Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Editing Tips and Tricks to Strengthen Your Work

Originally, I intended to post a book review today. However, despite my best efforts to like the book, I simply don’t. It could be the genre; I’m not a huge fan of espionage fiction, though I love a good spy thriller now and then. Or it could be the fact that the book really needs an editor. In that vein, I’m going to share some tips for self-editing that I think authors could benefit from.

Misuse of Semicolons and Colons
Remember this: in general, a semicolon has a full sentence on both sides of it.

I went to the store to buy peanut butter; however, they were out of my favorite brand.

If you see a semicolon that doesn’t have a full sentence (a noun and a verb at the bare minimum), you’re probably not using the correct punctuation. While there are exceptions to this rule, they are rare – at least as rare as black-footed ferrets.

As for colons, you want to use them instead of semicolons in sentences like this:

I went to the store to buy my favorite peanut butter: Jiffy.

You see how that works? “My favorite peanut butter” and “Jiffy” are the same thing. The colon is used to show that they are equivalent. As a reader, I have noticed that the semicolon is frequently used instead of a colon in situations like this, and that is just plain wrong.

In the last book I read, the author uses “site” when he means “sight” throughout the book. This is the only consistent error in the author’s spelling, which leads me to believe that he meant to find and replace one instance of “sight” with “site” and accidentally replaced every “sight” in the book. Nevertheless, a group of beta readers would have seen that error and pointed it out to the author.

As a writer, I keep a list of words that I frequently confuse. For instance, I have a problem with “where” and “wear.” When I finish a book, I search for all instances of those words and make sure I’m using the appropriate one. Everyone has their quirks – it’s just a matter of rooting them out and keeping a stern eye on them.

I highly recommend that you use This is a fantastic free tool that another author, Mari Miniatt, suggested. This tool will evaluate the strength of your prose and let you know the frequency with which you are using certain words. Just copy and paste a chapter into it and use its suggestions to tighten things up a bit.

If you own a Kindle, you have a fantastic editing tool. When you’ve finished your manuscript, email the document to your Kindle email address and let the Kindle read your book to you. You’ll be amazed at how many mistakes you will catch simply by hearing your book read aloud.

If you don’t own a Kindle, I recommend reading your work aloud to yourself; I’d wait until the house was empty before I did it, though.

In conclusion, if you don’t have the resources or the inclination to hire an editor, at least attempt to edit your work yourself. Your readers will thank you for it by buying your books and recommending your work to others.


  1. I wish I knew all of this. I know my novels are probably littered with comma abuse..

  2. Thanks for visiting, WhisperingWriter. Don't worry too much about your commas -- they're a lot easier to ignore than a poorly placed semicolon.


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