

      Now that you know what to fix and where you can go to find out how to fix it, it’s time to pre-edit. The better shape your manuscript is in, the less time your editor will have to spend editing it.

      You don’t need know everything about editing. We’ve listed a handful of things you can learn and do that will save your editor time (and you money).

      The items we’ve listed below are not difficult to address. They are time-consuming, though. Currently, there are no nifty automated tools that will help editors deal with these items efficiently. That’s why they’re on this list. An editor must address them manually, and manual tasks take longer, which means editing can cost more.

      If you’re short on money and long on time, you can address these items yourself:

      Sentence Length

      Too many long sentences can make your text dense and difficult to understand. The solution? Shorten your sentences.

      If you’re attempting to make reading a seamless process for readers, aim for the 20-word sentence. This isn’t a hard-and-fast rule, and a 20-word sentence won’t make sense all the time, but it’s a good target to keep in mind.

      Tip: Use the Hemingway Editor to help you see which sentences need pruning.


      Capitalize thoughtfully, not randomly. We get it. There are a lot of capitalization rules (refer to You’ve Got Style for the most important ones). If you’re not sure if a word needs caps, leave it in lowercase letters.

      Keep a list of the words you’ve capitalized. Your editor can assess them and then ensure that those words are capitalized consistently throughout your book.


      Check that chapter and section headings are styled correctly and consistently. You’ll need to decide

        • on font size and type
        • if a heading will be set in italics, boldface, or roman
        • what level a heading is (H1, H2, H3, etc.)
        • whether to use title case or sentence case

      If these decisions sound like a foreign language to you, turn to your trusty style guide for advice, and give it your best shot.

      Tip: Styling headings is much easier if you know how to apply styles to headings using the styles feature in your word processor. That way, if you or your editor needs to correct a heading style, you can do it quickly and simply. A change to an H1 heading style, for example, can then be applied to all H1 headings in your book, in just a few minutes.

      If you’ve applied styles using the buttons on the ribbon or toolbar in your word processor, your editor will need to change every heading individually. There can be a lot of headings in a book, particularly a nonfiction book. Remember, your editor’s time is your money.


      If you’re writing nonfiction, you’ll want to use lists to create white space, which makes writing more readable. Lists can be styled in many ways.

      Consult a style guide to learn

        • how to punctuate lead-ins and list items
        • how and when to use capital letters for list items
        • how to arrange the items in a list

      Editors can spend a lot of time styling lists if the author has styled them inconsistently. A little list study on your part can free your editor up to do other, more important tasks.

      Citations and References

      If you’re writing nonfiction, particularly academic nonfiction, you will need to decide how to handle in-text citations and the accompanying references list or bibliography. If you leave this task to your editor, it will cost you. Dearly.

      Citations and references aren’t difficult to get right. But they can be a time trap if you have to hunt them down and fix them after the fact. It’s not uncommon for an editor to spend as much time editing your citations and references as it takes to edit the rest of your book!

      Fortunately, writers can head off this time (and money) trap from the beginning. Consult a style guide—APA, MLA, Chicago, or The Ebook Style Guide if you’re publishing an ebook—to understand how you’ll need to style citations. Then, check the documentation for your word processor to see if it has a built-in tool that will automate your citation style and reference list as you write.

      For example, Microsoft Word has a References and Citation tool (2010 and later) to help you create consistently styled citations. You could also investigate bibliography generators, such as EasyBib Bibliography Creator for Google Docs, or Edifix.

      The pre-editing tasks listed above may seem nitpicky, but it’s amazing how much time they can take. If you’re able to handle them, you can free up your editor to focus on the higher-order tasks that will make your writing shine.

    1. Clean Up Your Formatting

      Editors can spend valuable time cleaning up “typewriter formatting,” such as

        • extra tab spaces
        • extra spaces between words
        • double spaces after end punctuation
        • straight quotes (they should be curly)
        • stray empty paragraphs

      … and so on.

      You can learn how to clean up your formatting using the find and replace function in your word processor. For example, to delete tabs in Microsoft Word, insert the code for a tab in the find field:

      Find: ^t
      Replace with: [leave blank]

      Refer to this handy list of find and replace codes for other nonprint characters that you can search for in Word. If you use Scrivener, consult the Scrivener manual for how to copy and paste nonprint characters into Scrivener’s find and replace feature.

      Tip: If you’d rather do your all find and replace moves at once, try FRedit, a free find and replace macro that works in Microsoft Word. Once you set up a list of find and replace moves in FRedit, you can use this list to clean up all your books.

  1. Send Your Editor a Word Document

    Editors edit in Word. Why? Word works with a bevy of editing tools and add-ins that allow editors to edit quickly and accurately. Word also has built-in tools that deal effectively with certain editing tasks. Asking an editor to edit in anything other than Word is like painting a wall with a cotton swab. Doable, but entirely inefficient.

    It’s true, many writers are beginning to use Scrivener for writing. You can ask an editor to copyedit your book in Scrivener, but we wouldn’t recommend it. It’ll take your editor longer and cost you more money.

    Instead, compile your book file to a Word .docx file and send that to your editor. If you can’t read the edited .docx file because you don’t have Word on your computer, ask your editor to save the edits as a PDF.

What’s Left?

You might be wondering: If I do all the things suggested in this post, what’s left for my editor to do? Plenty, we assure you. Your editor will spend the remaining time on higher-order copyediting tasks.

Of course, you don’t have to do any of the editing types we suggest, and in the end, you might decide that you just don’t want to. That’s okay. If time is more valuable to you than money, an editor will be happy to step in and do these tasks for you.

Photo: Amazon links contain my affiliate code.

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  1. Gajendra Chandrakar

    Looking for dissertation proofreading services or help in US. So you are at the right place we are leading dissertation proofreading services provider in US. Hire the best writer for proofreading services.

  2. vaibhav

    Getting Ready for an Edit: How to Help Your Editor and Save Money – There are a couple of things you can do for your career as a writer, but the most important thing I learned in writing strategy guides for thirteen years is this: Make your editor’s life as easy as possible.

  3. Bun Karyudo

    Thanks for this. I found it very helpful.

  4. Steffi Loreeti

    There are various tools available online which can help in effective editing. However, as a pre-edit, remember the basics of English Editing:

    Correct Grammar
    Correct use of tenses
    Correct flow of sentences
    Sentences should not be too long or too short
    Get the documents reviewed from one or two peers

    Apart from these formatting requires experience so do check twice before sending the document to the editor.

    • Corina Koch MacLeod

      Great advice, Steffi.
      There are tools that can handle some of the items on your list. Do you have any favourites?

  5. Sarah Stegall

    Oh dear God. Ignore #4. Microsoft Word inserts all kinds of formatting garbage into every document, and it takes editors forever to strip them out again. Microsoft Word is not designed for long-form documents like novels, and it does not handle them well. Scrivener or even LibreOffice is a better choice. If you were going to tell people how to assemble a piece of furniture, would you tell them to hammer in their screws with a hammer? Or would you tell them to use the right tool for the job? Microsoft Word is suitable for interoffice memos; anything else is a waste of time. If you’re going to be a pro, use a professional tool. There are a lot of writing programs out there that are infinitely better than Word.

    • Gordon A. Long

      Gosh, and here I’ve been hammering screws in for years and nobody told me different! Learn something new every day. :-)
      I certainly agree with you about the garbage formatting in Word, although I’ve learned workarounds that keep it to a minimum.
      And to be fair to Ms MacLeod, she doesn’t suggest you write in Word, only that you let your editor work in word, because most of them seem to like it. Once an MS has gone to the editor, I would never think of using it as my source MS again, anyway.

      • Corina Koch MacLeod

        Thanks, Gordon.

        You’re quite right: I’m not suggesting that writers write in Word. But if you’re planning on hiring an editor, you might want to choose writing software that can export to Word’s .docx format.

        Editors work in Word,for a host of good reasons. But I’ll let you in a little secret: editors often commiserate about Word’s shenanigans. Editors, too, have a love-hate relationship with Word.

        The editors in my editing group have a dream that someday someone will create software that’s specially designed for editing. But until then, Word is the tool we have.

    • Corina Koch MacLeod

      Writers have a love-hate relationship with Microsoft Word. I wonder where you land on the issue, Sarah? ;)

      I think we’re saying the same thing: use the best tool for the job. Definitely use Scrivener to draft and organize a book. That’s what it’s designed for. I use Scrivener for writing my books. I love it! I even use Scrivener for big-picture revision tasks.

      Here’s where we disagree:

      When it comes to in-depth revisions and editing, I haven’t found a better tool for the job than Word. Not even LibreOffice. I have found one tool that comes close to Word in its capabilities, but I still use Word for editing because the best commercial editing plugins are designed to work with Word. Even my favourite ebook formatting software, Jutoh, is designed to work with Word.

      And then, there’s the fact that most professional editors use Word…

      If you’d like your editor to use software other than Word, you can certainly ask. Just be aware that editing your book will take longer (and cost more).

  6. Gordon A. Long

    I always use an online editor. Pro Writing Aid is what I’m using at the moment, and I find it very thorough. (I did a rather whimsical post on Indies Unlimited on using the program, if anyone’s interested. But I find it a bit too thorough at times, so I’ll check out Hemmingway. Thanks for that.
    I also read my MS starting at the back, half a page at a time, with a ruler underneath. Picks up a lot of errors.
    And THEN I send it to a living editor. You people area too nice. You CAN’T edit your own work. Full Stop. Okay, never say never. Maybe there’s a genius out there who can. But it isn’t me, and I bet it isn’t you.
    BTW, do you have a style guide or style sheet that does Canadian?
    Thanks for a great post.

    • C.K. MacLeod

      ProWriting has a lot of features, or “tests.” I suppose you could run all of its tests on your writing, but as you’ve suggested, that may be overkill.

      If you’re using ProWriting Aid, my advice is to only pick the tests that address areas that need correcting in _your_ writing. I’ve listed the tests that I find useful in ProWriting Aid, if you’re curious.

      There is a Canadian style sheet! It’s available for writers who use PerfectIt, another terrific proofreading tool.

  7. Michael N. Marcus

    Good advice! Here’s more:

    (1) Computers and software are not perfect. MS Word may not notice a properly spelled but incorrect word, and sometimes hyphenates improperly.
    (2) Make yourself a style sheet and follow it. Consistency is important. Don’t type AM on one page and p.m. on another.

    • C.K. MacLeod

      You’re quite right, Marcus. Computer tools won’t catch everything, but they will catch a surprising number of things. Anything that you can catch is something your editor won’t have to spend time on.

      Using a style sheet to keep track of your editorial decisions is a fantastic idea. Editors do it, and writers can too! We discuss style sheets at length in You’ve Got Style: A Writer’s Guide to Copyediting.


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