By Joel Pierson
Professional Editor and Self-Published Author
Just because something is written doesn’t necessarily mean it’s right. It’s very difficult for authors to edit their own work. For one thing, they’re so close to the material, their eyes sometimes see what should be on the page, rather than what’s actually on the page. For another, most authors aren’t thoroughly familiar with The Chicago Manual of Style, the industry-standard stylebook for book publishing. Fortunately, the editors in our Editorial Department are, and they’re ready to help.
Beyond proper spelling, style encompasses grammar, punctuation, formatting, treatment of text, capitalization, use of italics, and such subtle details as when to spell out numbers in words and when to use numerals. An editor can make those corrections, freeing authors up to focus on the telling of the tale.
Authors sometimes think that their word-processing program’s spell check and grammar check features will prevent errors, and sometimes this is the case. But consider this: Reverse two letters in a word, and you’ve got “The loins roared.” This is something that wouldn’t be flagged by spell check or grammar check. Nor would sentences like “They quacked in fear” or “She startled the car” or even “The angles will rejoice.”
No software, no matter how sophisticated, can replace a human touch when it comes to editing. Language is filled with subtle nuances, some of which are governed by The Chicago Manual of Style, others of which vary based on style and situation. An editor strives for clarity as well as impact on the reader, and that requires a careful reading of every word of the book.
Punctuation can often be troublesome for authors. An em dash is different from an en dash, and there are instances where one is preferred over the other. Commas also lead to confusion. They’re a bit like salt—how much you use can depend on your personal taste. But there are some circumstances where commas are very necessary. In the sentence, “It’s time to cook Grandma,” without a comma after the word cook, it’s Grandma who ends up in the entrée.
In addition to grammatical edits, the Editorial Department offers Developmental Editing for eligible manuscripts. This three-step service begins with a book-length set of queries and suggestions involving big-picture issues. For a work of fiction, these include plot, characterization, dialogue, and pacing. For nonfiction, they include presentation, fact-checking, and use of visual enhancements like charts and graphs.
Some common corrections made by the Editorial Department:
- Incorrect spelling of a book’s foreword as “forward.”
- Incorrect question mark after the word asked: “Who is there,” he asked?
- Misuse of the word literally: It literally killed me.
- Confusion of it’s and its: It’s a good movie, and I like its soundtrack. (Correct as shown.)
Writing a book can be challenging; following the rules and guidelines of grammar even more so. But with the help of a professional editor, authors can take comfort in knowing their words are in good hands.