Photo Credit: Sebastien Wiertz
As a copy editor, I leave many specific notes on authors’ manuscripts when I have questions or comments. Having copyedited over one hundred books, I can promise you I’ve had to leave some strange-sounding comments in Track Changes. I also tend to leave the exact same comments over and over again in many manuscripts—words of wisdom that could, quite honestly, be completely avoided.
If you’re finishing up your novel or just starting your first short story, try to avoid hearing (or reading, rather) these phrases in the right margin of your manuscript.
Please clarify. I don’t understand what you’re trying to say.
It’s so simple, yet I use this phrase constantly. The best way to avoid this is to read your manuscript out loud. If something sounds off or doesn’t make sense, change it. Don’t ever leave your readers feeling confused.
This is not a word.
Now, keep in mind that many authors successfully invent words. Thank you, Shakespeare. But many authors just think a word exists when it doesn’t. Example: post traumatically (as in, “I didn’t know what I was doing post traumatically”).
Your Table of Contents does not have this chapter. Please add it.
One of my biggest pet peeves is when authors leave out chapter titles in their TOC. Also to be noted: renaming chapter titles that do not correspond with the TOC. Don’t do this. Always, always be consistent. Print out your TOC and when self-editing, check off each chapter to make sure it’s consistent.
Run-on sentence. Break up.
Once again, read your manuscript out loud. If you have to take a breath (or two) when reading just one sentence, break it up. Don’t exhaust your readers.
Please do not quote yourself. Take out these quotation marks and move this sentence down into the body of the text.
I’ve seen a few authors start off their chapters with an epigraph using their own words. Don’t ever quote yourself, because it comes off as pretentious. Instead, just take your words and place them right into the chapter itself (with no quotation marks).
Do you have permission to reprint this song/poem/newspaper headline?
It’s easy to start quoting someone or to copy and paste your favorite poem into your manuscript, but don’t forget to attribute it. Some may call for actual permission, while others may only need an em dash and the person’s name (—Abraham Lincoln).
I deleted all caps and switched to italics for emphasis.
If I had a nickel, right? THERE IS NO NEED TO YELL AT ME. I KNOW WHAT YOU HAVE TO SAY IS IMPORTANT, BUT USE ITALICS INSTEAD FOR EMPHASIS, BECAUSE THIS IS FRIGHTENING.
I took out the exclamation points here.
Listen! When you use exclamation points all the time! After every single sentence! It loses its intended meaning! And makes editors go b-a-n-a-n-a-s! One time, I deleted 1,300 exclamation points in one manuscript. Don’t be that person.
Why is this here?
You wouldn’t believe how many times I’ve had to ask that question. The following phrases usually follow: “Is this a subtitle? It doesn’t appear to be”; “Is this an emoticon?”; or “Is this a text box? I can’t delete it.” Don’t confuse your editor. Be clear.
Is that what you meant to say here?
My favorite example of this phrase is when an author said, “I know that I am my own Santa, because I am the creator of my own world.” Now, I don’t know about you, but that was just plain confusing on a whole new level. I never did find out if the author meant to say Santa.
Writing a book (or anything for that matter) is quite the feat. I mean, seriously—huge congrats. Be proud of yourself! But be humble enough to recognize inconsistencies, errors, and ambiguities. Reading your manuscript out loud will save your editor a lot of confusion—and maybe even reduce several questions in the comments section.