As the editor here at SPR, I am in charge of editing and proofreading the self-published books that come into our tailored editing services department before they go on sale. A good edit and a lack of one can make all the difference to whether you sell your self-published book or not, so take a good look at my top eight errors as your starter guide.
1. “Who”, “That” and “Which” Rules
By far the most common issue I find. 99% of all books I proofread seem to have at least one or two issues with this. Most work I do addresses this more than any other issue I fix in a day’s work. Jane Strauss of Grammar Book.com nails it in detail.
In a nutshell there are two things to remember:
- ”That” should be used without a comma, whereas “which” always has a comma preceding it.
- But when should we use ” that” and when do we use “which” ?
I want to wear a hat, which is very unusual for me
has a greatly different meaning to,
“I want to wear a hat that is very unusual for me.”
This is because the use of “which” with the comma means that the fact I want to wear a hat is unusual, whereas using “that” suggests that the hat is unusual. Read each sentence you create and make sure the subject (i.e. me or the hat) relates to the action in the way you wish it to. You can test yourself on this at the Get It Write website
2. Semicolons and Commas Usage
I am not sure why this rule is such a difficult one to get right, but people love a comma and fear a semicolon. But here it is, easy to remember, from the best comic online, The Oatmeal (click the photo to read the whole infogram):
3. Its and It’s
Way above in the clouds there’s a laser that zaps writers into messing this up all the time. There must be. Because this is the easiest rule in the universe and yet everyone gets it wrong.
If you see “it’s” with an apostrophe, that means that you are saying the shortened form of “it is”.
“It’s” never, ever means anything else except that.
It is cold outside
can be shortened to:
It’s cold outside
“Its” is the same as “his” or “her”.
The cat scratched her head
The cat scratched his head
And if we don’t know what gender the cat is:
The cat scratched its head
This is the only time you would use “its” and it never means anything else except that.
4. Who’s and Whose
The same as above. “Who is” is shortened to “who’s”. This is the only time you would ever use “who’s”.
Guess who is coming to dinner?
Can be shortened to:
Guess who’s coming to dinner?
Whose is the possessive form of “who”. This means that you use it in a question to find out “whose” things are “whose”. This is the only time you would ever use “whose”.
Whose socks are these on the floor?
5. Hyphenated words
There is a hard-and-fast rule to using hyphenated words as adjectives in sentences in modern writing. These are called “compound adjectives.” This means that if you want to describe a “man-eating lion” or a “brow-beating wife” you must hyphenate the adjectives to form one compound word.
Sometimes words get hyphenated when they are not supposed to be. “Half-moon” should be “half moon”. But if there is a half-moon-shaped window, then the words become a compound adjective. You can be at half cock, but you can also be half-cocked. Use your trusty dictionary (not an internet one) to check this if you are not sure.
6. Long-ass sentences
I have come across sentences of a five-sentence length before, sprawling an entire paragraph. Instead of describing a scene of action by using commas, how about breaking it up into nicely constructed sentences?
“I was running for my life, a life I built with my wife Nancy when all of these terrible disasters happened to us, just when she was about to give birth to our son, Jacob, a bright boy, who later had blue eyes and curly blond hair, with a killer smile.”
This can be broken down:
“I was running for my life. A life I built with Nancy, my wife. Now, all these terrible disasters were happening to us just when she was about to give birth to Jacob, our son. As he grew later, he was a bright boy, with blue eyes and curly blond hair – and a killer smile.”
7. Character name change
So many times I have been editing a book, only to find out a main character’s name has suddenly changed! When editing your book, make sure that if your character was called something else in an earlier draft that you have changed every single instance of that name in your book. Simple to forget, simple to fix.
An eggcorn is the name of the beast you create when you think you are writing a trope, but it turns out you’ve got the words wrong in the phrase, often words that sound similar to the word you’re aiming for. They are present in nearly every text I run across. I have even had fights with people about them, and it’s embarrassing to find out that a phrase you heard all your life looks completely different written down :
a new leash on life – should be a new lease of life
signaled out – should be singled out
By in large – should be by and large
Here are some more to check that you’re not getting it wrong!
My conclusion is that if you go to all the trouble of getting a book down on (virtual) paper, make sure you get a professional edit and proofread. You may think you are a native English speaker, but that doesn’t mean you know the entire language and its foibles in detail. I gained a postgraduate certificate in English as a foreign language in Cambridge, UK so that I could see how the language sticks together as a science. Most editors worth their salt will make sure they have a similar background.
If you think you need help getting your book edited and proofread ready for publication, contact Cate at SPR here, for a full editing service.