These Manuscript Mistakes Can Sabotage The Editing Process

manuscript mistakes

Your manuscript stands ready for professional editing. Or does it? Here is a list of manuscript mistakes that can hamper your editors efforts to improve your work and get it ready for publication.

So you’ve decided to write a book. Congratulations! After spending all that time envisioning your work and creating your written masterpiece, it has finally come down to getting your book published. After weighing the pros and cons, you’ve decided to go with self-publishing. There are many reasons to choose the self-publishing route: the publication timeline is much shorter, every decision concerning your book is yours to make, and you get to determine the final price and collect some amazing royalty rates.

However, along with the benefits of publishing your own book, there are downsides every writer should be aware of. Since every decision is yours to make, you may decide to skimp on professional editing and formatting to avoid the additional cost and time. This in itself is a grave mistake, but even when you do the right thing and employ a professional editor, there are simple errors you can avoid to make your manuscript tighter and easier to edit. Avoid these manuscript mistakes and allow your editor to improve your book’s chances for success.

Don’t double space after periods

Contrary to what you may have been taught, double spacing after a period is a formatting mistake you need to steer clear of. The standard of double-spacing after a period derived from the use of typewriters, where all of the words were equally spaced apart. With the advent of modern computers, the need for double-spacing has been eliminated.

Don’t misuse hyphens

Using unnecessary hyphens in your book can make your work less engaging and more difficult for your reader to enjoy. Hyphen rules are relatively simple, here’s how to use them:

Two or more words joined together that work as an adjective.
Example: Light-green jacket.

Two or more words that form a number.
Example: Thirty-five.

You do not need to use a hyphen when you are using compound words, such as toothbrush. Keeping your written style neat and efficient will keep your book looking professional and reader friendly.

Avoid incorrect use of quotation marks and apostrophes

Incorrect use of punctuation is a serious rookie mistake among self-published authors. Punctuation mistakes are an easy way to garner negative reviews and lose credibility.

When using quotation marks, it’s important to remember these key factors:

  • Always use quotation marks when you’re quoting a person’s speech or copying work from another source.
  • Common expressions don’t need the use of quotation marks (e.g. fed up, no hard feelings).
  • Avoid overusing quotation marks as they can become monotonous.

The proper use of an apostrophe can be a bit trickier, so before throwing in an unnecessary apostrophe, keep these tips in mind.

  • An apostrophe should be used to show possession (The dog’s bowl is blue).
  • An apostrophe should be used for contractions (You can’t feed the dog that food).
  • Avoid redundant phrases

    Professional writers with years of experience know that a good piece of writing keeps the reader interested. Good writing avoids unnecessary words that can dull the work and put readers to sleep. There is a collection of words and phrases professional authors completely avoid when writing their books.

    Some examples of words and phrases to cut from your writing include:

    • And also: Redundant usage.
    • Irregardless: A phrase popularized by modern media, the actual word is regardless.
    • The reason why is because: Once again, redundant phrasing can quickly lose the attention of your readers.

    A book ready for self publishing avoids unnecessary phrases that take away from the focus of the writing. Keeping the writing descriptive and concise will help you produce a book readers can really connect with.

    Remove tab indents

    Do not create indents at the start of each new paragraph using your tab key. When you create an indent with the tab key, you are incorrectly formatting your work as the tab key creates far too large an indent.

    In a fiction book, a small indent created through the Paragraph settings in Microsoft Word is all that is needed. In nonfiction books, a professional writer will use a block to create a paragraph division. Instead of using an indentation, a block paragraph will simply use a horizontal line of white space beneath each paragraph.

    Time for professional editing

    The advice in this post is really just the beginning, and no manuscript destined for publishing should go without professional editing. Keeping your manuscript free of basic inconsistencies and mistakes will make the process easier and allow an editor to focus on improving your work rather than cleaning up simple, avoidable errors.


    BookBaby Editing Services


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  1. Hi Piers!

    I was familiar with all of the listed points you make, but I had no idea about tabs being inappropriate! What should the indent’s margins be at the start of each new paragraph of a fiction book?

  2. Dear Book Baby, Some of your comments on how to type seem to either be out of date or incorrect. You always double space between sentences. This is how typing is done. I’m doing it right now and I have been typing this way since 1985. You said don’t use the tab to start a new paragraph? Then what is the tab for? Again, I have been typing since 1985 and I don’t hunt and peck. I type about 35 wpm. What’s going one here? – Dana Blake

    • You are now typing on a computer with proportional fonts. The rule has changed since the computer has become commonplace in the home. One, repeat ONE, space between sentences. Just as you set your computer to double-space, you can also set it to automatically indent at the beginning of each paragraph, erasing the need for tab use. Since switching from typewriter to PC with its one space between sentences and no tabs, my speed had gone from 40 wpm to 65 wpm. P.S. I’ve been typing since the manual typewriter was the standard in homes, schools, and businesses.

  3. “With the advent of modern computers, the need for double-spacing has been eliminated.”

    While you’re correct in saying double-spacing after a period evolved with typewriters, the “advent of modern computers” is NOT the reason the practice is largely abandoned. The real decider is whether the font is “proportional” or “non-proportional,” and computers are capable of BOTH. (And it wasn’t until AFTER the advent of the fifth-generation, the Pentiums, that proportional-font rules began to overcome the old typewriter rules. In fact, I remember taking an “MS Word” fluency test in the mid-1990’s that scored me as “wrong” for single-spacing after a period.)

    And there are reasons to use non-proportional fonts. Some things are just easier to read when everything’s the same width, like computer code. Other things, like word searches, ar pretty much impossible with proportional fonts. In fact, Courier–the best known of the non-proportional fonts–was specifically designed to emulate the look of manual typewriters. So, yes, you’re probably OK with single-spacing after a period, especially if you leave your word processor in a common proportional font like Times New Roman, Ariel, or Helvetica. But if you have a fancy for something like Courier New, Lucinda, or Monaco, remember to add the second space.

    (And if you have a real need for a non-proportional font, search for “monospaced font.” Searching for “non-proportional” fonts will get you a bunch of “proportional font” returns.

  4. I agree with everything here except, “double-spacing after a period”.
    I believe the page is easier to read with “double-spacing after a period”.
    It is my understanding that the single spacing was implemented simply to save space and pages, thus cost, for the publisher.

    On the computer, all of the words are also equally spaced apart, so what is the difference?

    Who really has the authority to change the ‘rules’? It seems to be just a matter of someone’s current opinion.
    Sounds like ‘it is against the rules’ to wear white shoes after Labor Day. Who says?

    I know, “He who has the gold makes the rules”. Nowadays, the indie publisher can make his own rules for his works.
    Did it really upset you that I put the quotation marks inside the period? Did it confuse the meaning?


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