The Best Editing Tip Ever #1 – Key Line Layout

I’m a novice self-publishing author, tackling something new almost every day. It’s a tough road, and one I share with many writers traveling a similar path. The tasks that fall to us – writing, editing, working with cover artists, researching ebook formatting and print edition options, putting up websites, blogging, tweeting, posting on Facebook – can be overwhelming. The flip side is the satisfaction that accompanies every little success. For me, the most unexpected and rewarding benefit so far has been the sheer generosity of those a little farther along the road.

Christine-Nolfi_OptimizedI’ve met a slew of fellow writers on Twitter  and bonded with many. Some have freely doled out pointers about what they’ve learned that works, and what to avoid. Others have shared helpful info acquired along the way. Christine Nolfi is one of these generous, supportive friends. I’d like to share a trick she passed on that has completely changed the way I edit my work.

Christine’s tip actually made me dash off emails to beta-readers – “don’t start Mark of the Loon!” I followed her suggestion to create a “key line” version of my WIP and found a gazillion run-on sentences. It was like reading a whole new novel (accccck!). I spent days re-working almost every section of narrative in the book. File this amazing tool under Tricks My Girlfriends Taught Me:

How to create a simple “paperback” version of your novel in Word
A key-line layout creates a paperback version of your novel. The end result is a landscape, two-column format. It’s an alternate way to review your manuscript that provides a fresh perspective after months (years?) reading in the traditional, vertical format. Here’s how – in Word:

• Set page to landscape (go to File > Page Set-up > Paper: size/letter, width 11” & length 8.5” > Click Okay)
• Create 2 columns (go to Format > Columns > Click Two > Click Okay
• Set document to single space

Christine-Nolfi_OptimizedChristine Nolfi:
“When I owned a big house in Ohio, I hosted slumber parties for Northeast Ohio writers. A few would drive in from Pennsylvania. It was a wonderful experience, with 10-12 women novelists usually spending the night. We’d critique each other, stay up until dawn discussing the industry, editors, agents, etc. Successful Berkley novelist Erin McCarthy mentioned this landscape trick during one overnight. She publishes 2 books a year without fail, and we’d all been wondering how she did it. Her secret: the landscape trick.

I’ve used it ever since. I key-line every novel I write (twice, actually) and find many errors that way, as well as areas that need deepening. You’ll also find an abundance of typos that skip past beta readers. The fact is, if you write in a compelling fashion, even your critique partners will get caught up in the story and turn off the internal editor. Also keep in mind you’ll need at least two days between completing a novel and beginning that final line edit. You must give your brain time to rest. And the final edit requires days of work. It’s impossible to do adequately in one push.”

Contemporary fiction author of Treasure Me, The Tree of Everlasting Knowledge and Second Chance Grill. Follow Christine on twitter @christinenolfi and visit her website!

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49 Responses to The Best Editing Tip Ever #1 – Key Line Layout

  1. Teresa Cypher-Willowlive January 30, 2012 at 3:29 pm #

    ha! I actually giggled. My very first sentence was a run-on! I have found converting a .doc or a .docx to PDF helps too. Thanks for the sharing Christine’s great tip. 🙂

    • Molly Greene January 30, 2012 at 4:05 pm #

      Thank you so much for the read and comment! Need all the help I can get!

    • Christine Nolfi January 31, 2012 at 9:25 am #

      Teresa, if it makes you feel any better, my critique partners invariably check my first drafts to see if Chapter Three is actually Chapter One. Grab the hatchet! Christine has started another novel with backstory!

  2. Christine Nolfi January 30, 2012 at 5:12 pm #

    Molly, thank you for posting the trick for flawless prose. I couldn’t write a novel without it, and I’ll always be grateful that Erin shared it. Of course, the bottle of vodka we always tossed in the freezer as the beginning of a slumber party surely loosened her tongue!

    • Molly Greene January 30, 2012 at 7:10 pm #

      Thank you for your unending support. Please schedule next slumber party in SC. Have vodka, will travel!

      • Christine Nolfi January 31, 2012 at 9:23 am #

        Molly, we joke about the slumber party but … we should schedule one at some point at my Charleston home. I miss the parties I used to hold at my house in Ohio. Some of the romance writers would always hold a “best sex scene” contest–which was quite amusing because they’d begin reading pages after they were more than a bit tipsy. Then one of the RS writers would scare us half to death with a grisly passage from her latest novel. The fantasy writers? Not sure why, but they always rose at sunrise to whip up Belgian waffles we were all too hung over to enjoy.

        • Molly Greene January 31, 2012 at 10:08 am #

          I think a slumber party is a done deal – we’ll just have to figure out when … maybe 2013!

  3. Rebecca January 30, 2012 at 5:42 pm #

    Christine told me about this tip on Twitter. I love it and I don’t think I’ll go back. It makes me feel like I’m writing a novel, not a high school essay on Word. 😀

    • Molly Greene January 30, 2012 at 7:13 pm #

      Christine is smart, talented and supportive. And I so agree – I feel like a big girl now!

    • Christine Nolfi January 31, 2012 at 9:18 am #

      Rebecca, you ARE writing a novel. Or a short story. Or a novella. The key-line tricks continually makes you aware that, yes, readers will read your work. I couldn’t live without the key-line trick.

  4. Jodi January 31, 2012 at 2:38 am #

    Awesome. I guess you can’t figure out how it works until you try it. Spilled water on my mac yesterday and lost all the work I did not back up from Sunday night. UGh! So I cannot even try it. I’m using my son’s computer today.

    • Christine Nolfi January 31, 2012 at 9:17 am #

      Jodi, I’m phobic when I write. Must print out pages as I go, as if a power failure will strike at any moment. So sorry you lost your pages.

  5. Deb January 31, 2012 at 6:29 am #

    Great tip…thanks so much!

  6. Rhonda Hopkins January 31, 2012 at 9:41 am #

    Great tip! I just converted the beginning of my manuscript. Haven’t started reading it this way yet, but it’s fun to look at. Looks more like a book! Thanks for the tip. 😉

    • Molly Greene January 31, 2012 at 10:06 am #

      Thanks to Christine! It’s like reading a whole new story. Best of luck on your WIP, Rhonda!

  7. Jennie Coughlin January 31, 2012 at 10:01 am #

    Wow! Definitely going to use that when I hit that stage on ATIN’s revisions. Thanks, Molly and Christine for sharing!

    • Molly Greene January 31, 2012 at 10:04 am #

      You’ll be amazed at what a difference it makes, Jennie – thanks so much for the read and comment!

  8. Damien Darby January 31, 2012 at 4:19 pm #

    Well hey there! All of you are perfect examples of why being an eBook writer these days is such a wonderful experience. I checked it out on my latest experiment and it didn’t look so bad. However, I am not an editor. Cool thing is we are teaching ourselves! I dig it.
    I am now a Key-lined disciple.



    • Molly Greene January 31, 2012 at 4:25 pm #

      …and Damien, you have the perfect name for a best-selling author. Thanks for stopping by!!

      • Damien Darby January 31, 2012 at 4:33 pm #

        Ohhhhhh Snap! A diamond!

        “You have the perfect name for a best-selling author.”

        It is now my mission in life to sincerely and genuinely tell that to 100 other struggling authors!

        Another priceless tip!


  9. Jo VonBargen January 31, 2012 at 3:34 pm #

    Omigosh, I needed this years ago! Thank you, thank you, thank you, Molly!! What a wonderful tip!

    • Molly Greene January 31, 2012 at 4:25 pm #

      You and me both, Jo – better late than never, right? Thank you for the read and comment!!

  10. Jennifer Froelich February 1, 2012 at 7:23 am #

    Wonderful advice! I’ll put it to use right away since I’m now editing my second manuscript. Thanks so much!

  11. Kimber Vale February 4, 2012 at 5:25 pm #

    I shall add this to my editing arsenal. I actually blogged about editing ideas not too long ago, but this is something shiny and new. Thanks for the tip! Now, back to editing despite my burning eyeballs.

  12. Carol R Wood February 15, 2012 at 10:09 am #

    What a great way to ‘see’ one’s story! Thanks, Molly and Christine. I’m using this tip now.

    • Molly Greene February 15, 2012 at 11:12 am #

      Thank you so much Carol for the read and comment – I LOVE this tip!

  13. L.B. Gale February 19, 2012 at 7:35 am #

    Wonderful idea. You get so used to reading something one way that it’s easy to glaze over the familiar. Anything that helps defamiliarize something you’ve been staring at is extraordinarily helpful. This got me thinking about varying the formats, and I was able to hook up my macbook to my television using some fairly standard cables. It allowed me a widescreen/zoomed-in view of the MS, which was certainly a different experience.

    • Molly Greene February 19, 2012 at 1:42 pm #

      I would love to try this – a widescreen read would be very interesting!

  14. Galit Breen March 16, 2012 at 11:37 am #

    Great tip, you two! Thank you!

  15. Elaine May 11, 2012 at 6:31 am #

    Interesting idea, key line editing. Yes, this is a great idea, a wonderful way of seeing your work anew. Anything that helps a writer see his or her work fresh will definitely help him or her to “hear” their work with new ears. Great tip!


    • Molly Greene May 11, 2012 at 7:18 am #

      Increasing the font size can help, as well. Thanks for the read and comment, Elaine!

  16. Tahlia Newland May 13, 2012 at 4:03 pm #

    Great idea, I hadn’t thought of that. I’ll try it when I go back to my WIP. Thanks for sharing.

  17. Shawn Bird June 3, 2012 at 1:01 am #

    When I get to the beta reader stage, I actually make a physical book. In Word, Page Set up, I leave it in portrait, but for Multiple pages click on the box that says ‘normal’ and pick “Book fold” (20 or 24 pages) then I send it to a photocopier set double sided, flip on the short edge. This makes signatures of 20-24 pages, which I sew together. I can make nice full colour covers on the off-set printer at the local UPS store for under $4, clamp, glue and then you REALLY have the book experience!

    For the price, however, I think I’m going to do future proof books with Createspace. 400 pages is under $6 plus shipping, and aside for the waiting, it would certainly take less time than my sewing method.

    I agree that you see something completely different every time you re-arrange the text! Reading aloud is also very good at catching problems. I read my entire novel onto CD for my visually impaired father. I made a lot of changes as a result.

  18. Debbie Vega July 20, 2012 at 3:40 pm #

    Wow, thanks for this fantastic tip! I’m in the process of editing my manuscript and this will be a huge help.

    • Molly Greene July 20, 2012 at 3:42 pm #

      Yaaaay! Best of luck on your edit!

  19. jessicakorteman August 7, 2012 at 5:40 pm #

    Great advice! Thank you!

  20. Christy November 11, 2012 at 10:59 pm #

    I’m about to sound like a complete idiot, but WHAT is a “key line” version? I have know idea what you mean by this.

    Thanks in advance for any help that you can give.

    • Molly Greene November 12, 2012 at 4:22 pm #

      Hi Christy! It’s about printing out a landscape (sideways) version of your manuscript, more like a book. The 8 1/2 inch side of the paper will be left and right, the 11 inch side will be top and bottom. Does that help?

  21. Betsy May 27, 2013 at 6:07 am #

    Wow!! I immediately set up a template when I read this! I follow Christine on Twitter and really enjoy her writing.

  22. Lauren @ Pure Text May 30, 2013 at 6:49 pm #

    Hey Molly, I’m a freelance editor and I do two passes before handing the work back to the author, so I’m definitely going to try this trick for the second round to see how it affects my work.

    My only trouble was following the instructions on my version of Word, but I think I can figure it out.

    Thanks for the tip!

    • Lauren @ Pure Text May 31, 2013 at 8:43 am #

      Yup, this tip’s working like a charm!

      I was aware that changing the font, or changing something about the way you viewed the doc, helped you catch new problems/errors, but changing the font was always too intrusive and actually distracted me. This, however, is perfect. 😀

  23. [email protected] June 13, 2013 at 1:05 pm #

    I’m just a dang copywriter and blogger, and I’m definitely going to do this. It’ll feel like I’m writing a book.

    I love the idea of being the only dude at a female writers’ slumber party, but I fear I’ll be used for the sensational foot rubs I give and incredible pancakes, and no one will even hear my words.

    • Molly Greene June 13, 2013 at 1:29 pm #

      Hey Eli! No worries, we all hate pancakes around here. And you’re not alone, I actually have a guy or two drop by from time to time. So glad you found my blog! Visit often, we will not gang up against you 😮

  24. EW Greenlee August 23, 2013 at 12:26 pm #

    Nice tip. I create my drafts in Word and then place into Adobe InDesign. Do you have any tips on converting InDesign documents to eBooks?

    • Molly Greene August 23, 2013 at 2:39 pm #

      No, sorry EW – But I bet if you Google it you’ll find some guidance!

  25. TheFakeGourmet January 31, 2014 at 10:04 am #

    I don’t know why I never thought of this before! I will definitely be trying it! 🙂

    • Martha Jane Curtis April 18, 2014 at 9:40 pm #

      Molly, I just clicked through from twitter to Christine’s blog to yours. I am working on my first novel and just printed it out a few days ago–in portrait view. I don’t like working with it that way. I will suffer through it for this draft, but for the next one I WILL use the key line version. Thank you so much for sharing!

      • Molly Greene April 19, 2014 at 9:13 am #

        Thanks, Martha! I don’t actually use portrait view anymore for anything but the first draft. After that, it’s sbooklet view every time. You’re going to love it!


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