It was a matter of timing.

All you had to do was write your story, publish it on Amazon, and become a best-seller. Right?

I highly respect new writers and congratulation you for putting yourself out there. Great job! And now you know it’s a lot more effort than you thought.

After reviewing hundreds of manuscripts, web pages, white papers and marketing copy, I realized I saw the same grammatical errors over and over.

I decided to write a list of those recurring items so you could make your corrections (especially if you’re not hiring a second pair of eyes). Even if (and I sincerely hope so) you hired a professional editor and proofreader they’ll both be happier you do these things first! No, wait… it’s not for a happier editor; it’s to prevent you from looking like an amateur instead of the expert you indeed are in your field as a published author.

So here they are: the Ten Things Your Book Editor Appreciates from you. (insert eye roll)

Fair warning: I’m a little mean and a lot intense.

1. There are (probably) a dozen writers better than you.

In fifteen years as a copywriter and editor, I’ve met a few writers who have impressed me with their wit and structure.

And I couldn’t tell you how many others have insisted their work didn’t need a proofreader’s keen eye and have resented feedback. What I’m saying here is, there are younger and older, experienced and novices, who are good writers. And there are as many who are not. Accept your skill level, don’t apologize for it, and for sure, never let it stop you from producing written work. However, allow feedback, especially if you are publishing it for the world to read.

I grin a lot and get a little guilty pleasure out of calling a diva’s bluff when he tells me what I need to do to keep working with him.

Instead, be someone who is humble, eager to learn, and communicative.

2. You can always turn in drafts early.

Deadlines and launch dates mean “no later than …” not strictly “deliver on …”

Your editor and/or proofreader is dealing with dozens of other variables, and even if nothing happens to your draft during the extra day or two between when you ask for a final look-see close to a launch date, it’s nice to know it’s done and ready for the next step in its journey—Kindle upload and reviews.

More likely, something more will need to be done with it. Writers who turn in stuff earlier than necessary always get more time with me.

3. Match. The. Style Guide.

I get it; you’re a writer, not a designer. The visual aesthetic isn’t necessarily your thing.

But it’s our thing, and we can make those suggestions when all else is done. If your editor asks for precise page breaks, a specific table of contents, one or two max fonts, text sizes, headers, etc., just do it. In the end, Kindle Direct has templates to build the preferred styles for publication and a final draft should be in that format.

However, before that final upload, just after the work is written, line-edited and proofread, the result should be as easy as, “paste into formatting.” Then you see what else needs to be done.

But if you insist on being creative, some of those creative features won’t work on a final manuscript. The worst habit a new writer does is justify the content. That sucks because you can’t tell if you have an extra space between words. Can you see if there are one or two spaces between words in this justified paragraph? If you can’t, neither will the proofreader. A solution is, stay left aligned.

Sure your editor has a job to do, but really, you too need to keep an eye out for formatting. Check if chunks of text are paragraphed properly and lines are indented consistently. And yes, we all understand that this is what proofreaders do for you, however, if you don’t help, it’s easy to lose flow if you don’t monitor it as well. A Kindle upload is different from a book upload is different from your original manuscript. You need to know this first. It’s very time consuming to delete and make changes. So, submit a clean, unformatted copy for edit.

It seems like a lot to keep track of all this, doesn’t it? Nevertheless, it all flows together. As we are reading a sentence, we are mentally checking for grammar errors, misspellings, and formatting issues. Only you have access to your Kindle account unless you expect the editor/proofreader to load the manuscript for you. That’s a different job altogether.

4. Proofread. I’ll say it again, “You. Proofread. Last.”

Look. This shouldn’t need to be on this list … but … ugh. After your editor and proofreader give you the final clean copy, and you go in and make some heroic statement, you decide it’s not that heroic, and forget to undo what you did.

Every typo or messed up sentence (because you rewrote it a couple of times and in all the editing a leftover word got overlooked, etc.) reinforces the idea that you didn’t give the content the last look before you sent it for publication. This so makes me cringe. I will NOT take responsibility for your heroism. And it makes me wonder what else you did too quickly/insufficiently.

5. Review the changes your editor makes and take notes.

Revision requests and edits will be noted for you to make. I always send a “red” flagged copy and a revised clean copy so you can see what was recommended, corrected and adjusted. Smaller things will get fixed for you because it’s easier just to change pronouns and add or remove commas, and spaces after a sentence end. Oh for Pete’s sake – this is another awful issue with novice writers. They add an extra space after the end of a sentence . Why?? Or a space after a list of items requiring commas , and another item , and a comma , and what the hell folks?

If your editor goes out of his/her way to let you know that they always use Oxford commas, or they never use second person pronouns, and you add more paragraphs and content after the initial edit, make a note. She shouldn’t have to tell you a second time.

If your editor makes other small corrections and adjustments, the only way to find out about them is to go back and review the final copy. No, those aren’t your responsibility if the editor doesn’t tell you about them … but it only takes a minute and everybody benefits. You might discover that he/she is always fixing your passive voice, your pronoun-antecedent problems, etc. Fix those things yourself next time. You become a better writer, and your publications come out clean and clear.

You may have noticed I use the role editor and proofreader interchangeably. They are different, but you can get someone who is an expert in both areas. If you need to know why an editor is so picky, or how a proofreader looks at spelling and punctuation, here’s a brilliant little article in the NY Book Editors site that clarifies the role similarities and the differences – you may need one edit style more than the other. I am certified in both:

6. Numbers, numbers, numbers, numbers.

You are creative and gifted and talented, of course. And you have years to speak of and dates and numbers to include. Of course! But once you get your manuscript ready for publication, you must follow the rules, or your product will look substandard. Here are the basics and you need to consider them:

Spell out whole numbers from zero through one hundred.

  • My eight siblings like to go to the beach every weekend.
  • Harry endured three tasks in the tournament.
  • I read 142 books last year.

Simple fractions are spelled out (be sure to hyphenate in noun, adjective, and adverb forms). 

  • I ate one-fourth of the pie.
  • Only three-quarters of the participants stayed to the end.

Always spell out numbers when they are the beginning of a sentence.

  • Forty people showed up to the class on watercolour painting.
  • Three calves were born last night.

Percentages are expressed in numerals and with the percentage symbol if they refer to statistical or scientific studies. Otherwise, the numeral is expressed, but percent is written out. If a percent is at the beginning of a sentence, the numeral will always be written out. 

  • Studies indicate only 60% of geese survive the winters here.
  • Twenty percent of the projects have been turned in so far.

Decades can be either spelled out (as long as the century is clear) or expressed in numerals. Stay consistent!

  • I wore some bright colours in the seventies.
  • I grew up in the 1980s.

7. Don’t be a diva about edit requests.

Similar to the above, make the edits and changes that your editor asks. He/she might use nice language like, “Let’s do this,” or, “I think this needs to do that.” That’s not because your editor is unsure, he/she is just trying to be nice.

This is not the moment to make a case for why you did what you did, or why you think it’s great. I assume you think it’s great because I assume you wouldn’t turn in a draft that you’re not proud of. But there are a dozen reasons why it might need to change, so just change it.

One of the worst culprits used in short reads is to cut and paste several paragraphs from one chapter into another way down the line. Hello! It’s not a surprise to a trained eye and believe it or not, your readers will notice the repetition. Instead, write something new. That’s just lazy. Speaking of lazy…

8. Don’t be lazy with edit requests.

Make good changes. There’s no way to quantify or diagnose this, but you know what I mean. And your editor knows.

Some writers take the time to think about and craft edit requests. And some writers just delete difficult sentences, add fluffy text, etc. Be the former. Your editor can not only tell when you rush through edits, but he/she also has to make up for it, and it’s super annoying.

9. Read the “red” before you ask questions.

There actually is such a thing as a dumb question. It’s the question an adult asks when the answer has already been given. Proofed copy has all the reasons highlighted in red!

I will—and I have—copy or screenshot the answer from my documentation/email and paste it in my reply to you. Your editor doesn’t put together creative briefs for her own amusement. If you don’t read the suggestions, again, it’s your fate.

10. Use stories and conversation.

A good story and especially conversation tossed in makes for exciting reading. Don’t be afraid of quotation marks and the rules of conversation. Once your proofreader shows you how to use conversation properly, chat it up!

When and how to use quotation marks or italics can be tricky to navigate. Again, don’t let the rules scare you.

First, let’s discuss where to put other punctuation relative to the quotation marks:

  • Periods and commas go inside closing quotation marks.
    • He said, “We can close early today.”
  • Exclamation points and question marks go either inside or outside quotation marks, depending on the context of the quote. For instance, if the quoted text includes a question, the question mark will go inside the quotation marks.
    • Karen asked, “What movie are we going to see?”
    • What did he mean when he said, “We’ll have to see”?
  • Semicolons and colons always go outside closing quotation marks.
    • There are two reasons why I love Poe’s “The Raven”: it’s dark, and it’s timeless.
  • When quoting more than one paragraph, include an opening quotation mark at the beginning of each paragraph. Only put a closing quotation mark at the end of the last paragraph quoted.
  • When a quote is within a quote, set off the inner quote with a pair of single quotation marks.
    • When we were talking, Bill mentioned, “When Shakespeare wrote, ‘To be or not to be,’ he penned one of the greatest lines in literature.”

Now let’s talk about when to use quotation marks and when to italicize:

  • Titles of plays, regardless of the length of the play, are italicized.
    • The Taming of the Shrew was adapted into a popular teen movie in 1999.
  • Titles of most poems are enclosed in quotation marks. A very long poetic work is italicized and not enclosed in quotation marks.
    • My brother used to recite “Where the Sidewalk Ends” by Shel Silverstein while he ate breakfast.
    • Many high school students had to read Homer’s The Odyssey in English class.
  • Titles of paintings, photographs, and drawings are italicized.
    • The Mona Lisa is one of the most famous paintings in the world.
  • Titles of books are italicized.
    • Can you believe Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is over 800 pages long?
  • Chapter titles are enclosed in quotation marks.
    • “Three is Company” in The Fellowship of the Ring is one of my favourite chapters in a book.

You’re Welcome

Sorry, but it pretty much comes down to “get over yourself” and let the professional do his/her job. If you don’t see these types of edits, you’ve hired the wrong or incompetent person.

Not sorry. I told you at the beginning that I’m intense. And correcting your manuscript the way it deserves shows your readers’ that yes indeed, you’re a professionally published author. If you don’t care, “they” won’t care or believe you have authority.

So—if you desire to be the respected best-seller—scan the list. Pick one to start on, and level up.

Great job today, keep writing and publishing,

Patricia Ogilvie

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