Here are a few random tips for polishing your manuscript.

Style Guides. Most American book publishers use The Chicago Manual of Style. If you don’t have one, I strongly encourage you to purchase the latest edition, which is the 16th. (The Associated Press Stylebook is used for newspapers and journalistic magazines. They publish a new version every year.) If you’re writing for the Christian market, get The Christian Writer’s Manual of Style by Robert Hudson (2004).

Dictionaries. Book publishers use Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (11th edition). For articles, use Webster’s New World College Dictionary.

Sentence Spacing. Put one space between each sentence, not two. If you’re used to two, it can be a tough habit to break. There’s an easy fix, though. Just use “find and replace” to find two spaces and replace with one space. Click “replace all” until the count gets down to zero.

Paragraph Indent. Always indent each paragraph with one tap of the Tab key to 1/2 inch (or set an automatic 1/2-inch first-line indent). Do not use the spacebar. Don’t add blank lines between paragraphs. And take out any automatic paragraph spacing your word-processing program may add.

Italics or Underscore. Underlining of text that is to be italicized when the book goes to print used to be the standard. But typesetting has become computerized to the point where most publishers now want italicized text to be italicized in the author’s manuscript.

Scene Breaks for Fiction. Insert a blank line to signal a change in time, location, or point of view. Skip an extra line between scenes and place a pound sign (#) or one to three asterisks, centered on the skipped line.  

Dashes. An em dash is formed using two consecutive hyphens without spaces before or after. Most word processing programs can automatically change this to an “em dash”—which is perfectly acceptable and preferred by some publishers. For book manuscripts, an en dash should be used between consecutive numbers, such as in Scripture references or dates. Just be sure your entire manuscript is consistent one way or the other. Either use hyphens throughout or use em and en dashes throughout. 

Ellipsis. The ellipsis (. . .) consists of three dots with spaces before, after, and in between each dot. The latest Chicago Manual says it’s acceptable to use the single-character ellipsis that Word creates (with microspaces between each dot), but there should still be a space before and after. If the ellipsis occurs at the beginning or end of a quotation or parenthetical, there’s no space between the first or final dot and the quotation mark or parenthesis.