Employing a professional editor or editing service is one thing self-published authors will thank themselves for. A good editor not only catches technical and grammatical errors but can improve the flow and overall effectiveness of a book.
In their pursuit to finish their work, authors unwittingly create more work for their editors to crank out a respectable manuscript. If you are in the middle of or just finished writing your manuscript, give it a once-over for these common mistakes before sending it to your manuscript editor.
It should be noted that many of these reasons are often the purpose of getting an editor however keep this in mind. You can make the experience of hiring and using a good editor far better if you can help them help you. That is, get all of the easy errors out of the way so they can focus on more important things.
The rules mentioned here apply to writing in the United States. If you’re submitting a manuscript the UK or some other region outside of the U.S., the rules will be quite different.
Double Spacing after periods
What used to be the rule is now the exception. Back in the days of type writers and even into the early computing era, double spaces after a period were the recommended norm. Now they create headaches for editors.
The problem with the double space is that it is no longer acceptable (among editors and according to most up-to-date style guides). You aren’t going to break an editor’s software or hold of a printing press somewhere. But you are going to cause an editor extra (albeit menial) formatting work.
Misuse of Hyphens
Hyphens are a compound adjective and the rules are always tricky to remember. There are rules governing hyphens but there are also customs. And then there are times when an author must decide whether or not to use a hyphen in the name of clarity.
The basic rules for hyphens are as follows:
- Hyphenate two or more words when they precede a noun that they modify
- Hyphens should not be used interchangeably with dashes
- The adverb very (and any adverb ending in ly for that matter) should never be hyphenated
- When numbers are used, hyphens should be inserted between spans of time, distances, and quantities
- Spelled out fractions should be hyphenated
There are many other rules outlined by Grammar Book too . Writers should not hesitate to hyphenate words if it solves a clear problem. When two words are used in combination and they just don’t make sense, hyphens can often help.
Incorrect Quotation Marks
The placement rules of these punctuation marks sometimes elude authors. We even see them used interchangeably with apostrophes. When wrapping text in quotation marks, follow these basic rules:
- Use quotation marks to re-state word-for-word what someone said
- First words of quotations need to be capitalized (even if it’s not at the beginning of a sentence)
- Quotations that continue a sentence should not have the first word capitalized (such as when quoting only a few words of what someone said)
- Commas should be used to introduce or interrupt direct quotations
- Should the quotation come before some kind of attribution, it should end with a comma
- Apostrophes should not be used in the place of a quotation marks (aka single quotes)
There are of course many other rules. Grammarly has a pretty good write-up of all the rules writers should be following when it comes to quotes. Fixing quotation mark placement errors can save your editor tons of precious time.
When you’re buried in writing your books, redundant phrases are so difficult to avoid. It’s not until you go back through as a reader that you realize some pages sound like a broken record. One of the best ways to avoid redundant phrases is to just be aware of the most common ones (and then don’t use them).
Here’s a good list:
- Final outcome
- Few in number
- False pretense
- Estimated roughly
- End result
- Direct confrontation
- Difficult dilemma
- Definite decision
- Consensus of opinion
- Completely finished or completely filled
- Collaborate together, merge together
- Close proximity
- Came at a time when
- Filled to capacity
- Basic fundamentals
- At the present time
- As for example
- Added bonus
- Add an additional
- Actual experience
- Absolutely certain
Now it’s not as if you can’t use any of these ever. Our instinct as writers is to use these naturally because they work really well. When they are used too much though, that’s when your editor emails you back and says things need to be re-worked.
This is a tough habit to break because this used to be necessary on type writers and the first word processing programs. Now adding the tab indent using the tab key produces a much larger indent than is necessary.
There are many word processing programs out there and we don’t have instructions for setting indents on all of them but if you’re using Microsoft Word, here’s how to set tab indents.
In Word, on the formatting ribbon click on the Home tab (this should be showing by default anyway.
Click on the little half-box with arrow in the bottom right corner of the Paragraph formatting section of the ribbon. The paragraph formatting window will open.
On the Indents and Spacing tab, set the indentation to .25 and choose first line from the Special drop down.
This will set the first line of new paragraphs to a .25 inch indent.
If you have indiscriminately hit the tab key on your 500 page book already, don’t freak out. Here is how to fix it in Word.
- With the cursor anywhere in your document, hit ctrl + f to open the find feature. Note that in newer versions of Word you’ll have to select the replace option in the navigation pane to open the search and replace dialogue box.
- Type in ^t in the Find field (This searches for every “Tab” in the document.)
- Don’t type anything in the replace field
- Click Replace All
Boom! All of your tabs should be fixed.
Repetitive Word Usage
Almost as bad as repetitive phrases are over-used words. This is another one of those mistakes that are easy to make especially while you are in the middle of your writing and not focused on how everything flows.
Any word can be an over-used word. The trick to catching it is to leave your work alone for a while and then come back it. We develop a sort of tunnel vision when we are writing.
Once you are done with your manuscript, walk away from it for a few days. Then come back and read it as if you were not the authors (actually try and read through your book). You will quickly see where you went wrong with over-used words.
And finally the cardinal sin of writing your book. Spelling words incorrectly. There is nothing to be ashamed of here. We all do it. Attribute it to being an over-worked and tireless writer.
In any event, catching spelling errors so that a seasoned editor does not have to waste time with them is a good use of your time.
Everyone makes mistakes so don’t feel bad if you’ve committed some of these sins. The important part is to catch them before they waste valuable editing time that you’re probably paying for.