Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Formatting for Publishing: Find and Replace

A subtle way to polish up your finished manuscript before sending it to a publisher is to do a few quick “find and replace” runs.  There are a lot of little formatting errors that crop up in a manuscript while you’re working—some are simple mis-types, some are the result of editing, and others can be the consequence of opening a document in multiple programs (Microsoft Word and Google Docs, for instance). Most of them can be easily fixed en masse.

Open the “Find and Replace” window by hitting Ctrl+H in Microsoft Word or Google Docs (command+shift+f and command+shift+h in their respective Mac versions). If you’ve never used “find and replace” before, it’s simple—whatever combination of characters you type in the first text box will be replaced by the combination of characters you put in the second text box. You can change each instance one at a time or all of them en masse.

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A note of caution: it is very easy to create new errors with the mass “Replace All” option. For instance, say you’ve written a scene where one of the characters is using a pen. You decide afterward that you want them to be writing with a pencil instead, so you do a “Replace All” to replace the word pen with pencil. Unfortunately, the “Replace All” option has now substituted pencil for every instance of the letters pen. Open had now become opencil, pensive is now pencilsive, and so forth. So use this carefully.

Here are a few easy clean-ups that you can use to make your manuscript more presentable:

     Find:                                                       Replace with:
     Repeated spaces ([space][space])           Single space                      

If you need an indent, use paragraph formatting or tabs. Repeat this replacement until you get 0 results.

     Find:                                                       Replace with:
     Repeated paragraph breaks (^p^p)         Single paragraph break (^p)

Most “Find and Replace” features recognize a “carat p” (^p) as a formula representing a paragraph break. If you need space between paragraphs use the “add space after” feature in paragraph formatting. Repeat this replacement until you get 0 results.

     Find:                                                                    Replace with:
     Space at beginning of paragraph (^p[space])      Paragraph break (^p)

Or if you used tabs for the indents at the beginning of your paragraph:

     Find:                     Replace with:
     (^p^t[space])         (^p^t)

The ^t indicates a “tab” in most programs. This replace ensures that your paragraphs will all be aligned properly. If you’ve already replaced all of the repeated spaces, you shouldn’t have to run this replacement more than once.

     Find:                                                                       Replace with:
     Space at the end of a paragraph ([space]^p)          Paragraph break (^p)

This is very minor clutter, but there’s no reason to leave it.

     Find:                                                      Replace with:
     Repeated periods (..)                             Single period (.)

Note: if you format your ellipses as three periods (…), this will cause trouble. That’s one of the reasons I format my ellipses with spaces (. . .) instead. If you don’t have spaces in your ellipses, you’ll want to replace repeated periods one at a time (using “replace” and “find next” instead of “replace all”).

     Find:                                                    Replace with:
     Comma and period (,.) and (.,)            Comma (,) or period (.)

This is another that you’ll have to replace one at a time, since it’s the only way to ensure that you’re putting in the correct punctuation. Fortunately, there probably won’t be many of these in your manuscript. They usually crop up were a large section of a sentence was deleted but the old punctuation was missed.

     Find:                                         Replace with:
     Apostrophes ( ′ )                       Apostrophes ( ‘ )

Note the difference between those two apostrophes—one is straight, and one is curved. The straight apostrophe is an artifact of older typing programs or some non-text-focused programs that appears from time to time. If you’re using Word or Google Docs, however, the program will automatically replace each old-fashioned straight apostrophe with a curved one that faces the correct direction. (Note that you don’t have to hunt for an old straight apostrophe to put into your “find” box. Just put an apostrophe, and the program will figure it out.)

     Find:                                         Replace with:
     Quotation marks ( ″ )                Quotation marks ( “ )
Same thing—old-fashioned “double-prime” straight quotation marks should be replaced with curved ones.

     Find:                                          Replace with:
     Double hyphens (--)                  Em dash (—) or (^+)

Double hyphens aren’t actually proper punctuation—you’ll want an actual em dash in there instead.

     Find:                                         Replace with:
     Repeated tabs (^t^t)                  Single tab (^t)

Note: if you have used tabs as indentation, and you have any sections that indented further than the rest of the document (quoted passages, for instance), this could mess them up. It might be wise to replace these one at a time.

Now, I’m not saying any of these tips will get you published. They will, however, help you polish out a few common errors from your manuscript. This will result in a more professional-looking submission, which is an important step toward getting published. Good luck!

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