Word is a very messy program underneath the hood. And what you can’t see causes big trouble for production editors and designers who will be working on your files. All of a sudden, an editor may be working on a file and everything will turn bold, or red, or set in Comic Sans!
You probably wrote your book using Microsoft Word, or even if you used a different tool, you still probably saved it as a Word file for submission. Word’s’ many features make it an incredibly powerful tool, though most writers take little advantage of it. You might have tried to make your manuscript pretty by using fonts or colors that match your personality or the tone of the piece.
Please don’t do this. Editors don’t find it cute. And, no matter what you do, we’ll be converting it back to Times New Roman, double-spaced with one-inch margins.
The Hidden Gunk in Your Files
Even if you didn’t use fancy fonts, the process of editing, correcting, revising, and copying and pasting from one place to another introduce all kinds of invisible formatting into your file. And that formatting — extra spaces, weird fonts, and sneaky special characters live on in the margins and in the spaces between sentences.
Copying a piece of text directly from an article on the internet as plain text is like not washing your hands before eating. If you happen to be compiling a bunch of articles written by different authors every font that anyone every used in the any of those documents might make its way into yours. Ick, right?
Don’t worry, you won’t get sick, but trying to avoid introducing unwanted errors in the production process, keeping your file clean is a bonus when you send it to your agent or editor.
Simple File Hygiene
The simplest way to keep it clean is to “Select All” and remove the formatting--the eraser symbol with the letter A. I prefer a more drastic method, which involves saving the file as plain text, and then formatting using Word’s style palettes. If you’re curious about how I do this, send me an email and I’ll send you my cheat sheet with all the steps I take when I clean a file. If you're not doing page layout, you don't need to know how to do it, but I do find it satisfying in the same way it is satisfying to arrange a shelf of books by color or size.
Editorium provides professional tools for editors that automate this process, and on their site, you'll find an amazing guide on how to do an advanced search and replace in Word. Yes, it is possible to search for random numbers!
Know that the vast majority of authors don’t do this before they send in their files, so if all of this is TMI, don’t worry. (Just don’t use fancy fonts!) A friendly production person will follow a procedure like the following once your manuscript is ready to go.