I asked Margaret Riley if I could post this here on my LJ.
It happens -- the scenario every author, editor, and production person dreads. You open a file -- your most prized possession -- your current WIP -- and there it is.
Illegible Garbage. Yes, your file, friends, has gone to The Dark Side.
While it's not impossible, it's highly unlikely that most of you had a breakdown overnight and retyped your entire file in pig Latin. (Don't even THINK about it, Flash.) Parental drug use not withstanding, there are several ways and reasons good files go bad. Most can be attributed to the evils inherent in software and the Internet.
Debates about what programs are better or worse at killing off files aside, every publisher I've worked with uses WORD. Therefore this "How To" guide is set in the world I'm most familiar with -- WORD and it's partners, Wordpad and Notepad. Every Windows PC includes both Wordpad and Notepad as default RTF (Rich Text File) and TXT (Text Only File) default readers. For this exercise you'll need to know where to find them -- under Programs, Accessories -- you might want to make desktop shortcuts.
Software incompatibilities include Open Office to WORD, WordPerfect to WORD, and Works to WORD, and different versions of WORD to WORD. (Yes, it even hates itself.) Most software issues can be avoided by saving your file as an RTF or, if you've had repeated issues, a TXT file. Yes, you're going to lose your italics. Flag them with $ first. No other formatting will survive the change.
When you mail a file, any file of any size anywhere, little tiny pieces come off, like lint in the dryer. (Technical term: Packet loss.) Chances are, the lint will never be missed. The program opening the file will just put it back. But the more info you've got trapped in that file, the more the link can become chunks. And the more chunks that are missing, the better the chances that WORD, or any other word processing program -- will do the reconstruction incorrectly. (See The Cage/The Menagerie, original Star Trek.)
The worst issues we've seen are related to Track Changes. Track Changes saves every version of your file, layer upon layer. One wrong packet falls off, and you get the file you had before edits. Or proofing. Or before you added that last 3000 word sex scene. At Changeling we do not allow any use of Track Changes in any Changeling file, ever. Period. Nothing will remove all the code left in your file from Track Changes other than saving as txt, at which point there's no telling what file version you'll have when you reopen the file. Odds are good it won't be what you want, and we refuse to deal with the disasters this causes.
As an editor, when I get an author's "final" file in, the first thing I do with it is open it with Wordpad (right clicking on its icon and select "Open With") and save the file as an RTF file. The resultant file will usually be at least a third smaller file size than the original. What I've just done is removed many and sundry accumulated Styles and Fonts that have collected passing the file back and forth across the Internet. This will also work to rescue most files Demon files -- files with the fonts in glowing green shadowy Italic subscript that are all essentially there, just next to impossible to read. Wordpad will not kill off all your italics, so before the next step, open the file in WORD again and do a search for italics (Find, More, Font, Italic) and mark your italics with a $.
If the file is still problematic after that, mark the italics and save as txt, then open with notepad and save again. What this does is strip all the embedded styles and fonts and old versions, as opposed to most of them, so all you have is text. From there it's a simple matter to select all, and hit Book Antiqua font when you open the text file in WORD and save it as and RTF file again. And then go back and reformat the entire blasted file.
The good news is, if you do this yourself after every major round of critiques, you'll know what you're turning in to your editor at least resembles the book you thought you wrote, as opposed to the one you get back in edits that says "Would you please at LEAST run spell check before you send this to me?" Because Files From The Dark Side make everyone look bad. And rewriting several thousand words of lost changes is a whole lot more of a bitch than reformatting a file.
This has a fair amount which is specific to Changeling, but I thought there were parts which would be useful to anyone.