Proper editing makes all the difference when it comes to producing a high-quality book, but many authors think editing comes down to spelling and grammar. In our last blog we talked about why you should self-edit your book, and what type of self-editing you should do before sending your book to an outside editor or agent. Today I want to share with you the most common editing mistakes some authors make, and why it’s crucial to avoid making them.
That’s the wrong word
You’ve seen the popular meme floating around the internet having a jab at folks who mistakenly use the word “their” when they need to use the word “there.” We like to laugh at mistakes like this because they seem so obvious, but mistakes like “gorilla warfare” and “guerrilla warfare” aren’t so obvious to some people. Reading your work carefully, having beta readers give you feedback, and using polishing tools like Grammarly, Scrivener, ProWritingAid, and even certain AI programs can give you a leg up so you don’t spring a leek in your boat.
Homonym confusion is only one of the many common editing mistakes made by budding authors when they self-edit. Editors look for more than just spelling and grammar errors in your text. Depending on the type of edits they’re doing, they may also look for:
- Inconsistency in punctuation, capitalization, and formatting
- Improper use of homophones (e.g. their/there)
- Sentence structure errors (e.g. run-on sentences, fragments)
- Lack of clarity or coherence in the writing
- Incorrect use of vocabulary or terminology
- Incorrect use of verb tenses
- Incorrect use of active and passive voice
- Improper transition words and phrases between sentences and paragraphs.
- Improper formatting for headings and subheadings.
- Inconsistent point of view throughout the text. (head hopping or POV shifts)
- Inconsistent spelling (American English/British English)
- Concision and wordiness.
- Inconsistency in numerals (e.g. “5” versus “five”)
- Inconsistency in, capitalization, abbreviations, and acronyms.
While some of these are pretty self-explanatory, others may not be. If you’re going to tackle self-editing, you not only need to know what to look for, but also how to find it, and the what the style guides have to say.
For instance, most fiction writers that use American English follow the Chicago Manual of Style. Did you know CMS standard is to write all numbers out from zero to one hundred in all non-technical cases? (CMS 9.2) I bet you’ve heard that only numbers zero to nine need to be spelled out and the rest are numerals. It gets even trickier when you think about which words need hyphenated (e.g. thirty-two) and which ones don’t (e.g. one hundred). Knowing the standard will help you catch those pesky mistakes.
Passive vs. Active
If someone told you to never use the words “had” or “was” in your writing, they were probably trying to help you remove passive voice. Passive voice is a crafty tool to use in writing to create a very distinct effect, but if overused, or used incorrectly, passive voice can pull your reader out of the text and make for an unengaging read. Unfortunately, you can’t just remove the words “has” or “was” from your manuscript and think you’ve conquered passive voice. You may even do more harm than good. However, watching for those words will definitely help you locate most of the instances of passive voice in your writing.
Wordy Writing Woes
Is it this blog’s topic, or the topic of this blog to discuss editing mistakes? Wordiness is so often overlooked by writers when they self-edit. We see it all the time here at MK and we love helping catch and correct it. While we applaud Kevin’s attempt at reducing wordiness in his famous quote “…why waste time say lot word when few word do trick?” we can’t really stand behind that level of word reduction. (The Office, season eight episode two) What we can get behind are authors who use the strongest verbiage to pack a lot of punch in very few words.
Don’t get your words across the pond
Tyre/tire, check/cheque, aluminum/aluminium… Even my word processing software hates me right now. If you have ever read a book by a Canadian or British author, you’ll have seen some strange spellings of words, but did you know some common words that are misused in American English are actually British? For instance, I can further my point in America, but I must go farther to travel to Canada. In Canada, I can travel further north. It’s so confusing. We use, farther to indicate distance, and further to indicate a figurative distance of time, quantity, or degree. But our Queen’s English fans prefer “further” to show distance. It’s always best to keep to the same language. (Is it still called Queen’s English? Or is it King’s English now?)
I’ve taken the time to point out some of the trickier common editing mistakes, though even my full list above doesn’t cover them all. Whatever you do, if you’re self-editing, it really pays to have a handle on all the things your editor will look for when you send your manuscript in. The more you tackle on your own, the less work you’ll have when the editor sends your document to you for revisions. (And the smarter you’ll look!)
Check out our blog on the complete self-editing checklist for self-publishing later this month for a more comprehensive view of what you should watch for. And don’t forget to leave a comment here with any questions you have about these common self-editing mistakes.