Some guidance when editing


A two part series on editing and working with an editor.


Part 1: The debate between 'track changes' and comments.

Alright, so if you've worked with multiple editors, you've probably seen multiple styles. The first pro editor I ever worked with used track changes. The manuscript was trash (my first novel. It was honestly horrid.) so there were just thousands and thousands of corrections. The editor used track changes, which gives you a quick option to simply 'accept' the edit or not. You click a button and the edit is made exactly how the editor made it on the manuscript, then you move on. For my first manuscript, one riddled with errors, I spent about 2 days applying the edits. I read most of the changes before I clicked 'accept' on about 99% of them. Long story short, the novel still sucks.

Using comments: you've seen the little comment bubbles next to a manuscript. Google Docs and MS Word both support the exact same format. My second professional editor used comments, and that's all I will accept from an editor now. Let me tell you why.

Comments taught me how to be a better writer. 

When I used track changes, I just sort of mindlessly hit 'accept' on almost everything. Then when I wrote my next book, I made all the same errors again. The same damn errors.

When I read comments from my editor, I have to read the whole comment to understand what the issue is with the sentence. Then I have to read the sentence I had written to figure out where / what the error is. Then I have to make the correction myself and delete the comment. It takes far longer to do, and that's great. When I see the 4th comment correcting the same comma error, for example only using a comma before a coordinating conjunction if the following clause is independent, I learn how to write correctly. Now I don't make that mistake in my manuscripts. Well, ok, I make it every now and then, but not often. 

Learning how to be a better writer is the #1 most important thing you can gain from working with a pro editor. 

Part 2: A couple pet peeves I see in a lot of indie writing.

You might recall an article I wrote a long time ago regarding the word 'this.'

Here's an expansion of my thoughts from that article. Consider the following sentences:

1. She laughed at all this and walked on.

2. They fell into his trap. He had planned this to happen just the way it did.

3. They crested the hill by the lake. Now he had them in his sights.

4. Sixteen penguins pecked savagely at the helpless hunter. He tried to defend himself from this, but it didn't work.

5. Trump and Obama finally found the lost WMD in the cave they were currently exploring.

We'll take these sentence one at a time. It should also be said that I made all of them up off the top of my head. Obviously. They're terrible. I would never write that garbage into a book. Well, maybe something close to #4, but that's it.

Sentence 1: If you're a good storyteller, the reader should know why she is laughing. She knows Hillary just lost the election. You mentioned the TV in the previous line, right? Saying "at all this" is just redundant. We know why she's laughing! A better line 1: "She laughed, turning her back to walk on." - Still not wonderful, but you get the idea. Don't tell the reader everything. Tell them just enough.

Sentence 2: You don't want to say: "He had planned the trap" or anything like that because "trap" would be repetitive. As it stands, "this" is redundant with "his trap" in the previous sentence. You have a couple options with sentence 2. Perhaps try something like: "He had planned everything flawlessly." You get the idea. We already know about the trap, so don't tell us about the trap again.

Sentence 3: A little deviation from 'this' commentary. Time stamps. Unless you just finished with a memory / flash back / flash forward / something else similar, you don't need to time stamp events. Of course it is happening currently, I'm reading it currently! Just cut the time word 'now' and you have a better sentence. 

Sentence 4: Another instance where 'this' (plus 'from') could be cut to drastically improve the writing quality. I'm not going to point fingers, but I saw that exact construction in an indie horror novel I read recently.

Sentence 5: Another redundant time expression. Unless you have the story being told by Sarah Palin as a memory of that spelunking expedition she did with Trump and Obama, it doesn't make sense. Just remove the time expression and you improve the sentence. And yes, I read something almost identical to #5 not too long ago. Different characters though. Sadly...

Hopefully everything here makes sense. Oh, and do a quick Ctrl+F search on 'this.' You won't find it outside being specifically called out. You can write good fiction—and non-fiction—without using the word. 

The last 3 books I've tried to read have had some serious issues...

I understand that many self published authors have little to no budget for editing and proofing. Many people try to edit their own manuscripts. As you can imagine, editing your own work isn't a great practice. How do you know if you wrote some absolute shit? How can you be sure that you catch every typo and grammatical mistake? I am by no means a flawless editor or writer, but some of these will make you shake your head.

Here are a few examples of things I've read in the past few days. Some of these sentences are worse than others, but all of them should have been flagged by an editor. 

Sentence 1: "Dirt coated the skirts, revealing the age and abuse that this building had survived through."

Where do I begin? Firstly, survived is redundant with through. You could simply chop the last word off and be ok as far as that error is concerned. The second issue with the sentence is one I find in a ton of self published works. The word "this" should be saved for textbooks. It hijacks the reader's attention away from the vivid imagery and reminds them that they are reading a book. I'll probably rant more on that later.

Sentence 2: "He wanted to dip down below and meet this man, ask him several questions."

Not surprisingly, sentence 2 comes from the same book as sentence 1, only a paragraph later. When I was reading, I resolved to keep going after the first glaring sentence, but gave up after the second. Again, "this" could easily be changed to "the" and some sort of connector needs to replace that comma. Perhaps, "He wanted to dive down and meet the man. Maybe he could ask him a few questions."

Sentence 3: "She decided to definitely not mention [character], because any mentions of her always upset [character], and [character] was still considering what to think about what [character] had said."

I took out the character names to somewhat hide the book. A few good rules to follow are such: if a sentences takes longer than 1 breath to read aloud, cut it down. Also, don't repeat large words within the same paragraph, much less the same sentence. Those rules aside, a few other things bother me about this line. Considering what to think about -- so... she is contemplating HOW to contemplate something else? What?

Sentence 4: "As a child, [character] was told about the Bogeyman. It's a fictional monster or entity that laid under the bed. An imaginary creature used by parents to frighten children - to teach them not to suck their thumbs, and generally to deviate from bad behavior."

First of all, you don't need to explain urban legends. You especially don't need to explain the Bogeyman. Saying "monster or entity" is useless. If you really want to make the point that the Bogeyman might not be a *monster*, just say that. Otherwise, you are wasting words. The second half of the section has a redundancy issue as well. Deviating from bad behavior includes thumb sucking. Plus, as mentioned before, you don't need to explain the origins of urban legends! Also, saying that the Boogeyman lays under the bed isn't nearly vivid enough. Unless this is children's horror, that monster needs to lurk. Maybe prowl. Perhaps he could hunt under the bed. Anything except lay there and chill out.


Let's talk about the word this. I performed a few searches on very successful eBooks (I have their pdfs) to see if perhaps I am the only person on Earth who hates the word this. It seems that I'm not alone. Outside of dialogue, several famous fantasy novels don't use it a single time. Sci-fi has the same results. I tested a few others and found the word only once outside dialogue, and it was used appropriately. When I see the word, it jars me. It takes me out of the moment. It makes me instantly hate the author for derailing my journey. In almost every single case, the word can easily be changed to the.


In closing, my advice is to hire a professional editor. Can't afford the $200+ it might cost? Don't publish until you can afford it. Releasing something with glaring mistakes will only make potential readers hate your work and never support you in the future, no matter how skilled you become.  Sacrifice up front and reap the rewards later. 

Quotation Marks and Other Instruments of the Devil

I was reading a book last night when suddenly, I came upon very strange looking punctuation. The book is horribly written trash, the apparent standard for the big presses these days, but it felt well edited. Or so I thought.

Without giving away the book, here is basically what they wrote: "Blah, blah, blah, ghost and shit, OMG teen drama, blah, blah"."

That's right - they have 3 punctuation marks... In a book that is consistently ranked in the Amazon top 1,000. Next time someone berates small press for poor editing, I really want to hand them this garbage and see what they think.

Anyways, what's the actual rule for quotations and punctuation? The error above isn't the only one I've seen. Many authors (and presumably editors) are baffled by the required location of punctuation involving quotes.

Here it is: unless you have a rather uncommon sentence structure, punctuation goes inside the quotes.

Looking for more specifics? Here is a website that beautifully explains the rules.

And of course, since the Brits insist on doing everything their own way, England basically throws all expected grammatical conventions out the window.