As I said last time, if you’re self-publishing, you need a professional editor. But where do you get one? There is no licensing standard for editors. Anyone with a fondness for reading and a bent for grammar can declare themselves an editor and start seeking clients. Many sites exist to pair this sort of freelancer with writers, but beware. At such sites, pricing often becomes a race to the bottom. Continue reading
As I noted when talking about editing a novel, writers often fall into an endless editing trap. You could go over your manuscript an infinite number of times and still find things to improve—or at least change.
A client and I once made two rounds of edits on his book. If he had asked for a third round, I would have had this talk with him, but he beat me to it. “How many times could we go back and forth like this?”
I said, “We have reached the point of diminishing returns.” He’s a finance guy, so he understood my meaning. There comes a time when further editing doesn’t produce a better book, it just produces a different book. Continue reading
I’ve written before about When Passive Voice is Permissible. Strunk and White admit that “Use the active voice … does not, of course, mean that the writer should entirely discard the passive voice, which is frequently convenient and sometimes necessary.”
But one of the biggest problems writers face in critique groups is the problem of partners who flag passages as “passive” when they’re really not. Often verbs of being (be, is, was) are flagged as “incorrect” or “passive.” They are not. They are not particularly strong verbs, but they are not passive in and of themselves. Continue reading
Once you have worked your way through the Elements of Nonfiction Editing Checklist, taking as many passes as needed to address the Personality, Presentation, Voice, Information, and Mechanics of your book, what next?
The first thing many writers do is run their manuscript past some beta readers or critique partners. Maybe both. These are two different things, so let me explain. Continue reading
When we talk about the mechanics of a manuscript, we are ultimately talking about details: grammar, spelling, punctuation, and the like. Style is also a component of mechanics, as is manuscript format.
But remember that when I introduced the Elements of Nonfiction Editing Checklist I said it was in order of importance. There’s a reason Mechanics is the last category on the list. It’s the least important.
Which isn’t to say that it’s unimportant. Continue reading
Often when we’re writing nonfiction we need to refer to words in such a way that the term being used is itself the subject of the discussion, rather than the concept the term describes. If I say “My Sunday school students have difficulty understanding the concept of propitiation,” it means something very different from “English is her second language, so she has difficulty understanding the word propitiation.”
When in your writing you need to discuss the word or phrase itself rather than the concept described by the term, put the term in italics. Continue reading
An editor once excised the semicolons from my writing with the marginal note “Death to semicolons.” He changed every one of them to a period.
Not every editor is so vehement about this much-maligned mark, but those who are may be provoked by the fact that so many writers don’t know how to use it properly.
This lack of accuracy may come about because some people learn that a comma is a pause and a period is a stop. One could readily deduce that a semicolon is somewhere in between.
Almost, but not quite. Continue reading
On my to-do list was a note to write you a post about the correct use of quotation marks. Then I discovered that Jonathon Owen over at Arrant Pedantry had already done so. His article is useful and thorough, so I’ll send you over there to learn How to Use Quotation Marks. He even has a nifty flow chart.
I especially like Owen’s comments about scare quotes. Those are the quotes people put around a word to draw attention to it for … well, no good reason, actually, as Owen explains. Whenever you are tempted to put scare quotes around a term, I want you to imagine you are speaking to an audience and when you get to that part of your writing, you make “air quotes” with your “fingers” every time you put “scare quotes” around a term. Continue reading
The guidelines for hyphenation are complex and inconsistent. At least copyeditors are kept in business, but it can be frustrating for a writer to understand when to hyphenate and when not. Hyphenation errors are among the most common spelling problems I see. Yes, spelling. Hyphens are often thought of as punctuation, but matters of hyphenation are correctly classified under spelling, as they are in Proofreading Secrets of Best-Selling Authors and The Chicago Manual of Style. At the risk of sounding like your mother, most of what you need to know about how to spell a word can be found by looking it up in a dictionary. Continue reading
One of the finer points of punctuation is the use of dashes. In casual writing, we often use them willy-nilly, but when you are writing nonfiction for publication, take care to use them properly.
Fiction writers only need concern themselves with one kind of dash. They will rarely have use for the other. But nonfiction writers need to understand the differences and when to use them.
The first and most common dash is the em dash—so called because in a proportional font it’s about the same width as the letter M. There’s one in the previous sentence. The em dash is used in nonfiction much as it is in fiction: for an abrupt break that’s not suitable for other punctuation. Continue reading