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Common Mistakes Writers Make by Editor Claudette Cruz

| Posted in Editing, Guest Posts |

15

As always, I’m busy writing (two or three more chapters to go to finish the draft of EE6!), and I’ve been neglecting the blog a little bit. Next week, look for a new book giveaway contest with a chance to put some words into our heroes’ mouths. In the meantime, please enjoy this guest post from editor Claudette Cruz. She has some helpful advice for writers, new and old (I suspect my now infamous “the breast’s maw” typo is covered in there somewhere…).

Common Mistakes Writers Make

Hello, dear readers! My name’s Claudette Cruz, and I’m an independent editor and an avid reader. Today I’d like to mention a few of the more common mistakes I often come across in my line of work. I know there are many indie authors out there who are forced to go through the self-publishing route as traditional publishing houses become more and more selective. I hope my article helps you catch those small, common mistakes that translate to bad reviews and cranky, unsatisfied readers. This, in turn, will hopefully lead to better sales and reviews.

The first thing I have to mention is that you should get your book looked at by as many friends, family members, or beta readers as you possibly can. Try to have some of them focus more on the fluidity of the reading experience than on the content itself. Sure, all of them may concur that the story’s great, but are they overlooking the fact that your manuscript is riddled with grammatical errors? When asking them for their opinion, specifically ask these people to point out any errors they might come across.

If you can afford to do so, hire an editor next. They’re more experienced in catching tiny mistakes other people might miss, such as omitted letters or punctuation, misspellings, or words used out of context. Speaking of errors, I’ll now go into more detail regarding mistakes I’ve seen in every single manuscript I’ve worked on.

Omitted letters or words:

This is THE most common issue I deal with when editing or proofreading. You need a fresh pair of eyes to look at your manuscript. Many authors tell me it’s amazing how many missing words or letters I caught, considering they had gone through the manuscript a bazillion times. I believe that’s exactly the reason they can’t see the mistakes themselves—they’ve gone through the same text so many times, their brains just fill in the missing letters and words automatically. If you can’t afford to hire an editor, or have no friends or family who’ll go through your manuscript for you, set the document aside for a week or more, and then read it again after having given your brain a vacation from looking at the same chunk of text every day.

I want oyu to read an study this sentence carefuly. Then look it again. Now focus on the two sentences before this one. Maybe you were looking for mistakes in the first one and didn’t notice the second sentence was missing a word. Sure, I was trying to trick you, but keep in mind that a manuscript is way longer and probably far messier than this. You may have caught all the mistakes this time, but try doing it in a manuscript that’s over 60,000 words long. Most likely you’ll miss at least one thing, and while a single error isn’t bad at all, it’s far more likely that you’ll miss way more than one error. Readers run the gamut from picky to indifferent. Many won’t care if there’s a few editing blunders, but others will complain about too many mistakes and leave you bad reviews, scaring away potential new readers. If you want to increase your fan base, start by having a manuscript that’s as clean, neat, and error-free as possible.

Missing or incorrect punctuation:

I see this a lot, especially in manuscripts that are more dialogue-heavy. Sometimes you forget to add a quotation mark here or there, effectively confusing the heck out of your reader when a character replies to something the other just said. Other times, a missing comma can affect the fluidity of the whole sentence. Your reader has to stop and backtrack to try to make sense of what you just wrote. You don’t want that. You want your manuscript to read fluidly. A missing period can equally affect the reading experience. Also, remember that a single apostrophe can completely change the meaning of a word. “It’s” and “its” are used in different situations, and replacing one with the other is not advisable if you want your sentence to make any sense at all.

Words used out of context:

Similarly, editors will fix any instances in which you used a word out of context. Homophones, or words that sound the same but are spelled differently, are some writers’ bane. The writers will confuse “their” with “they’re,” “rain” with “reign” or “rein,” “whose” with “who’s,” and the list goes on. They’ll also fix up errors in which you happened to use an adjective instead of a noun, like in “I was paralyzed with frightful.” That doesn’t exactly make sense, does it? You meant to use “fright.” “The sheriff padded her down.” Huh? Didn’t you mean, “The sheriff patted her down”? “The article was trying.” That can have two completely different meanings. It might mean that the article tested your patience, in which case “trying” is used as an adjective, or that it was making an attempt or effort to do something, in which case “trying” is a verb. To be fair, that last example is a stretch, as “the article was trying” seems like it’s missing words to effectively place it in the context I meant, but hopefully you get my drift.

Repetition:

Okay, so your characters are particularly inquisitive and ask a lot of questions. That doesn’t mean that you have to use the word “asked” every single time you write that your character inquires about something. This is when a thesaurus comes in handy. If I notice a manuscript is overusing a particular word, I highlight the offending word throughout the document and provide my client with a list of acceptable replacements they should consider using now and then. They then have the option of replacing a few of the highlighted words with some of the ones I provided for them, thus dealing with the repetitiveness issue. You can easily do this yourself, though. Look up any word you find yourself using way too often. An online dictionary will usually provide synonyms as well as the definition of the word. Coincidentally, this also helps you tackle the issue of words used out of context. Look up “rein” and “reign” in a dictionary, and you’ll easily find out which word you meant to use.

There are a lot of other things editors can help you out with. They’ll make sure your manuscript is consistent, for one. They’ll make sure you spell the name “Lindsay” consistently, and not “Lindsey” by mistake. They’ll also help out if you want your manuscript to use British English instead of American English, and vice versa. If they have the specific skill, they can make sure that your Spanish-speaking character is saying things correctly in Spanish and not just uttering what a website offering free translations managed to cough out for you. They will deal with cumbersome run-on sentences and with sentences that seem disjointed.

I hope my article has been of use to you. Several of my clients have raved about seeing an increase in sales and good reviews after I worked on their manuscripts. I don’t believe that’s a coincidence. In my opinion, a neat, clean, error-free book is more likely to get better reviews and be recommended to other readers. Go ahead and put my advice to use. I wish you all many sales and worldwide fame. Thank you, Lindsay Buroker, for allowing me to contribute this guest post, and thanks to all of you guys for reading my article!

Bio:

Claudette Cruz is a pet lover, a crafting supplies hoarder, and a fan of all her clients. Fluent in English and Spanish, she’s been an independent editor since September of last year, when author Joseph Lallo helped launch her career by giving her a chance to prove herself. After posting on publishing forums based on author Jeff Gunzel’s advice, she got her first paying client, author M.K. Baxley, a total sweetheart who provided encouragement and her first referrals.

When she’s not working, Claudette is either making cards or enjoying long walks with her dogs. Every now and then she plays Zumba on her Wii U because she happens to have a chocolate addiction. Email her at claudettecruz@ymail.com for rates and to request a sample edit.

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Comments (15)

If you can’t afford the services of an editor you’ll quickly find that, when you read through your work, you read what you expect it to say rather than what’s actually there. One way round this is to make use of a text to speech program which will read the text back to you while you follow along. It takes time but will quickly draw your attention to ‘I want oyu to read an study this sentence carefuly. Then look it again.’ It won’t spot the spelling error at the end of the first sentence but then your spelling checker should do that.

Thank you for the tips, Claudette.

Very good advice. It’s always good to have a neutral third party look at what you’ve written.

Ack! I’m ashamed to see how many of these mistakes I’ve made-repeatedly! Luckily, I have a wonderful editor. Thanks for an insightful post.

Thank you! As a reader, I love trying new indie authors, and basic mistakes likes these take you out of the story and really interrupt the flow, yet they’re easy to catch as long as you have several sets of eyes on the book before publishing.

As a blogger, I want to recommend new authors to my readers, but too many typos can kill even the best story.

So let me add my two cents that hiring a good editor will definitely be worth it!

Hi,what you are describing is not the role of an ‘editor’ at all. It’s the role of the copy-editor or line-editor. The editor herself has a totally different job. It might be worth pointing out to writers who have never been published traditionally that if they want to emulate the conditions which led to to the production of almost great books in whatever genre prior to the self-publishing boom, they would need to involve close work with an ‘editor’. I don’t say this to be hyper-critical of your (very sound) advice, but merely to make the point that rooting out typos and getting names consistent is not really that big a deal when it comes to producing fabulous books; the role of an ‘editor’ is (imho!)
Tony

Thanks for commenting, Tony. Indies rarely pay for developmental editors, since the cost often runs in the thousands of dollars, and most of us are on a tight budget when we’re getting started. Many indies don’t have any interest in emulating the formulaic stuff that big publishing has been putting out for the last couple of decades either. That said, we often rely on beta readers or critique partners to help with the big-picture stuff. By the time we’re looking to hire someone, it’s typically for these sorts of final-polish things.

‘Many indies don’t have any interest in emulating the formulaic stuff that big publishing has been putting out for the last couple of decades either.’

Wow! The indie argument thus far has been, I think, that books of a comparable nature and quality can be produced without the need for all the in-house fuss of a trad publisher. That much I can agree with. But now it appears that you are imply that many indie books are better *because* their authors don’t seek to emulate trad published stuff… [Please name some…]

What I am seeing is the opposite: indies absolutely trying to beat trad publishers at their own game, churning out series after series of stuff which, in the best cases, in totally indistinguishable from a trad pubbed book.

Most recently and famously, Wool. It’s a collection of novellas. That’s not something that emulates anything the mainstream publishers are putting out, and it wouldn’t have made it past an agent’s slush pile because that format isn’t marketable supposedly. Though, of course, once you hit it big as an indie, they have no trouble publishing you.

An agent once gave me a list of things I’d have to change about EE1 for it to work in traditional publishing. I’d already self-published the novel at that point, and didn’t have any interest in making those particular changes anyway. I’m sure there are lots of things that could be improved about my novels, but the series sells well regardless, and many people have told me they enjoy the books.

“indies absolutely trying to beat trad publishers at their own game, churning out series after series of stuff which, in the best cases, in totally indistinguishable from a trad pubbed book.”

I’m sure that’s true for many, but I’ve talked to plenty of people who are relieved to be able to do their own thing and not worry about what publishers want or what’s trending. But I don’t think we’re talking about editing here at this point, but what’s proven and popular (and is therefore going to be acceptable to a mainstream publisher).

Wool, v. good example. And your own work, yes, ironic that it sells despite an editor’s advice. The ‘importance of the editor’ is just SO deeply engrained in the literary mindest (I mean, for me…). Funny, editors and lit. agents are both inventions of the late 19th and 20th centuries. Perhaps they are simply a blip in literary history?

Best wishes, and thanks for a great website/blog. TR

There are relatively few people who would qualify as editors if that’s the only type there was in the world. It sounds like you’re referring to the scattering of people who work for publishing houses and magazines. A few hundred in the U.S.? A thousand? There are far more freelance editors out there cleaning up copy for clients. I’m sure they’ll be offended if you suggest they don’t qualify as editors.

Outside of paid jobs with houses/magazines, there are “story doctors” (sounds like what you’re talking about) selling their services independently, and they charge a fortune for advice that’s ultimately just in their opinion. I’d take advice from an editor at a big house who’d worked on novels I respected (but with their full-time jobs, they probably aren’t looking to take on side projects), but not from some random person who hung a shingle out on a website. I’ve heard from people who have paid for those dubious services and regretted it.

I am one of those readers that really hate bad grammar. Especially homonyms. And if the reviews mention poor editing… I *will* avoid that book no matter how good it is.

One trick to help with countering the over-familiarity is changing the font and font size. And/or printing it out.

Thanks for the mention, Claudette! I’m so proud to have helped you get started!

“Many won’t care if there’s a few editing blunders”
(“there are”) 😉

I’m an editor nine-to-five and I edit and write when I get home. It’s tough being a broke indie author who knows the rules but can’t find the mistakes in his own work. Very annoying.

I’m on your blog in a new tab and may eventually be able to contact you with some work—if I can ever get the money together.

Thanks for the article!

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