When your book is ready for editing, it’s time to pack it neatly into an industry-standard file format. Whether you write in dedicated writing software like Scrivener or key your story into Google Docs after writing it longhand, a finished novel isn’t a private creative endeavor or hobby anymore. Now it’s a product for an industry with professional standards and technical requirements.
If your manuscript is destined for a literary agent, freelance editor, formatter, designer, publisher, or other professional, the standard format is Microsoft Word.
Microsoft Word is the publishing industry standard for editors because it offers the most powerful tools and plug-ins for complex text editing, analysis, and feedback. Yes, similar software exists. Google Docs is gaining in popularity—it’s free!—and other writing software tantalizes with compelling creative development tools designed specifically for novelists. And it’s true that many publishing pros can work around something other than a Word file. It’s also true that there are plenty of editors who may be willing to take on a Google Docs or Scrivener edit.
But if you hope to write for the long haul, why cram yourself into the role of the squeaky wheel? Impress potential agents with your standard of quality. Make it easy for others to review your manuscript or seamlessly work on your file. Stand ready and able prepared to process edits, critiques, and feedback in an industry-standard format. Your professionalism will inspire trust and confidence in you and your book.
What About Google Docs?
If you’re paying for professional editing, why wouldn’t you want your editor to use the best tool for the job?
But what about Google Docs? Pretty sweet tool, right? It’s free, it has its own version of Track Changes and comments, and it evens allow real-time collaboration. Word can’t do that!
In terms of editing, Google Docs stands up against Word about as well as Canva does against Adobe Creative Suite. I love Canva and I use it on a regular basis, but I wouldn’t begin to compare what I produce using Canva with the artwork produced by a skilled graphic designer wielding a full palette of Adobe tools.
When I edit a manuscript, I harness all the native power of MS Word. On top of that, I add specialized editorial software, plug-ins, and several suites of macros designed to work specifically with Word. I import specialized dictionaries, which Word allows me to customize. I use Word styles to format the manuscript to industry standards, not only getting it pretty enough for agents to read but indicating to formatters how to handle each type of text during design. Wildcard searches allow me to conduct editorial operations in bulk. These tools aren’t available or compatible with freebie programs like Google Docs, and I consider them essential to the quality of my editorial services.
There may be times when collaborative, real-time editing is just what you need. Microsoft Word Online can do that (although few people seem to be aware that this service exists), but Google Docs is probably the simpler, stronger choice. I use Google Docs myself and with clients for a number of creative development processes—but not for manuscript editing. If you’re paying for professional editing, why wouldn’t you want your editor to use the most powerful tool?
It’s All Fun and Games—Until It’s Not
Once you’re ready for editing, export to Word and stay there for the rest of the self-revision and editing process.
Many editors and formatters have discovered that the file export/conversion features of Google Docs, Scrivener, LibreOffice, and other software don’t always provide clean, artifact-free files suitable for professional editing or book formatting. File conversions and exports can produce incomplete, incompatible, or corrupted files. Unfortunately, these are the twitchy sort of problems that don’t rear their heads until the deadline dragon is already breathing fire.
If you don’t have Microsoft Word and you need something to quickly handle your edits, my colleagues tell me LibreOffice probably comes closest to the real thing.
Maybe you like to write in a tool like Scrivener because you feel it’s easier to organize your notes and drag and drop entire chapters into new locations. Word already does that. A feature called the Navigation pane lets you hop directly to any point in your manuscript with the click of your mouse or drag chapters into an entirely new order, contents and all.
Some authors just really like the features and feel of dedicated novel-writing software. The ones I hear about the most include Scrivener, One Stop for Writers, yWriter, Bibisco, and of course Google Docs.
The best practice when using these writing tools is to develop your early drafts there, then export to Word and stay in Word for the rest of the self-revision and editing process. Your editor will work with the document in Word; you’ll revise it Word, as well. To avoid cruft, artifacts, and other file conversion hijinks, don’t export and flip back to your writing program again.
But We Hates Track Changes, Precious—HATES It
Handling revisions and comments is a necessary skill for authors.
If you don’t have Microsoft Word, I’m guessing you plan to pick through your edited manuscript to transfer the edits over to your manuscript by hand. Please don’t. You’ll waste days—weeks—approaching your edit this way. A professional edit generates hundreds of comments and tens of thousands of revisions. I can guarantee your manuscript will suffer from errors if you try to pick through them by hand.
Track Changes can seem intimidating. I get that. It’s really just a matter of getting your feet wet. Handling revisions and comments is a necessary skill for authors. The process isn’t always intuitive, though, so start with some good help. Use the Author’s Survival Guide to Track Changes to get moving through your edits quickly and efficiently.
And now you’ll be able to respond professionally to feedback from agents, editors, and others involved in your book’s production.
Invest in Your Writing Software
Serious about writing novels? Invest in your work and equip yourself with Microsoft Word. Use the tool that works best for your entire publishing team.
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If you’re looking for an editor to accelerate your journey from new writer to emerging author, that editor could be me. Let’s work together: short-term coaching for story development, long-term coaching for honing your writing, or story or line editing (my editing specialties). Let’s talk.