Can Using Editing Tools Improve Your Writing?

writing tools

By Corina Koch Macleod and Carla Douglas
@CKMacleodwriter @CarlaJDouglas

This post appeared first on June 17, 2015 at The Book Designer.

In the tongue-in-cheek post How to Write a Book Even Faster, the author suggests that writers are not editing their writing. That can’t be true! (Right?) How do you edit your writing? Perhaps you use one of these self-editing approaches…

Approaches to Self-Editing

There are many ways to improve your writing. You can

  • set your writing aside for a month or two and tackle it again from a renewed perspective
  • get structured feedback from beta readers
  • hire an editor to assess your first draft and suggest improvements
  • run editing tools on your writing

Let’s look at each of these self-editing approaches.

DIY Feedback

You may be exhausted from your first-draft efforts. Setting your writing aside for a spell may give you the time you need to recharge and become excited about your book project again. It may also afford you the perspective you need to see where your writing needs fixing. This approach to self-editing is most effective if there aren’t time constraints, and if you’re able to see what needs improving.

External Feedback

The remaining items on the list above are different from the first item in one important way: they offer feedback on your writing from an external source — from someone, or something, other than you. Because it’s difficult to be objective about your own writing, external feedback can alert you to your writing blind spots.

Not everyone responds well to feedback from beta readers and editors. Writers need to be able to develop resilience for receiving feedback, but this takes time and practice. If you’re still working on developing your resilience, we have another “external” self-editing option for you: editing tools.

Editing Tools

Many editors use automated editing tools to efficiently find problems in a piece of writing. If writers want to learn how these tools work, they can use them to diagnose their own writing!

Below is a list of some our favourite editing tools, linked to articles that describe how to use them. We’ve organized them into the four levels of editing that every manuscript should go through.

Not all tools are diagnostic and automated.* Some of them, such as the paragraph-level and big-picture tools, will help you when it’s time to fix your writing. We’ve selected tools that we think will be most helpful to writers, but there are many more tools that you can explore and try.

Self-Editing Tools for Writers

Tool Word-level Sentence-level Paragraph-level Big-picture level
Consistency Checker* x x
Hemingway app* x x
PerfectIt Pro* x
Self-Editing macros* x
Scrivener’s Binder+ x x
Word’s Navigation Pane+ x x
Split-screen feature in Scrivener+ x x
Split-screen feature in Word+ x x


*Diagnostic tools: these tools will check for one or more potential writing problems with the click of a button.

+Fixing tools: these tools will help you fix writing problems, once they are identified.

As far as we know, there aren’t automated diagnostic tools that will point out paragraph-level and big-picture problems. At least not yet. For now, you’ll need to educate yourself about common paragraph-level and big-picture problems, or get some direction from beta readers and editors. You can use the paragraph-level and big-picture tools in the table above to efficiently fix problems, once you know what they are.

Advantages of Editing Tools

Editing tools have a few distinct advantages over the other self-editing methods mentioned at the beginning of this article:

  • They aren’t people, which means that writers probably won’t respond to feedback emotionally, or take feedback personally. A tool also won’t roll its eyes because you’ve forgotten to close quotations and parentheses 54 times in a 300-page book. It’ll point out these errors, without judgment. And we could all use a little less judgement.
  • If you consider what these tools are telling you about your writing, you will sharpen your self-editing skills.
  • You can use diagnostic editing tools five minutes after you’ve typed the period on the last sentence of your first draft. This makes editing tools brilliant for on-demand writing.
  • These tools are widely available, and some of them are cheap or free. (Editors are widely available, but they’re not cheap or free.)
  • If you plan to use tools for self-editing, and later decide to hire an editor, your editor may have less to do, and that can save on editing costs.

Can these tools help you to become a better writer? We’re still gathering data on that. From what we’ve seen — with authors who’ve been willing to act on the information suggested by diagnostic editing tools — it does seem possible.

For example, if a tool suggests that you’ve included needless words in your writing, after deleting 103 needless words in the first 50 pages of your manuscript, there’s a good chance that you’ll include fewer of them in your writing in future!

Limitations of Editing Tools

Editing tools will not do it all. They have limitations that are important to understand. They will not write your book, cook your breakfast, or collect your kids from school. And they also won’t do these three things:

Won’t Think for You

An editing tool can alert you to potential problems with your writing. You need to decide when to address a highlighted instance and when to ignore it.

For example, the Hemingway app will highlight adverbs in blue, so you can, presumably, obliterate them. Why? Adverbs can clutter your writing and indicate instances of telling instead of showing. (Show, don’t tell!)

But does that mean you need to excise every adverb in sight? No. Depending on what you’re writing, you may choose to sprinkle adverbs as you would expensive fleur de sel.

Won’t Fix It for You

Editing tools are not designed to fix your writing for you. They identify problems, or help you fix problems efficiently. You have to do the heavy lifting.

For example, if your tool has highlighted a sentence that’s too long, you will need to divide that unwieldy beast into two shorter sentences. Your tool won’t do that for you.

Won’t Do the Footwork for You

If a solution to a writing problem isn’t obvious to you, you may need to dig around in writing craft books or style guides for help with interpreting what a tool is telling you.

Consider the example below. PerfectIt Pro 3 is asking the author to check the use of a hyphen in this instance. Has the author used the hyphen correctly?

Looking things up isn’t a waste of your time. The more you know why something might need fixing, the better your writing will be. If you let them, editing tools will show you where you quirks are, teach you what to pay attention to, and inspire (or provoke) you to make adjustments.

How to Use Editing Tools

As with any kind of learning, you need to go slowly or you could become overwhelmed. Here are some tips for keeping things manageable:

  1. Remember to begin with big-picture editing fixes and work your way down to word-level fixes. Editing order matters.
  2. Run diagnostic tools, one chapter at a time, until you become familiar with how these tools work. Exceptions: Run Consistency Checker and PerfectIt Pro on your entire book. Why? They’re designed to check for consistency across an entire manuscript.
  3. Run one tool at a time. Don’t run several tools at once. You’ll have too many things to pay attention to. The key is to remain focused and to improve your writing by degrees.
  4. Be strategic. You don’t need to run every tool on your writing, every time. Once you’re familiar with the tools we recommend, you’ll know which ones best address your most persistent writing quirks.
  5. Consult self-editing books for solutions to the writing problems your tools uncover.

Editing tools can help you to become aware of your writing blind spots and sharpen your self-editing skills. They may even help you become better at writing.

If, however, you’ve decided that learning how to use these tools is not for you, and you prefer to have writing problems fixed for you, we have yet another solution. Hire an editor! (You had to know we were going to say that.)

Note: We used the Hemingway app and PerfectIt Pro 3 to edit this article.

Image by Mark Hunter

3 Ways to a Better Book With Macros


by Carla Douglas

What’s a macro?

Simply put, a macro is a set of instructions for your word processor—a short computer program that automatically performs repetitive tasks. You can run macros using Microsoft Word or WPS Writer (pro version), and Google Docs now features a lite version of the macro editors love, PerfectIt. Macros are easy to use and customize to your specific needs. Learn how to use a macro and try one out here.

Why should I use macros?

Macros can  help you quickly accomplish the most fiddly task—or series of tasks—saving you time and improving your efficiency. Use them during the revision process for a multitude of functions, from alerting you to errors to significant text clean-up. In this post, I’ll show you how to use three different macros: one to help you spot bad writing habits, one to identify potentially embarrassing errors, and one to polish your final draft.

Needless Words Macro

We all have writing tics. Sometimes we use words as filler—they clutter our writing without carrying information or advancing the narrative, and most often these offenders are adverbs and adjectives. Removing them won’t change the meaning of your prose, but it will make your writing more clear and direct. You’ll find the NeedlessWords macro here.

NeedlessWords2Excerpt from 5 Reasons Readers Will Bail On a Book

Looking at the highlighted words, it’s easy to identify those that need to be zapped: almost and just qualify what follows and delay the point the writer is trying to make. Get rid of them. Also, have a closer look at the highlighted words that remain. Maybe there’s a more concise word you could substitute.

Tip: The NeedlessWords macro doesn’t do the thinking for you. It flags the offenders, but it’s up to you to decide if the word in question is grammatically necessary, if it could be replaced with a better word, or if it should be removed. Over time, using this macro will help you improve your writing by alerting you to the words you overuse. But don’t be too eager to hit delete—these little words can add the rhythm and tone that make your voice unique.

Confusables Macro

Foreword or forward? Sight, site or cite? Vice or vise? Are you certain of their different meanings and confident you got the right one as you hastily pounded out your first draft? Don’t worry: there’s a macro for that. The Confusables macro hunts down and highlights all instances of potentially confusable words. Later, you can review each instance word by word to ensure you haven’t made an embarrassing error. After all, you wouldn’t want your novel going out into the world while your hero was prostated with grief, would you?

Tip: The Confusables macro is a good vocabulary-building tool. It makes you think more carefully about language and writing—provided you take the time to look up definitions. This macro (and most macros) can be customized with your own word lists, too.

PerfectIt Consistency Checker

Everyone should use PerfectIt—free software that checks for consistency in

  • capitalization (Government or government?)
  • hyphenation (after-school or after school?)
  • preferred spelling (colour or color?)
  • abbreviations (UNICEF or Unicef?)
  • numbers (5 students or five students?)

Try the consistency checker free as a Google docs add-on or with Office 2013. Like an extra set of eyes on your manuscript, the consistency checker alerts you to errors that otherwise might go unnoticed and it provides an extra coat of polish on your writing.

Like all tools, those I’ve described here require active participation by their users if they’re going to be effective. They won’t improve your writing—but with time and practice, the feedback they provide can help you become a better writer.

The Indie Author’s Bookshelf: 20 Best Titles for Self-Editing

Book shelf

By Corina Koch MacLeod & Carla Douglas
@CKmacleodwriter  @CarlaJDouglas

This post appeared first at, December 24, 2014.

Below is a list of 20 self-editing books that we believe every indie author should have on his or her bookshelf. These books will arm you with valuable writing tips and insights so that you can tackle your writing with new resolve.

We’ve divided the books into levels of editing, so you’ll know which book to refer to when you need to. Keep in mind that a book may not fit neatly into an editing category. Some books will address more than one level of editing. The key is to be systematic when you self-edit, and often, addressing one level of editing at a time can make the editing process more manageable.

To remind you, how you’ll revise and polish your book will depend on how you tend to work as a writer, and where your strengths and weakness lie.

Self-Editing Workflow

If you’re not sure where to begin your revisions, start with big-picture items. When assessing a manuscript, editors begin with big-picture items and slowly work through all the stages of editing, ending with word-level details. If you’ve nailed your plot (big picture), for example, begin with the next area that you know needs work. If you’re not sure what needs work, run your manuscript past a couple of betareaders.

Criteria for Self-Editing

It wasn’t easy narrowing our choice to 20 titles for self-editing. Many excellent books have been written on various aspects of the subject. We’ve chosen books that are

  • short(er) and to the point
  • helpful (some of them are personal favourites)
  • easy to understand, without too much editorial jargon
  • less than $15, with one exception (Jim Taylor’s Quick Fixes)

As a result, books commonly used by editors didn’t show up on this list. Why? Writers are not editors. Many books directed to editors are also written by editors, and they’re heavy on theory and discussion. Writers want accessible books that provide clear explanations, examples and instructions. (Editors like these books too—but we like to read everything and think about it, first.) So you’ll see some writers’ craft books on this list—our choices address revision and self-editing directly.

Finally, we’ve also picked a couple of titles specifically for nonfiction authors (they’re marked with an asterisk). When it comes to writing and self-editing guides, nonfiction often gets short shrift. The two we’ve selected complement each other well, and provide sound advice for focusing and delivering your message to the reader.

Beyond Paper Picks

Big Picture

  • Making Shapely Fiction, by Jerome Stern
  • *On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction, by William Zinsser
  • Revision and Self-Editing for Publication: Techniques for Transforming Your First Draft into a Novel that Sells,  by James Scott Bell
  • Story Engineering: Mastering the 6 Core Competencies of Successful Writing, by Larry Brooks
  • This Year You Write Your Novel, by Walter Mosley
  • The Ebook Style Guide: Creating Ebooks That Work for Readers, by Corina Koch MacLeod and Carla Douglas

Paragraph Level

  • How Not to Write  Novel: 200 Classic Mistakes and How to Avoid Them—A Misstep-by-Misstep Guide, by Howard Mittlemark and Sandra Newman
  • The First Five Pages: A Writer’s Guide to Staying Out of the Rejection Pile, by Noah Lukeman
  • *Quick Fixes for Business Writing: An Easy Eight-Step Editing Process to Find and Correct Common Readability Problems, by Jim Taylor
  • Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, by Renni Browne and Dave King

Sentence Level

  • The Elements of Style, by William Strunk and E.B. White
  • Woe is I: The Grammarphobe’s Guide to Better English in Plain English, by Patricia T. O’Conner
  • You’ve Got Style: Copyediting for Self-Publishing Authors, by Carla Douglas and Corina Koch MacLeod

Word Level

  • The best punctuation book, period. by June Casagrande
  • Copyediting and Proofreading for Dummies, by Suzanne Gilad
  • Missed Periods and Other Grammar Scares: How to Avoid Unplanned and Unwanted Writing Errors, by Jenny Baranick

5 Books that Will Inspire You to Write

You may not always feel like writing. These books will light a fire under you:

  • The Artist’s Way, by Julia Cameron
  • Juicy Pens, Thirsty Paper, by SARK
  • The War of Art, by Steven Pressfield
  • Writing Down the Bones, by Natalie Goldberg

Self-Editing is a Process

Don’t try to do it all at once, and don’t try to do it only once.

Each of the books we’ve recommended offers a different voice and a different approach. Some are straight “how-to” and some are more “what” and “why.” What works for one writer might not be right for another. So take time to explore a few of these titles to find an approach you can work with.

If you haven’t already, over time you’ll develop your own self-editing style. This may mean working to a detailed plan or, as it does for some writers, simply reading, re-reading and re-keying your draft multiple times.

And, as we’ve said before, how you self-edit depends on how you wrote your first draft. It will also depend on your manuscript and what it requires—your second, third and fourth books will present different issues than your first. All the more reason to have our 20 titles at the ready, lined up on your shelf.

Image by Brett Jordan

What Does Editing Look Like? Behind the (Crime) Scene at the Editor’s Screen

Crime Scene
Image by Carlos Martinez


by Corina Koch MacLeod and Carla Douglas
@CKmacleodwriter @CarlaJDouglas

In a previous post we described the four levels of editing, emphasizing the order in which they should most often take place: attend to the developmental issues first—a clear story and structure if it’s fiction, a logical and meaningful sequence of chapters if it’s nonfiction—before addressing clarity and flow, word choice, grammar and punctuation.

Editing, in Practice

This order makes sense for the purposes of explanation, but the truth is, when an editor sits down to work on your manuscript, the picture might be slightly different. Developmental editing, for instance, is most often suited to nonfiction works. Sure, if you’re a novelist and ask for guidance from a developmental editor early in the process, he can certainly help you with the big-picture elements. In cases like these, advice would probably come in the form of a chat or an editorial letter.

Most editors who work with self-pubs, though, will tell you that by the time they see a fiction manuscript, the author has either worked out the developmental issues or is married to the book as it is, and no major changes will be considered. Much of the time, a manuscript comes to an editor with a request for copyediting. In practice, however, the editor could be doing a bit of everything.

What Editing Looks Like

With three and possibly four levels of editing taking place at the same time, what does editing look like? The truth? As Corina has pointed out, sometimes it looks like a crime scene. And indeed, if it’s your work that’s been bound and gagged and has perhaps even disappeared—without a trace—you’ll swear it’s been murdered.

Don’t panic. In the following sections, we’ll show you examples of each kind of editing—to ease your mind and to help you see that behind the scene, your editor is working away, methodically and nonviolently, towards your mutual goal of a better book.

Big-Picture Editing (Developmental Edit)

Beginning with an Outline

When writing a nonfiction book, structure matters. Your editor may ask you, “What is your book about?” Think this over carefully and hone your answer until you can express it in one sentence. Practise that sentence on friends and family or try it out on social media. Next, your editor will help you hammer out a table of contents that includes topics related to that sentence, and finally, you’ll arrange those topics in a logical order.

Below is a screenshot from Idea to Ebook: How to Write a Quality Book Fast. This book is about how to publish a book, from beginning to end, in the most efficient manner possible. The screenshot below lists the main topics (in Scrivener’s Binder) that were sketched out based on that sentence, before the book was written:

Image 1

The second screenshot (in Word’s Navigation Pane) is the final list of chapters in their final order. You’ll noticed a few minor changes in the final version. That’s fine—outlines evolve. Even if an outline changes slightly, it’ll help you to stick to what your book is about.

Image 2

Tip: Many authors write in Scrivener. You can use Scrivener’s Binder to create a chapter outline, which then allows you to move chapters around easily. If you write in Word, you can get Word to Behave like Scrivener. Don’t have Word? Try WPS Writer (free). You can get it to behave like Scrivener, too.

Creating an Outline From a Finished Manuscript

But what if you’ve submitted a finished book and your editor identifies issues with structure that have yet to be addressed? These can be handled in a couple of ways. If the reshuffling is minor, your editor will use comments in the margins (see comments in the Sentence-Level section, below) to suggest which sections should go where, or she’ll move the section with track changes turned on (see the screenshot in the Paragraph-Level section below).

If large sections of text have to be moved around, the appearance in track changes can be overwhelming for the author. In cases like these, editors will sometimes make the changes and ask the author to compare the new version to the old. Or, if the author and editor are working in Word, the editor may show the author how to use the Final view in the Review pane.

Image 3

The Final view hides track changes, so the author can see what the document will look like if the changes are accepted.

If a lot of reshuffling is required, your editor may ask you to create a post-mortem outline from your existing content. Your editor will then help you sort the contents of that outline into an order that makes sense. The final step involves moving around sections of your book to match the outline.

What About Fiction?

Fiction writers, particularly of genre fiction, are not off the hook when it comes to big-picture edits. Some big-picture editing can happen later in the process. It might become clear, for example, that an important scene needs to appear sooner in the novel, or that a sub-plot needs to wind itself more consistently through the book.

Tip: Editors often use Word to edit manuscripts. This article explains why.

Paragraph-Level Edit (Stylistic/Structural Edit)

Paragraph-level edits involve reordering sentences within paragraphs. Editors will use track changes to show that something has been moved.The green text and strikeouts in the screenshot below (in Word) indicate that a sentence has been moved from one location to another. A bit of a mess, isn’t it?

Image 4

Tip: If you’re overwhelmed by the changes you see, switching to the Final view in Word’s Review pane helps reduce the visual noise.

Image 5

Sentence-Level Edit (Copyedit)

Sentence-level edits address grammar, punctuation, clarity, and style issues. Can you see some of these issues addressed in the screenshot below?

Image 6

An editor will mark any issues using track changes. Often something is marked because it’s incorrect, or it doesn’t follow style rules or accepted publishing conventions. Keep in mind that an editor won’t make changes he can’t defend, so don’t be afraid to ask about anything you’re unsure of. Also remember that your editor is often your first reader, so if a sentence or section is unclear, you’ll want to know about it.

It’s wise to heed any changes your editor has made with track changes. Comments are generally reserved for explanations and suggestions.

Tip: Pay attention to the comments your editor makes, too. These comments often present opportunities for learning something new that you can apply to your next book.

  • Opinion or Fact?Sometimes an editor will suggest a change that’s in line with good writing practice. Paying attention to these suggestions can help you become a better writer. Often, though, it’s easy to dismiss an editor’s suggestions as opinion rather than fact, which means you might miss an opportunity to improve your craft.An editor can tell you what your writing quirks are (we all have them), but sometimes it’s more helpful to show you. At Beyond Paper, we like to usewriting macros to help writers see their writing quirks (show, don’t tell). These writing macros are easy enough for writers to use on their own, too. The screenshot below highlights● needless words (blue)
    ● ly words, or adverbs, which may indicate telling instead of showing (green)
    ● additional telling words, which may suggest that you need to do more showing (pink)Image 7Tip: Macros are easy to use! This 20-minute macro course will show you how to use the kind of macros that can help you to improve your writing.

Word-Level Edit (Proofread)

Proofreading is the last stage of editing, meant to catch anything that has slipped past copyediting. It’s a last look at your book in its final environment, after it’s typeset for print or formatted for e-reading. Keep in mind that proofreading addresses more than just typos—it also addresses formatting issues.

Here is what proofreading looks like on a manuscript that has been formatted for print:

Image 8

Proofreaders proofread books headed for print in software like Adobe XI. They use proofreading stamps—a kind of shorthand—to indicate changes that need to be made. A proofreading glossary can help you interpret some of the symbols.

You can proofread an ebook file, too, but that’s a topic for another time.

Tip: Consider some of the tools that editors use for proofreading. Writers and beta readers can use them, too.

Closing the Case

As you can see, there’s a lot going on in the background during an edit, and communicating corrections, changes, and suggestions to authors involves a dizzying array of mark-ups and comments. While proofreading tends to happen on its own at the end of the process, the remaining three editing levels can occur simultaneously.

If your manuscript comes back from your editor looking like a crime scene, don’t despair. Take a deep breath, carefully consider your editor’s comments and suggested changes, and you’ll be taking down that yellow tape in no time.


3 Ways to Pare Down Your Prose

by Corina Koch MacLeod

Ebooks are wonderful because you don’t have to write them to a prescribed length—you can stop writing when your story is done. This isn’t true for every kind of writing, though. If you’re writing a magazine or journal article, you may find that your writing needs to fit within certain space restrictions.

Recently, a PhD student came to us at Beyond Paper with this very challenge. She needed to pare down her prose. If you’re writing nonfiction—particularly academic nonfiction—here are three editor’s tricks for reducing your word count:

1. Omit needless words and phrases.

Authors often use phrases such as “due to the fact that” or “in order to” like condiments (hey, we all do it). Often, your meaning won’t change if you trim these phrases. For example, “in order to” can become “to.” Refer to this article by Christina Thompson for a list of the worst offenders and some solutions for fixing them.

Authors also pepper their prose with filler words. If you use Microsoft Word or WPS Writer (free), you can run the NeedlessWords macro from Tech Tools for Writers on your writing, and the macro will highlight potentially unnecessary words. This 20-Minute Macro Course will have you up and running with Macros in no time, and this macros for beginners post by Carla Douglas offers suggestions for what to do with those highlighted words. You can try the lyWords macro to delete unnecessary adverbs, too.

If you haven’t pared down your prose significantly by now, read on…

2. Decide if figures and tables are essential.

Our PhD student discovered that some academic journals will count each figure (diagram) as 250 words. It’s tempting to add figures because they’re like pictures, in that they’re tiny oases in the expansive desert of unbroken text. However, if you’re writing to a word count, or you have file size limitations (and you will with ebooks, too), resist decorating your prose with images and figures. If the reader can understand your meaning without a figure, leave it out. If the figure is essential to the text’s meaning, and it adds new information or clarifies a concept, keep it. Use images judiciously, and be sure that you have a good reason to include them.

Here’s another tip…

While writing a first draft, I often insert placeholders for images I think I’ll need. For example:

[Insert image of porcupine walking a tightrope here.]

Later, when I’ve inserted the image, I sometimes find that my explanation preceding the image can be pared down as the image, in many ways, speaks for itself. Images, with the addition of well-chosen captions, often bring their own meaning to the reading experience, so don’t be afraid to trim the lead-in text.

3. Insert a hyperlink.

Does the figure or table live somewhere online? If the figure is a nice-to-have instead of a need-to-have, consider adding a hyperlink in place of the figure. Only do this with nonessential figures, though. You don’t want readers going off-text or off-book in search of an image, figure, or table that is necessary for understanding the text.

There are many more ways to pare down text, but these three ways will have your manuscript looking trim in no time.

Image by Zechariah Judy

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Finding Your Way Around Style Guides


by Corina Koch MacLeod

Detail of doorstop
Image by David Wall (CC BY 2.0)

It’s essay season! (I can hear the collective groan from my desk as I type.) If you’re writing an academic paper, thesis, journal article or dissertation, you’ll be required to format your paper in a particular style using your academic department’s preferred style guide.

(Selfpubs, you’re not off the hook. Your book’s style will be greatly improved if you follow a style guide, too.)

Have you ever seen a style guide? Some of them are doorstops! Giant tomes filled with nitpicky rules. You’ve used every brain cell to write your paper and then you discover it has to be in a particular style. I know, right?

Don’t despair. We’ve written a primer for finding your way around style guides at Cambridge Proofreading this week. Have a look!

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Free Editing Options for Self-Pubs

crowd surfer
Image by Photos by Mavis (CC BY 2.0)

by Corina Koch Macleod

You want people to buy your book, right? To give your book a fighting chance, you need to ensure that it’s as error-free as possible. To accomplish that, you need to put your professional foot forward and make editing part of your publishing process.

You have many options when it comes to editing your book. I’ve listed them below, from the least expensive to the most expensive:

DIY: Put it on Ice
After you write your book, set it aside for at least week, though a month or two would be better. (If you’re writing a short article to a deadline, set it aside for twenty-four hours.) Then approach it again with fresh eyes. The more time you leave between writing and editing, the more objectively you’ll approach the editing process. Why? If you’re still feeling the muscle aches from that sentence you laboured over yesterday, you’ll be less likely to excise that sentence today. Give some time for the labour pains to subside, and then take Faulkner’s advice and “kill your darlings.”

Cost: Time

Participate in a Writing Group
Some authors swear by writing groups. It’s never a bad idea to put your writing in front of those who understand what writing entails. In writing groups, writers get together to read excerpts from works in progress (WIP), and members of the group offer feedback. Writing groups can work particularly well at the developmental stages of writing — when you’re still working on ideas, plot, characters, and other big picture items. Members of writing groups may also offer to proofread manuscripts that are nearly ready for publication. Don’t have a local writing group? Consider joining a virtual group, like Grub Street.

Cost: Volunteer time – $65

Crowdsource Your Book
Another way to edit your book is to put it front of people. Lots of people. In fact, it’s a great idea to get it front of people while it’s still a WIP. There’s nothing worse than hearing about plot holes when you thought your book was a fait accompli. There are lots of ways to get your book in front of a crowd. You can work your social media networks and send out free copies of your draft for review, or you can post your WIP to a crowdsourcing website like Wattpad:

You can also consider crowdfunding options, like Pubslush or the Redhat Project, which invite donors to fund your writing project. According to Guy Kawasaki and Shawn Welch, authors of APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur: How to Publish a Book, a professionally executed self-published book costs, on average, $4,000 to produce when you factor in cover design and editorial services. That’s right: producing a book  through traditional or self-published means  costs money, and if people believe in your book idea, they may help you offset some of those costs.

Cost: Time

Hire an Editor
You knew I was going to suggest this option, right? Many editors are trained to look for clarity and spot inconsistencies in a piece of writing. They read style guides for fun, and they get giddy about words, grammar, and usage rules in ways that the average author does not. They are experts at removing anything that will distract a reader from enjoying your book.

But that’s not all. Many of my editing colleagues wish that authors would contact them for a book, or manuscript evaluation, at the beginning stage of their book project, so that they can point out big picture issues that will create a lot of rewrites later. As an author, I can’t think of anything more disheartening than hiring an editor for a proofread, only to hear that your book has structural problems that a proofread cannot possibly fix. Besides, a manuscript evaluation is much cheaper than a structural edit  which is the kind of editing you’d need to fix the structural issues in your book.

Cost: $30+/ hour, depending on the kind of editing required. Some copyeditors charge a per-page rate, but at Beyond Paper, we think authors should have more say in the elements we address.

Your options for editing are many, so there’s no excuse to publish a book without polishing it first.

Related Posts

Editor’s Tip: Cleaning Up Your Manuscript Can Save You Money

How to Proofread Your Ebook Like a Pro
How to Proofread Like a Pro, Part 2
Seven Questions Your Editor Should Ask You

What Tone Are You Aiming For?


by Carla Douglas

Image by benhusmann (CC BY 2.0)

Most of us have had the experience of beginning a book and then rejecting it after reading only a few pages. Why? Frequently, it’s because of the author’s tone. Something bothers us about it – it may be hard to put a finger on, but we find we are uncomfortable with it, we don’t take it seriously or we may even be offended by it. When a writer doesn’t get the tone right, it’s often because he hasn’t given enough thought to its context – how the tone fits with the purpose and audience of his writing.
Tone is usually defined as the author’s attitude toward the subject, characters or audience. Tone can be anything from deadly serious (think a CPR manual) to absurdly playful (think The Cat in the Hat), but it is always created through the author’s use of language – whether the author is aware of this or not. The same definition of tone applies to both fiction and nonfiction, but for writers, how to achieve a desired tone depends on the genre, too. Because it’s more straightforward, I’ll discuss nonfiction first.
In nonfiction, the author addresses the reader directly. If you think of writing as a conversation, then the words you choose will depend on who is listening (your audience) and how you hope they will respond to your message (your purpose).
Try this. Before you begin writing, answer these questions:
Who is your audience?
You may not know who your readers are. Who do you hope they are? Are they older than you? Younger than you? By how many years? Are they your peers? Students? Employees? Colleagues? Experts? Are they knowledgeable about your topic? Eager to learn more? Reluctant to try? Are they smart? Not so smart? Rich? Well travelled? Silly? Important? Describe them. You need to know who they are if you want to engage them in conversation.
Who are you?
And who are you in relation to your readers? Teacher? Boss? Expert? Colleague? Peer? Adviser? How do they perceive you and how do you hope they’ll perceive you? Authority on the subject? Expert? Newbie? Insider with secrets to share? Explorer? Confidant? Supportive friend? Create a profile. Pay special attention to how you are (and how you’d like to be) perceived by your readers. Hint: If they think you’re looking down on them, they’ll bolt!
What is your purpose?
What do you hope your writing will do? Persuade couch potatoes to change their ways? Motivate employees? Support clients? Entertain readers? Or do you want readers to buy your product? Understand a concept? Agree with you on an issue? Be clear about this before you start writing. It will help you stay focused.
If it helps, put your ideas down on paper. Here’s an example:
This sketch shows the relationship between you, your audience, your purpose and the tone of your writing. Writing it down puts what you want to say into context and makes it easier to choose language that fits the situation. And clearly identifying the audience and purpose helps you draw conclusions about the tone you’re aiming for.
Next week I’ll talk about how tone is typically used in nonfiction, how to choose language to suit the tone you want and what happens when tone goes over the top. Remember: In writing, it’s always all about the reader. Stay tuned!