Monday, November 11, 2013

A note on editing indie books before publication

As a writer, nothing is so annoying to me as reading a book that is rife with errors. One expects to see the odd error in a book, even books that are traditionally published. There is a difference between the odd error, however, and multiple errors. Multiple errors drive readers nuts, even when the plot line and character development are good. So when you are getting ready to self publish that book, be sure to do a thorough review and edit before you put it out there for everybody to see, especially if you want to avoid negative reviews. Here are a few common errors I have noticed in reading self published books.

Formatting errors: These are common and correctable. Even though your original manuscript may appear to be error free, uploading to an e-book format may alter the formatting. This may be due to the author leaving hidden code in the original manuscript (most conversion programs specifically tell you to purge auto codes or simply disable them while you are writing the manuscript). Read the conversion program's instructions before uploading and make sure you have complied with them. THEN preview the upload to ensure the manuscript is correct. If it isn't, now is the time to make the edits. Look at every page and be sure the formatting errors are corrected. Here are some common ones I have seen:
- Skipped lines (including whole lines of omitted text);
- Italics where they don't belong and absent where they do;
- Inconsistent indents and page breaks;
- Inconsistent chapter headings;
- Repeated words (e.g., "He he He said..." instead of "He said...");
- Capitalization errors (e.g., mrs. Smith where Mrs. Smith is correct); and
- Omitted words (e.g., "[He]found the strange box in an antique store..."

Poor grammar usage. The only place poor grammar is acceptable is in expressing a character's speech or thoughts. For example, "It ain't my fault she's got no smarts," imparts the vision of a poorly educated individual, and perhaps even conveys a bit of irony. On the other hand, if the author follows that up with a descriptive independent of the character's statement, such as, "Billy hit the nail on the head. Sally didn't have no smarts..." well, you get the idea. Bottom line? Check your grammar, and if you aren't good at that, have someone who is check it for you. Friends, by the way, are rarely good choices for this job, since they tend to be empathetic and don't want to hurt the writer's feelings. Find someone who isn't worried about your feelings. You are trying to put a product before the public, hopefully one that will sell. That takes work and a thick skin when it comes to edits. Learn from the editor and improve your craft and your product.

Spelling errors. I see things like "loose" when "lose" is meant,"follow" when "fellow" is meant, as well as words that are just plain misspelled. To address them, you can use a spell checker as an aid, but be careful and don't blindly rely on it. First, you could insert the wrong word from the checker instead of correcting the misspelled word. Believe it or not, that is more common that you might imagine. I have been guilty of that myself, but generally catch those types of errors on the final edit. Also, there are a lot of folks who rely on the Thesaurus for finding alternatives to the word used, which is fine, provided you understand the nuance of the alternative. Some of the examples provided may not fit the sentence in context. It pays to look up any replacement word in a dictionary to be sure of its meaning within the usage context.

Continuity and Content errors. If the writer isn't good at timelines, keeping track of plot and character development, things that can go wrong will go wrong. If you're a seat of the pants writer, go back and check your previous chapters often. If you employ a more structured approach, follow your timelines, plot arcs, character charts, and outlines, but still go back and check previous chapters as you write. If you can't do either of these well, seek out a content editor, they will find everything you missed. Once again, failure to pay attention to continuity and content will earn the writer a bad review or worse, no review and no sales.

So, take that great idea and your passion to write and go for it, but make sure you take the time and effort to produce something actually worth reading. Without careful editing, the product of the best idea and the greatest passion will fail to realize its potential... unless, of course, it's a book that plays on taboo themes, like Fifty Shades of Gray or is particularly appealing to a set of genre readers. There are exceptions to every rule.