Saturday, May 1, 2010

"The Final Page" Tip of the Week: Use the "find" function

Last week I spotted a self-published book lying on a cafe table. It was a promo copy, and it got my attention—in a bad way. First, it had four typos in the first three pages. Second, it was a hardboiled mystery, but it had a creepy kitten on the cover.

Starting this week, "The Final Page" column will provide a weekly tip for avoiding mistakes like these as you get ready to print your book. A professional final product makes the difference between being reviewed on The New Podler, or being one of the millions of books that give self-publishing a bad rap.

Tip #1: Use the "find" function.
Even though I am an editor, my proofreader caught many small typos in my 80-page manuscript. Whatever program you use for writing, its "find" function will save you the twinge of humility you'll otherwise feel when you start noticing typos in your just-published book.
  1. Double periods (..) When you cut sentences, the second period often gets overlooked.
  2. Punctuation outside of quotation marks (",) (".) ("!) ("?) All punctuation goes inside, no matter how funny you think it looks. Refer to Strunk and White's Elements of Style for the very few exceptions.
  3. Space around dashes ( -- ) All your long dashes, or em-dashes, should be right up against the words before and after them.
  4. Fake em-dashes (--) You should also replace all double- or triple-hyphens (--) (---) with a true em-dash (—). Using the "find and replace" function in Word, go to the drop-down menu "special" and select em-dash.
  5. Peak, peek, pique. Do yourself a favor. Look up all three of these words right now. Use "find" and correct the ones that are misused.
  6. Hyphenate e-mail (email) The style guides agree: there is a hyphen in e-mail.
  7. Internet is capitalized (internet) Anybody who works with books will identify this rookie mistake right away.
  8. Double tabs. Search for "^t^t" to find over-indented paragraphs. You will also want to do a visual scan of each page, since some double tabs result from a tab space used on top of an automatic 0.5" first-line indent.
  9. The d-less conjunction (an) We type "and" a lot. It is inevitable that we miss the D once in a while, and spell-check won't catch it.
  10. Pubic humiliation, a.k.a. TMI. Search for "pubic." You meant to type "public," I know, but you might have missed that L.
Sarah Cypher is the author of "The Editor's Lexicon: Essential Writing Terms for Novelists" (Glyd-Evans Press, 2010) and runs a two-woman editing and book design shop, The Threepenny Editor.


Anonymous said...

Hi Sarah, Thank you for your very useful check list, particularly on the capitalisation of Internet, and hyphenation of e-mail.

One item continues to puzzle me, and that is whether em dashes should have spaces fore and after and I wonder if you have any comments on this extract from Wikipedia:

'The en dash (always with spaces, in running text) and the spaced em dash both have a certain technical advantage over the unspaced em dash. In most typesetting and most word processing, the spacing between words is expected to be variable, so there can be full justification. Alone among punctuation that marks pauses or logical relations in text, the unspaced em dash disables this for the words between which it falls. This can lead to uneven spacing in the text.'

This is music to my ears as personally I prefer spaces, but I'd be interested to hear your views.

I intend to self-publish shortly - thanks again for your very helpful articles. As you say, as self-publishers (should that be hyphenated?) we have an extra duty to the 'movement' to get these things right!


DED said...

Very helpful post.

Sarah Cypher said...


Sorry for the delay in getting back to you. When I edit non-academic work, I use Chicago style, which has specific rules for when to use an en-dash in a manuscript. It's not for creating a break in sentences, though--that's a job for an em-dash without spaces.

That said, I do see many printed books in which the typesetter used an en-dash with spaces. Typesetting is more aesthetic than editing, however, and if you are making conscious choices about your font face or have an irregularly sized page on which an un-spaced em-dash will make awkward line breaks, I don't think anyone will pass over your book because it uses en-dashes.

The rule of thumb in indie publishing, if ever I've seen one, is just to have something to say, say it well, and make it look nice.

Good luck!