Sunday, January 11, 2009


In my year-long tenure as an editor for an e-pub, I have had time to note patterns. There is the new author, eager and hopeful, sure that the finished product will be ready in 30 days. And then there is the more experienced author, tactfully inquiring, "How long will this take?"

If you are a writer, in large part that depends on you. I can be waylaid by illness, computer meltdown or other misfortune. To a great extent, though, the time frame for editing does depend on the author and the quality of your manuscript. In the spirit of making your editing timely, I would like to share some observations. These do not pertain to plot, pace or other major hurdles. I am referring to common mistakes that can plunge your precious manuscript into the abyss where your editor is hiding, moaning, "How long will this take?"

Spacing: When I began editing, I assumed "everyone knew" manuscripts are double-spaced. Wrong! People, have you heard of eyestrain?
Dialogue: I'm not addressing the quality of dialogue, but punctuation. Recently, I have seen a trend which makes me wonder if English teachers are actually teaching this. What is wrong with this sentence?
"I thought this would happen." She said.
If you think nothing is wrong, you are similar to many authors, especially younger ones. This is the sort of punctuation that would have caused my mother to yell, "She said WHAT?" Perhaps that is why I know that the sentence should read:
"I thought this would happen," she said.
When in doubt, refer to Elements of Style by Strunk and White. It is readily available and reasonably priced through Amazon. Mine is right on top of my dictionary, another valuable resource.
Tense: The majority of books are written in the past tense and should stay there at least within the same sentence! When you are writing in the past tense, be wary of slipping into present or even future tense. It can happen as easily as this:
"She thought this may happen."
"Thought" puts your sentence in the past tense. "May" takes it into present tense. The effect on the knowledgeable reader is closely akin to mental whiplash. The quickest glance at that dictionary I mentioned tells you that "may" is "1st & 3rd singular present indicative." It also tells you that the past tense of the verb "may" is "might." Your sentence should read:
"She thought this might happen."
May/might confusion is one of the most common errors I see. This was less problematic when taking Latin in high school was required. I hated conjugating those verbs, but it worked. Now, I get fish-eyed looks from sixteen-year-olds when I use the word "conjugate." I'm sure they think it has something to do with sex. Use a dictionary or any good grammar book.
Grammar: Here is another test, class. What is wrong with this sentence?
"You're parents are coming to dinner."
Ouch! Technically, you have just said that you are parents coming to dinner. Well, maybe you are. But I doubt that's what you meant!
Rule: Your = possessive, something belonging to "you."
You're = contraction for "you are." It is "you are" with the "a" omitted.
The sentence should read:
"Your parents are coming to dinner."
Your/you're confusion is very prevalent.
I could go on, but you've probably heard enough! Seriously, eliminating these errors from your manuscript will greatly expedite the editing process and make you a more competent, confident author.


  1. Great tutorial Miriam! Loved it! :)

  2. Except for a little eyestrain catching up (that must be why I missed that typo, right?), it said what I wanted it to say. So, thanks, Denisse. I really hope it does help some people.

  3. Thank you, Solange. Yes, your point about being able to open any book and look at the dialogue is a good one. I have made that suggestion to authors. And I saw reign for rein just the other night! I am taking suggestions for future tutorials and will be happy to include yours.

  4. As one who is under Miriam's grammar hammer, I can attest to her editing capabilities. I only hope I'm one of her easier authors to edit.

  5. Grammar hammer? Oh, dear! It's hereditary, though, I'm afraid; there's nothing I can do about it! And, yes, Susan--you are!