Just a quick post for writers – which means pretty much everyone. You NEED to take care of your grammar and spelling!
I’m focusing on fiction, but the same could be said for report writing, business emails etc. Okay, you’ll notice that I just used a hyphen, instead of an en-dash, but I don’t mind because I’m in informal, chatty blog mode and I don’t think too many of you would have come to an appalled, screeching halt. Apologies to those who did. Go and have a little lie down. Oh wait, crisis averted. WordPress has automatically changed it for me. Bless.
Well, let me continue. what I’m thinking of is professional documents. Your e-book is a professional document.
Let me present you with a terrible truth. If you have an e-book full of typos and errors I will think you are dumb. Not for making the errors (everyone makes errors) but for leaving them in there. You should also realise that every error I see will pull me out of the story. You want your readers to be immersed in your story, to the point where they forget to pick their kids up from school.
I offer freelance editing and so I may be shooting myself in the foot when I say that you don’t need to hire a professional editor. You may end up with a more professional document but I understand that not everyone can afford to make this investment. This is where you need to get creative. I have no doubt that you know a few people who are excellent writers, voracious readers or even grammar nerds. Do anything you can (bake them some cookies, weed their gardens etc.) to have them proof your manuscript. They may not find everything but they will most certainly find things that you haven’t noticed.
It’s a truth universally acknowledged (by editors) that the hardest task you can take on is to successfully edit your own work. I completed a wonderful editing course that gave me some very useful tools for editing my own work. Even so, people still found occasional errors in my e-book. Little typos, perhaps, but typos that interrupted the flow of the story. I took it offline and I fixed them immediately!
If you’re in the position of being without grammar-savvy friends, you may need to consider what you can do alone. There are so many sites that can help you. Dictionaries, online style guides, university reading guides and grammar pages. Please note that Word is not an editor. If you have spelt a word correctly, it will not underline it. Even if it is entirely the wrong word for the context. If I mention that my lovely tabby chat is meowing at the door, it will not raise an electronic eyebrow. This is a problem.
A very useful way to edit your manuscript is to create your own style sheets. Create an alphabetised table and record words that you have trouble spelling or that you have trouble defining (e.g. affect, effect). Choose your spellings, where there are possible variations (e.g. realised, realized). Keep a list of words you have hyphenised and stick to it. You can even include character names and details (to avoid the embarrassment of having your character’s age or eye colour change mid-story). As you edit your work, write down these words and check them. When you come across them later in your manuscript, you will already know what to do. You can also keep an eye out for those words you overuse, like ‘suddenly’ or ‘just then’. Record them and pare their usage down. Style sheets are incredibly helpful for any form of professional writing.
Here is an example of one business’ style guide: http://style.radionational.net.au/
Here’s a little rundown of guides for authors: http://www.suite101.com/content/grammar-punctuation-and-style-for-fiction-a126257
Grammar Girl can explain where a hyphen is inappropriate and answer your other (no doubt more complex) grammar questions, without being too hideously pedantic: http://grammar.quickanddirtytips.com/
By the way, my choice to use business’ rather than business’s might have put you in mind of apostrophes. I don’t like adding the extra ‘s’, but it’s accepted practice to do so. After years of marking uni papers I would say that apostrophe usage is a problem. A big, big problem. Don’t let it be your problem!