12 Important Steps for Self-Editing; An Author & Writer’s Checklist


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There is arguably no substitute for engaging a professional editor or proofreader, however, self-editing is an essential exercise for all authors and writers. Developing skills to facilitate thorough content analysis and correction/revision is the first phase in fine-tuning a book manuscript or document before its editorial and proofreading analysis and publication or audience distribution.

With each successive round of proofreading the fewer the errors to be addressed in the final analysis. This process not only helps to reduce the degree of correction and revision by a professional editor but also lends to a refinement of writing skills of the author from a developmental and grammatical perspective.

Hiring a proofreader and/or editor is a critical stage of the pre-publication process that will help to ensure that your book manuscript is clear, concise, and as error-free as humanly possible and reads with a consistent flow and progression. After all, the primary objective for the author is to ensure that their purchasing readership has an exceptional and satisfying reading experience.

Start with an Online Spellchecker and/or Grammar Tool

There is numerous spelling and grammar analysis software on the market and MS Word even has their own built-in tool found at the very first of a series of related document ‘review’ functions across the top of the MS Word document window under the ‘Review’ tab. One click of the ‘Spelling & Grammar’ tool tab and the software will scan through the entire document, underlining spelling and grammar issues that require further review and changes as necessary. Grammarly.com is one such online tool which offers a host of resources to educate users on proper English language applications.

Apply this built-in tool before doing any proofreading and editing rounds. This will alleviate many typical issues right up front and allow you to focus your greatest attention on analyzing and revising with optimum efficiency and accuracy.

The spelling and grammar check should be considered the author/writer’s first step toward producing a quality, clean product with a professional presentation. This is important not only to the paying product purchaser but also to the publishing company whose critical mandate is to ensure a high-quality product is being distributed through the various retail outlets that will market your book. Even as a business professional distributing communications documents internally or externally for business purposes, the cleaner your content presents the better the reading audience’ perceptions will be and how they respond moving forward.

Pause Before Commencing to Proofread

There is a tendency to rush through the proofing process in order to meet personal or professional deadlines for publication or distribution of books or documents to their intended audience. Writing can be a long and exhaustive process in itself and it is easy to develop a habit of glazing over the essential proofreading and editing process.

After concluding the writing of your content, stop! Take a break by stepping away from the finished content for a number of days or even weeks. Come back to your work with fresh eyes and clear focus as the proofreading exercise is a painstaking, exacting process that you cannot afford to rush.

Proofreading and editing is a multi-round process. It cannot be executed effectively in one round of re-reading. You will be checking for typos, spelling errors, poor grammatical application, sentence composition issues, sentence fragmentation whereby words are inadvertently missed or as written from a conversational perspective that result in confusing, inconsistent idea or storyline flow.

The bigger picture to watch for carefully is the ‘developmental’ aspects of your content. Is there a consistent and fluid progression of the story or presentation of ideas throughout? Are the paragraphs consistent in length and spaced for easy readability? Are character and location details consistent throughout? Research exactly what to watch out for in the various elements of content development as the intent in this article is not to be exhaustive to that end.

Seek the Opinion of Others

Having referred to the proofreading and editing process as ‘painstaking’ and ‘exacting’ here previously, to be more precise the task of checking content for evident errors or inconsistencies goes to the checking of every single word, phrase, sentence, and paragraph individually and as they relate to prior and subsequent content as well. If storyline or thought processes are expressed in a haphazard manner, your readers will become confused and easily frustrated that the content was ill-conceived and not thoroughly evaluated before publication and distribution.

As the author of your own content development, there is a tendency to be overconfident about that content and during self-editing, it is easy to glaze over your content and miss errors or discrepancies. As such, it is a wise next step to seek the assessment of your content through the scrutiny of others who are not so closely attached to the work. Ask friends, a colleague at work, people who work as manuscript or content ‘reviewers’ or relevant online forum groups. Fellow writers will also help in this supportive role. You may wish to offer a gift incentive for reviewers’ efforts such as a free copy of the published product or other forms of reward.

Read Your Content Out Loud

This sounds like an odd suggestion yet when your content is read back out loud you will audibly detect unusual sounding sentence elements that trigger an immediate question in your mind. You will hear elements that do not make sense. You will hear awkward word choices and word duplication that need attention. Sentence structure is important. For many, hearing a voice, perhaps even their own voice, as they read content, will trigger the same reaction.

Learn in Advance Guidelines for Proper Grammar and Punctuation

Before you can sit down to a thorough and accurate proofread and edit of your content, you need to make sure you possess the knowledge base to do so. Research thoroughly online and/or take courses at a local college or other facility offering such study programs. Punctuation, spelling, capitalization, and grammar are complex disciplines. As a professional editor, I see these skill sets lacking in the textual content that I am engaged to review.

Many of the online resources are even free of charge. Grammarly.com is an effective app that can be installed to your internet toolbar and when developing content online the software does real-time analysis and colored underlining of words and sentence elements that require attention. It will provide suggestions for possible changes where the software may not be fully clear on the issue in some cases. Be sure to download and install the Grammarly app designed for your browser.

Prepare a Checklist of Common Content Issues

You know better than anyone what your strengths and weaknesses are in terms of your written English content. Maybe you tend to use incorrect word variations such as ‘your’ instead of ‘you’re’, ‘then’ vs. ‘than’, ‘they’re’ or ‘their’ or ‘there’, ‘its’ or ‘it’s’; the list is lengthy. Have your prewritten list of your own typical spelling and grammatical issues at the ready and do a round of proofreading specifically checking for only those types of issues.

Avoid Editing While Writing

As an author or writer, your first priority is exceptional content for the intended reader or audience. Your first inclination may be to edit during your content writing process. That is a risky practice at best as doing so becomes very disruptive to the writing thought processes and could very well diminish the quality of your writing as a result.

Get your storyline or message ‘down on paper’ as it were, whether writing on or offline. That is your first priority. Worry about the tidy up after the entire content has been written and thoroughly examined under the microscope for the proofreading phase of the project. With online publishing today we have the advantage of being able to revise our manuscript and republication as a second or third edition but why leave ourselves hanging by attempting to achieve content writing and editing simultaneously; it just doesn’t serve to establish the best possible content.

Capitalization

Capitalization is one of the most common issues I find when proofreading for clients. As with punctuation errors, I see a predominant habit among authors/writers to ‘guess’ where punctuation and capitalization should apply. This becomes even more evident when their application of both is inconsistently applied.

The use of capitals is typically reserved for proper names of people, places or things as identifiers specific to the individual or place/thing of reference. Reference to governmental positions or bodies of jurisdiction are often confused and if in doubt the next step is to search online to verify proper term usage and capitalization.

It should also be noted here, too, that if an author or writer does not have a solid grasp of proper applications in this regard, with haphazard discrepancies frequenting content, the correction of such issues can be time-consuming which will also translate into greater client cost for the hired editor to correct.

Printing, Line Ruler and Visual Alteration Techniques

Developing differing techniques to increase your focus level and accuracy during the proofreading process will go a long way toward refining your process with greater efficiency and eliminating missed issues.

Many authors and editors alike find that the eye simply does not catch all discrepancies when viewing content on your computer monitor. Some find that printing the entire manuscript of content and physically checking and marking the content is easier with less tendency of missing repetitive issues.

Still, others will alter the font size and even change the font face type as viewed on their computer screen as a means to proof their work more closely. When you adjust such dynamics of textual content to other than what you are accustomed to applying and reading, this practice will force a greater level of close scrutiny to find discrepancies in your content.

Another favorite practice is to place a straight rule beneath each line of content as you progress down the page. In doing so, you cover content immediately below the line you are reading and thereby facilitating complete focus only on the line being read.

These techniques may, at first, result in a slower, more intense review process but will also increase efficiency and accuracy after repeated use.

Multiple Rounds of Proofing and Editing

Authors and editors alike must be aware and understand the critical importance of multiple rounds of proofreading and editing. When hiring an editor and or proofreader, it should be understood and accepted, as an established professional editorial practice industry-wide, that the editing and proofreading practices will require a multiple of rounds to do so.

Depending on the degree of proofing and or editing desired or required, it should be anticipated and agreed upon in advance by both parties to an editing services contract that three (3) to four (4) rounds of complete content review shall form the basis for acceptable services standard, and more or less rounds depending on a number of factors relating to content issues that will allow for or demand more or less review and revision.

It is suggested that the best practice before an editor or proofreader is hired is for the author/writer to provide a specified amount of representative content to the service provider, i.e. several pages or one or two chapters, as specified in advance, in order to give the editor/proofreader an advance read of the author/writer’s content to determine the extent of analysis and revision that will be required.

There should also be agreed upon flexibility written into this element of a service agreement such that any significant change in content editing requirements not anticipated or evident through the content sample provided will necessitate a greater scope of work and related cost adjustments to bring the content to the desired professional state of presentation. This situation may not occur often but should be a reasonable contingency in the event that such problematic content arises.

Consider, also, that the editing and proofreading processes are two distinctly separate exercises with a focus on different elements of the project content. Proofreading is primarily to address issues relating to typos, spelling and grammatical/punctuation errors and sentence composition concerns.

Editing, on the other hand, is a comprehensive analysis and revision of the bigger picture of content development, also known and referred to as ‘developmental editing’. Editing also examines stylistic consistency as well as a logistical reference such as character and location/geographical development, the accuracy of language, flow, readability, clarity, and a consistent progression of storyline or message delivery front to back.

Style Guide Applications

There are numerous editions of ‘style guides’ published today and found online as well. They serve to guide writers and editorial professionals for proper applications of style, usage, and grammar. Such style guides have been established in various countries around the world and reputed as the reference of choice for consistent textual content development standards. There is a multiple of style guides designed specifically for various formats of writing.

Digesting the content of such guides can be complex but more and more authors and writers are acquiring these reference guides in order to bring a professional standard with consistency to their written works. The advantages of doing so serve not only the writer/author but also, ultimately, their reading audience as well.

Neither editing nor proofreading services incorporate rewriting or entire writing (i.e. ghostwriting) services. That is not the focus of these professional hires. They are hired on the basis of content analysis and suggested revisions only.

Can I Not Just Use Editing Software? Why Hire an Editor as Well?

Clients must be aware that content analysis software currently being retailed is NOT 100% accurate in terms of textual proofreading and editing. There are numerous aspects of the complex written English language that such software is not able to fully recognize as a contextual or grammatical error. When reviewing ‘suggested changes’ highlighted by the software, it becomes clearly evident that the software is ‘unclear’ on any given number of grammatical or spelling issues it gives reference to for suggested changes and their analysis in those instances is incorrect.

As such, the client is left with difficult and often confusing decisions as to the correct content changes necessary, if any, in those instances. For that reason, authors/writers should never rely solely on spelling and grammar check software applications. It is still essential that a proofreader and or editor be engaged to undertake the final content analysis on the client’s behalf to ensure that the end result is a product that meets professional quality standards as free of error as humanly possible.

Publishing companies are also highly expectant that book manuscripts submitted for publication meet their own high standards. Their first priority is to ensure that the products they retail are high quality for the purchasing consumer. Their revenues are clearly at stake as well as the author’s income. The bottom line is that happy readers become devout, repeat customers when they can rely on great story delivery with quality finishing touches for their investment!

How to Decide Between Self-Editing and Hiring a Professional Editor


Pen on white backgroundShould You Self-Edit or Hire a Professional?

As an author or writer, a business professional, marketing or advertising expert, you have created a book manuscript, document or promotional copy that will soon be published or otherwise distributed to its targeted audience. You have a daunting task: Do you perform the proofreading and/or editing exercise independently and release your content for public consumption/purchase or do you hire a professional textual editor/proofreader to execute this phase that will bring your content to its critical and polished best presentation?

Decision Factors

That is a loaded question and not one that you should take lightly. Consider these factors very carefully when making that decision:

  • Are you publishing your content for retail purposes?
  • Who is your targeted audience and does that audience include the potential for business revenue development?
  • Is this your first of such published/distributed materials or one of many and what has your audience response been so far? Has your content been response-driven? What is the metrics of reader response indicating to date? Have your documents or published materials performed as anticipated? Did your results meet or exceed your objectives?
  • Has your audience response in terms of actions taken been measurable and as intended? If not, what will you have to do to change your audience response?

When you are creating content for a company and/or client project or for direct revenue purposes, there is a considerable amount of pressure (internal/external) for optimum results in terms of the foregoing questions, how effective your content was in stimulating audience response and to what degree that response met or exceeded expectations.

Consider what is at stake if your content is not the best it can and needs to be. What efforts in terms of time, resources and investment have gone into the project? Has your return on investment (ROI) met and exceeded your expectations?

Objectivity

First, make sure that in making a decision your perspective is an objective one. Take an honest look at your content and be completely honest about self-assessing your capabilities with respect to your writing skills and equally as important, your level of knowledge and skills to effectively analyze and revise your work as necessary to bring it to a professional polish.

Seek an Outside Opinion

Have a colleague, family member, friend or other parties take your content for a test drive. Ask for their unbiased impressions of your work without any sugar coating thrown in…a straight up assessment or review, thumbs up or thumbs down! Avoid negative results by thoroughly examining your content before taking it to the next level. Beyond the surface level of the content and its delivery, are your reviewers finding a significant number of issues that require rewriting or correction?

Editing Decision Touch Points

The following is a series of keywords or phrases which need to be considered when deciding whether to engage a textual proofreader/editor for your content. These are the skills and expertise level indicators to consider as an expandable list (not all-inclusive) of the many elements of content development and revision that I do as a professional proofreader/editor:

authors               bibliography           book manuscript editing

bookmarks             border design          caption

change                markup charts          citations

clear formatting      cohesion               column orientation

columns insertion     content development    content layout

content sequence      copyediting            copywriting

cross-reference       developmental          document comparison

drop cap              editorial role         endnote

English editing       Flesch-Kincaid Standards

fluid progression     font face              font size

footnote              formatting             grammar

gridlines             headlines              hyperlinks

hyphenation           image alt text         image insertion

indentation           insert footer          insert header

line spacing          lower case             macro

margins               mark entry             mobile content

multiple page viewing outline level          page break

page breaks           page orientation       pagination

paragraph structure   postscript             problems

proofreading          publishing             punctuation

quick parts           readability           reader engagement      

reference navigation  references            review                 

reviewing pane        revision balloons     ruler                  

section breaks        sentence structure    signature line         

solutions             source management     special indents        

spelling              split window          storyline consistency

strikethrough         style guides          styles

subheads              subscript             substantive

symbols               table of authorities  tables

tables                text align            text box insertion

text wrap             thesaurus             track change review

trim size             typos                 upper case

watermark             web layout            word count

Common Misconceptions

A writer/author/creator’s greatest fear is that their content will be changed by the editor to the extent that their storyline, intent, meaning, and objectives could be seriously altered or compromised. Avoid such issues with a proofreader or editor before any editorial project gets under way.

The editor’s contract should clearly reflect that the integrity of their client’s work will be maintained during the process without clear and advance discussion and authorization from the client otherwise. The primary objective of the editor is to clarify any evident ambiguities or inconsistencies to content copy to enhance its delivery to the reader and to effect revisions that will correct typos, spelling errors, discrepancies in grammatical correctness, punctuation and sentence composition.

The ‘polish’ that an editor puts on a document, known as ‘proofreading‘ is meant to incorporate the correction of errors in spelling, grammatical and punctuation issues. More extensive ‘editing’ of a developmental or substantive nature is an analysis of the content through which to consult with the client to alert them that there are inconsistencies in the message delivery or storyline. The editor role does not incorporate re-writing of such content elements unless there has been an advance extension to the services agreement for the editor to do so. That kind of change, which involves greater involvement by the editor, will naturally add cost to the services agreement.

Good Story or Message Composition vs. Bad

As the writer, you need to be aware that if your storyline or copy content is mediocre in its development and does not pack the punch that it must have to achieve the desired results, resolving such issues is the responsibility of the author/writer/copywriter. I am writing this article for the various types of client projects I specialize in but the premise in this regard is the same. The writer of the content must develop their own individual skills in content development and delivery in order to realize the maximum possible success that they might achieve.

You may not possess the ultimate writing skills and technique to deliver that stellar content the first time around but if you are doing due diligence to do extensive research, studies and content refinement, your content quality and how it is received by your audience should improve as you gain experience. An editor or proofreader is NOT a ghostwriter. He or she will provide content analysis and revision. Writing better, more exciting or convincing/engaging content remains the job of the author/writer/copywriter.

Do Not Take Critique Personally

Repeatedly I have heard stories or, at times, experienced first-hand, that a client has taken an editorial comment as a personal affront. As the originator of that written content, own your responsibility as the content creator. Accept their role as editor for the objective analysis that they provide for the writer during the editing process. Do not allow that assessment to become personal or confrontational. The editor/proofreader is on your side! This seems a little off track for this article but the point is that you do not want to lose perspective to the extent that it dissuades you from engaging an editor for future projects. They are indeed there for a purpose.

Self-Editing Is Important

The first step to take once your content is completed, in a draft, is to set it aside for a few days, refresh and come back to your project to undertake a self-editing process. Take your time with this process. If you tear through the proofread at a break-neck pace only for the sake of meeting your publishing submission target date, the result is missed issues that require correction. Be very cautious about establishing hard deadlines for submission. Make sure that you have adequate time for the entire proofreading and editing process to be completed. That process is as important as the writing of the content itself.

Anticipate problems with the editing and polishing phases of your project. Base that anticipation of adequate time on the length and complexity of the project itself. Refer back to previous projects as a reference point and judge accordingly. If you do engage a professional editor to undertake the final analysis and revision process, establish a timeline that they anticipate they will require to do their part and wherever possible, keep your submission date a soft deadline.

I have seen clients get terribly anxious and stressed because they did not meet their original submission date. Maintain perspective on what is more important: a deadline for submission or the best possible quality content possible. In the case of a hard and fast deadline for submission in conjunction with a collaborative project involving a multiple of contributors, make sure that your advance lead time is more than sufficient for all of these processes to be performed thoroughly.

If issues of a more extensive nature arise such as storyline inconsistency, structural or copywriting revision is required, the time to do so is often greater than the original composition. Again, the priority has to be on the content quality first.

Multiple Round Editing Process

Be aware that the professional proofreading and editing processes involve several rounds of focus on specific elements of content analysis. Typically, that process, especially where the client elects both editing and proofreading services, are three or four separate rounds for complete, front to back content analysis and revision. The process is separated out into a multiple of rounds so that numerous elements of the analysis can be more effectively and efficiently addressed rather than an exhaustive all-in-one round which could result in issues being missed.

Type of Editing Services Needed

Editing can be considerably more extensive in the process that proofreading. They are two clearly defined and separate processes. Proofreading includes checking for typos, spelling errors, grammar, punctuation and sentence composition analysis. The author/writer needs to decide their writing strengths vs. what services they engage through an editor. If the author/writer were unsure of the extent of services required, the editor would most often seek a representative sample of the content to review in advance of starting a project. This advance review will give the editor some assurance that the content before him/her is consistent with the quality of content throughout the manuscript or document. Where the editor sees more than average issues in the sample they may ask for a larger sample or assess a greater fee structure that will reasonably meet the additional work that will ensue with the project.

If the author/writer were unsure of the extent of services required, the editor would most often seek a representative sample of the content to review in advance of starting a project. This advance review will give the editor some assurance that the content before him/her is consistent with the quality of content throughout the manuscript or document. Where the editor sees more than average issues in the sample they may ask for a larger sample or assess a greater fee structure that will reasonably meet the additional work that will ensue with the project.

Selection of an editor should be one of the first things the client determines so that they are comfortable with cost and can plan accordingly. There will still be a review of that representative sample to help alleviate any concerns on the part of the editor. It is not unheard of that extraordinary issues crop up well into a manuscript or document that was not evident in the initial review. In that case, there is usually a provision in the editor’s contract for a fee adjustment if deemed necessary.

Proofreaders and editors should always address any extraordinary issues as soon as they become evident by discussing those concerns with their client. The editor should never undertake to do extra work without first having obtained advance permission from their client to proceed. In doing so, the relationship between the editor and client does not become strained or compromised.

An author or writer can always obtain more than one content sample review before deciding on whom to engage if they feel the need to do so. Obtaining a referral from a fellow author or writer can also go a long way to minimizing any issues that might arise during the course of the editing process.

Research to Find Experienced and Highly Regarded Editing Professionals

Taking the time to locate successful and highly regarded proofreading and editorial professionals will pay huge dividends in the long run. Most often people conducting a search for products or services will seek to find local professionals, failing which they will expand their search. Remember that editing professionals provide their services for clients around the globe.

Essentially all services for document proofing and editing/publishing are currently completed electronically on a laptop or desktop computer, often including client communications by email or online video calls through Skype, Google Hangouts or Facebook Video Calling. When long distance separates the editor and their client, communication by telephone is much less frequent for obvious cost control.

Take advantage of resources that are typically found featured on editorial professionals sites. Familiarize yourself with these resources as a means to enjoy direct benefit when it comes to your content development, editing, marketing and where applicable optimizing for search visibility. There are many free and paid tools for writers and editors that greatly enhance organization, accuracy, innovation, presentation, formatting and much more.

Great examples of highly informative and resourceful editing professionals include An American Editor and Louise Harnby whose sites are richly enhanced through resource and industry links. Both of these seasoned editorial experts are outstanding writers whose on-site blogs are highly informative. They are well worth a visit to advance your practical knowledge base and writing/publishing objectives. Both editors have published as have I.

Self-Editing is an Important Phase of the Project

It is a highly recommended part of the writing and publishing process that the author becomes involved in the editing phase with every publication project. Developing improvement in your proofing and editing skills is important. It will actually help your writing process as you become more aware of your content quality as you write. To a degree, it will help reduce the extent of proofing and editing required by a professional. It will not necessarily result in dramatic savings though, especially if it is your first time working together.

Even when self-editing your work, it is highly recommended that you plan to engage a proofreader/editor for the final analysis. An external, professional analysis of your work helps to alleviate the possibility of issues occurring. Your objectivity can affect how well you proof and edit because the writer tends to be over-confident about their editing capability and thoroughness when self-editing. Your process can become a glaze over because of over-confidence and close familiarity with your work. At the end of a long writing project, the writer’s eyes will be fatigued and that ‘lazy eye syndrome’ results in skipping over content and missing important issues that require correction.

There is also the level of editorial knowledge and skill to consider. In addition, focus on what your overall objective is for your project. Keep in mind, too, that the publisher will also anticipate a quality content submission, as they will not publish inferior products to the buying public. Doing so affects their revenue stream as well as your own. If you begin to receive negative reviews about content quality, consider the valuable lost time to pull the project out of retail, go through another editing process, resubmission and further publisher review before the project goes is finally approved and goes live again for public purchase.

Effective self-editing and proofreading demand that you develop advanced knowledge and skills. The English language is complex and typical elementary and secondary school studies of the English language and grammar are not at the level that is required for content development. Take the time necessary well in advance of any content distribution at a professional or publishing level, especially when self-editing is the sole or only level of editing planned for your project.

My recommendation here insofar as hiring a professional editor reflects what this industry supports wholeheartedly and not in a self-serving way. Whether you are a publishing author, content writer or marketing, and advertising copywriter, if you do not have the in-house expertise, you will have to outsource your proofreading and editing needs. You have enormous competition out there vying for the same market share and anything short of the highest possible quality will fall well short in terms of your bottom line.

Testimonials and Reviews Speak Volumes

Seek out solid testimonials from any editing professional you are considering. Nothing is more powerful than the direct word of previous or ongoing clients of the professional editor under review. You can see examples of my own client testimonials which are featured on not only the Testimonials page but also the Home page. Be aware that even testimonials published online or in print may not be the real deal so be prudent in following up directly with the writer of such testimonials if at all in doubt. Editing professionals will usually be more than happy to seek the permission of their raving clients for prospective client contact provided their client’s wishes as to the means of contact is satisfied.

Not every editorial professional has a university degree in support of and relevant to his or her services. Through years of experience in various vocations, where they possess an exceptional command of the English language, they are solid candidates in their own right. To avoid frustration and disappointment, opt for personal and professional editing for optimum results. Editing takes tremendous commitment to ensure a consistent, painstaking focus and effective process. There is no room to leave your desired results open to chance.

My sincere best wishes go out to everyone in the pursuit of excellence; getting it right the first and every time will help make a significant difference in your bottom line.

Authors; How to Handle Negative Book Reviews


frustrated_writerAll authors publish their written works with every anticipation that many will see their work and that every single review of their book or novel will do nothing but lavish praise on the author and profess the reader’s unwavering devotion to the author as the reader’s first choice in personal reading. The reality is that authors need to anticipate negative reviews and keep things in perspective.

As an author, you check your book sales pages on Amazon, Barnes & Noble or your other various publishing platforms, eagerly anticipating increased number of sales and solid, supportive reviews that will further help to establish a positive credibility and reputation as an accomplished author.

The fear of receiving a negative review for your publication is on the mind of most authors and in most instances, publishers are not inclined to remove those negative reviews because they want to maintain a realistic balance when it comes to the potentially broad range of consumer response to your fictional or non-fiction masterpiece. If all reviews were strictly positive, would that not give the perception of unfair bias and potential manipulation or control of your market?

As an author, you want to reach out to your readers and encourage that they share their impressions of your latest publication. Reviews are a powerful means to building confidence in the browsing consumers who have landed on your sales page. Just seeing a multiple of four or five-star review ratings can stimulate consumer curiosity and draw them to the book description to find out more.

The frustration of seeing negative reviews and the fear of the ‘negative’ impression that those less than raving reviews will have on your sales activity is probably keeping you awake at night trying to rationalize the painful process of objective criticism. You are not alone!

As an author, it is essential that you maintain perspective when it comes to a negative review. Read those critical reviews carefully as in many cases the customer will have realistic issues whether it be typical editorial issues such as spelling, punctuation or grammatical issues or more in-depth structural issues such as confusing or conflicting storylines from one chapter to the next, character or location inconsistencies, story progression that lacks a fluid transition, lack of substance or anticipated excitement. The entire editing process that you exercise before the submission of your manuscript to the publisher should painstakingly weigh all of those issues to be sure that your story is sound and fulfilling in every possible way.

 Ways to Deal with Criticism

  • Consumer Exposure: On the plus side, when readers take the time to write a review they are providing you with public exposure. The mere fact that they are expressing an opinion about your book demonstrates sales activity on your publication. People possess their own individual perspective on what they read. How others will perceive their comments will be in direct contrast to what other consumers want to read. Consumers will develop their own opinions.
  • Establish Your Own List of Fears: It can be a most unnerving experience to publish a book, especially your first release. All kinds of questions and critique may come from readers that perhaps you did not anticipate. Did you put forward the best possible reading experience through your story? Your book goes live and all of a sudden your exhaustive writing process is out there for the world to see. Keep a list of potential (or actual) negative comments that might arise. Take criticism as valuable critique, address those issues in your manuscript that require revision or correction, republish the manuscript and get over the critiques…move on. 
  • Importance to You and Your Readers: Keep things in perspective. Do you have an ever-increasing readership tribe who thinks the world of your books? Are the vast majority of book reviews you receive highly positive in nature? What do you want to achieve with every manuscript you develop? Keep your own writing objectives in mind. If you allow insignificant or even blatantly incorrect criticism to overtake your focus on your writing you will not be able to produce an outstanding product through your subsequent publications. NEVER become obsessed or distressed by periodic negative reviews.
  • Focus on Positive Reviews: It is list time again! Make a list of all the positive comments you receive about your books from mere satisfaction for having read your story or more specific details about what the reader loved the most…and wants to see again! Are their positive perceptions as you had intended? Did you deliver best reader experience? Take the critical time to receive a good pat on the back for a job well done through those positive reviews; they are your core audience who will return for more repeatedly! Affirm in your own mind that you are indeed a gifted writer and have a solid grasp of how to engage your audience.
  • Every Author Gets Bad Reviews: What? Really? Even the most well-read authors, including bestseller authors, get negative reviews. When you get an ungracious response to your book through the issues the reader had are they relevant? Do they have merit? Decide how you can avoid that type of reaction in future books. Use those negative reviews to plan and structure your next novel in a way that would avoid such perspective. You should also keep in mind who the individual is and what bearing that has on their comments. There have been instances where a publisher has discovered that an author, even a very well-read author, had written bad reviews or hired someone else to do the same in an effort to discredit a competitor in their genre market. Legal action ensued and the publisher will no longer accept the offending author as their client.
  • Website & Social Media Commenting: Today’s publishing world quite naturally leaves an author vulnerable to public expression of their works. This can be a scary experience for some writers. In most online places like websites, blogs, and social media the public has the opportunity to post comments on virtually any subject including their impressions of your publication. Authors cannot cower, terrified about the potential for negative reviews. Most of your public audience will take negative reviews at face value and given the many more positive reviews, will want to experience a great read for them.

Perspective is Everything

Are Negative Book Reviews Constructive or Flaming?

When I received my first negative review it was on social media. At first, I felt sick that I should fall victim to a negative trashing of my written works. As an author, you really have to look at where that negativity is coming from.

First, is there any substance to the negative review that backs up what the person has stated? In that particular instance, the reviewer’s comments were generalized in nature and really made no reference to a specific issue with my content. I was confused and increasingly angered. How can anyone publicly put down an author’s content and neglect to substantiate what they were saying without backup through specific instances or points of reference in the book? Have they, in fact, read my book?

Do Not Respond in Anger!

Keep in mind that negative reviews are a matter of public visibility. In publishing/distributing sites such as Amazon.com, there is no option for deleting a negative review. There is merit to the question of whether an author should have that discretion but that issue is for another time and place.

It is critically important that you, the author, should never be angered by throwing down a harsh or angered response in return. By responding with anger, doing so will only serve to give readers the impression that you are acknowledging the harsh criticism by becoming defensive. We cannot expect every single review to be a raving two thumbs up nor should we ever suggest it publicly. Constructive criticism is a healthy aspect of learning, being more attentive and growing as a publishing author. The best response from an author is to produce an even better publication in future, the perfect opportunity to minimize readers’ opportunity to become critical.

Survey Bestseller Sales Pages

A great exercise to alleviate fears about negative reviews is to face those fears right up front even before you publish your first book. Do the following exercise with me:

At the very moment of this writing, I went directly to the homepage of Amazon.com whereupon I entered the search term ‘bestseller books 2017’ into the Amazon site search bar. At random, I clicked on bestseller author Sue Fortin’s ‘Sister, Sister’ publication. It is noteworthy that Fortin is a USA Today bestselling author. On the title and tagline at the very top of Ms. Fortin’s sales page for ‘Sister, Sister’ is an overall four-star customer rating. Right next to the star rating is a current count of 334 customer reviews.

Now, scroll down the sales page until you arrive at the section titled ‘Customer Reviews’. Here you will find a graphic illustration of the rating percentages as cast by reviewing readers ranging from one Star rating as (2%) of all ratings cast to four and five Star ratings by the vast majority of reviewing readers at between 29% – 53%.

If you then click on “See All Reviews” you will see a breakdown of ‘Top Positive Reviews (275) and to the right, you will see “Top Critical Reviews”. As a percentage of total reviews to date, that equates to 83% Positive Reviews over 17.66% Critical Reviews. Those are significant percentages and most importantly the percentages of positive customer reviews far outnumber the critical reviews. I have not referred to the one to three Star ratings here because they are substantially fewer in numbers and therefore of least impact to this comparison.

Start Reading A Sampling of Critical Reviews for ‘Sister, Sister’.

It really is interesting to engage in ‘Critical Reviews’. With all due respect to the individual reviewers (because their opinions about the publication certainly do count) read their comments carefully and consider the substance and specifics as they are articulated or the absence of it. Are the comments highly generalized or substantive in support of their rating chosen? Even in the case of a reviewer’s sole comment being “Spellbinding” their rating was only three Stars.

In another instance, a reviewer states “I haven’t read a book this bad in about 5 years.” This comment shared a one Star rating. Again, these review comments have significance and relevance from the reviewer’s perspective.

Now Engage in The Positive Reviews for ‘Sister, Sister’.

I will make no further direct reference to individual ratings and reviews as I believe it is important that you, the reader here, draw your own informed conclusions based on what you see throughout the body of the Reviews section of this author’s sales page.

I would encourage you to go back to the Reviews section of numerous authors, including ‘bestseller’ authors, through their respective sales pages and look very closely at what is said in the reviews and how their statements relate to their overall rating. It really is interesting to see the broad range of reviews and star ratings, whether for a newly published author or a seasoned pro that has made their way into the lofty ‘bestseller’ ranks.

Many authors share their perspective on negative reviews that they receive and how they handle them personally. A good many have stated that they ignore negative reviews completely and avoid destructive distress or distraction that would interfere with their writing process…period. They would also urge that in the end after all is said and done you will continue to write and publish. Reviews can be used in a positive way where an author feels that a critical look is constructively pointing out areas of writing which indeed do need the author’s attention.

Most importantly, re-read your positive reviews frequently and especially those that provide you with a detailed perspective that clearly illustrates the powerfully impactful ways your book has influenced their review comments and why they will continue to seek out your future publications. Use those positive reviews as an affirmation that you are a wonderfully capable author and keep writing. You obviously have something exceptional to share and have discovered the critical formulas for reader engagement!

© Don MacIver 2017; All Rights Reserved

The Art of Successful Writing


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It’s All About the Reader Experience

From as far back as my childhood days in elementary school, I clearly recall my fascination with words. Our teachers would speak with determined reference to the ways in which we needed to express on any number of levels through the many complexities of the English language.

Of course, in our very early elementary school teachings, those lessons were fairly simple in terms of what children that age could reasonably understand, absorb and apply both orally and in writing. Our preliminary task was to learn to speak the language and learn how to print, neatly and with deliberate and neat penmanship. Those words that we related to the most and were most often used in our day to day conversation were an early focus in class.

With each passing year, the importance of learning how to speak, read and write the English language became of greater importance, more and more complex. Grasping the spelling and meaning of each word was increasingly important, as was an understanding of just how complex the language really was. And then came the revelations of thesaurus content wherein lay a whole other dimension of the language through synonyms.

Well into the mid-secondary school period, we became more and more deeply engaged with the language through our studies. Written assignments became a routine part of our daily learning experience. Our teachers used the assignment process as a means to gauge our individual knowledge, understanding, and application of the language. I remember very early on feeling a sense of wonderment for the language, our language that was used in every conceivable aspect of people’s lives whether for personal reading, eventual writing as a profession, vocational requirement or creative endeavor.

Once into my secondary school years, I became increasingly aware of just how complex the English language was. We began to study not only advanced spelling of much more complex words and sentence structures but also a more in-depth study of the grammatical aspects of the language. This was pretty heavy stuff and for many, English Literature was tedious, boring, confusing and confounding. Many of my friends would question why we needed to know all that stuff, to begin with.

Well, when we eventually delved into the study of historical masters of the language, both structurally and creatively speaking, even more of the class began to wander their attentions to idle scribbling in their notebooks and banal daydreaming to while away the hours. Many would frequently check the big clock on the classroom wall, counting the minutes down to recess, a break from all of the mundane study sessions.

I look back on those days with a clear recollection of my own curiosity, no, fascination, with learning the English language, reading assignments and writing book reviews. The first time I held a novel in my hands was a milestone I will never forget. It was like diving into deep, darkened waters to unchartered depths of exploration and discovery for me. I kept those thoughts to myself because, quite frankly, kids in the day thought that anyone who was engrossed in reading studies was a ‘geek’, unusual to say the least.

Early into my high school days I began to have a sense that, even though I did not have a clear idea of what career direction I wanted to take, somehow I envisioned it having a lot to do with writing, communications, anything along those lines that would be an essential part of how I would make a living.

The study of poetry was for many an abstract, a nonsensical journey into waters that most students felt that they would never ply. What application could there possibly be through the use of poetic verse in our daily lives, right? Yet soon, I would develop an inspired thirst for the study of poetry. It led me to an appreciation for uniquely creative word, phrase and sentence composition that took a tremendous amount of focus to write effectively. Years later I would develop a lifelong passion for writing poetry.

I soon developed an even greater appreciation of how content development, in general, would form the basis, the foundation for more comprehensive writing applications that I would use throughout my entire career. My parents recognized my innate sense of excitement reading, especially fictional novels that I brought home from the library. One day mom brought home a box set of Hardy Boys mystery novels, hardbound and engagingly illustrated on the front cover.

I quickly became hooked on those Hardy Boy classics and read them repeatedly. My home library collection grew with each new publication and soon I would be into Nancy Drew mysteries and more. I would be fixated hour after hour, consumed by the gripping storylines, the suspense and wondering at the final outcome of each story, not wanting to put the books down when called for dinner. I would often read late into the night on weekends.

I loved the way the author developed his or her characters; their unique appearance and personalities, their voice, beliefs, interests, likes and dislikes, and their role in the story. And then there were the physical settings that surrounded individual scenes which rounded out the story. It all played out in my mind as a cinematic scene in a motion picture at the town theatre.

I recall punctuation being one of the more challenging elements of writing that I found difficult to grasp. I had an uncle who was a well-known journalist in both the newsprint and radio media. He was an artist and created the most incredible sketches with a graphite pencil that I have seen to this day. I began to read his newspaper articles, primarily editorial and sports columns but he later ventured in the most impassioned way into the political commentary and critique arena. He had a tremendous thirst for stirring things up and politics was just the thing. He struck out with a more unconventional and often controversial voice that had many readers incensed but truly got their attention and response. Those were my early lessons in reader engagement.

The more I read Uncle Gord’s columns, the keener my interest for writing became. I was fascinated about how he developed his storylines, how he captured interest and attention through the words he fashioned, how he painted a picture through every story told. The tremendous power and effectiveness of his word and phrase use and his very sentence composition was a marvel. I even fascinated at how each and every paragraph transitioned so fluidly to the next.

As a teenager, I was beginning to have a strong sense of where my career direction was meant to be. I decided to go on to college and study journalism. My interest and apparent strength lay in the printed media. I would work for newspapers, reporting stories from out in the field about any number of interesting subjects. I would interview important and learned people in order to establish and support my storylines.

While my passion for writing continued to grow during my college studies, the romance with journalistic reporting lost its shine, its polish for me and I did not pursue completion of those studies nor that vocation in life. Still, I would eventually forge on to management roles with a Crown Corporation that would be the beginnings of a life-long career in property and facility management. It was during those thirty years as a professional in the real estate management industry that I would apply extensive written communications on a daily basis.

Once I experienced the managerial roles in the real property industry, it was then that I quickly became aware of just how important effective written, and oral, communications would be in the course of my daily management and reporting of property operations to our clients. I was required to communicate in a clear, concise, informative and persuasive way, with clients from all walks of life. I would address property issues through all matter of supportive external service providers of daily or periodic services to our clients from trades-related contractors to architects, engineers, lawyers and industry professionals.

The strict rule of thumb within that Crown Corporation and all of the subsequent private sector firms that I was engaged by was to provide factually sound, informative and engaging communications and written reports to all clients and stakeholders. My accuracy and effective ‘voice’ through my written communications had to be delivered with the utmost clarity, consultative expertise and meticulous in its execution every single time documents were distributed from my desk. Critical decision processes were imminent from my communications.

Anticipating the extent of my focus on the written word moving forward after secondary school, I undertook to study intense, in-depth elective and college courses in English, grammar, and business management and communications as a precursor to my successive management years in a career that truly demanded exceptional oral and written communications skills. There would be absolutely no room for contextual error when it came to professional communications whether oral or written.

I learned the fundamentals of a storyline and communications development right from the opening sentence to set the voice and tone of the piece and what the reader could expect throughout its message, to the main body of the content delivery and final paragraphs that drew informative recommendations and conclusions. The content that I wrote was very often extensive in nature and complexity and was ultimately eight to ten or more pages in length. Even at that length, I was to cover a high volume of information and client recommendations in a clear and concise manner. Brevity to the point of confusion was never an option on the table. A lot was at stake if my message was somehow misconstrued.

The Art of Reader Engagement

The strength in communicating in an ‘engaging’ way goes far beyond mere logistics and factually informative report writing. In addition to writing highly informative content, the reader’s attention easily becomes distracted, especially the longer the overall length and depth of a piece is. Writing in a conversational voice becomes an essential element of reader engagement more now than ever before.

People’s time is harried; condensed into split seconds of engagement or distraction. Get to the point and give the reader what they are looking for and the sooner the better. Cut out superfluous content that would otherwise be characterized as ‘fluff’. Cut to the chase and make your point, especially from a content marketing perspective! What people will engage in is informative content that identifies the very problem they are experiencing and how best to go about fixing that problem, making their lives better, easier, more efficient, more cost-effective and enjoyable.

We often view ‘art’ as an ‘expression’, a unique and creative oral, written or painted/sculpted delivery of one’s thoughts or ideas whether spoken, on paper or online, even physically formed in an artful way that brings a pleasurable, inspired audio or visual experience to its audience. The beauty of any art form is strictly in the eye of the beholder…or is it? Is the perception of art by design for the divine graces of the beholder or is it mere aggrandization of its creator?

The art of reader engagement is all about the reader experience.

Today, when appealing to the emotions of your intended reading audience in writing, the critical element that delivers ties that bind is forming a connection with our readers through their emotional response to our content. Speak to your audience in a conversational tone…share with your readers through your own voice rather than second or third person.

When you relay a story as part of your message delivery, infuse the human touches that your audience can directly relate to. Consider a love story unfolding in your novel. What is the lighting like? Is it overpowering, glaring, unromantic or gently subdued? Are your characters yelling out to each other from separate rooms or are they close, but a movement’s touching away? How are they breathing? What are they gazing at? Are they resisting or embracing the imminent connection? What is the tone of their voice in conversation? Is it a matter of fact, suggestive, evocative?

How do we know we are making that important connection?

As writers, much of what we write is intuitive, off the cuff, instinctive progressions of ideas and circumstance which tend to lead the story where it is willed to go. It may follow our intended path of logical direction and flow but it also may weave its own directions between points A to B as would feel most natural under the circumstances.

We are a curious lot as creatives. We write as it feels good to ourselves. We develop a smug reliance on our instincts for brilliant situational development and resolution. Nancy is falling in love with Tom and that is how the story will end…right? Well, not necessarily. Writing as creatives, we hunger for what lies outside the box, the surprise element, a long way from what may seem logical.

In the literal sense, an artist will begin their project with very little or no sense of what they are about to create and allow the construction to go where it will. Here is what I, as a creative, experience when writing poetry or prose:

  • I first develop a conceptual idea for each piece.
  • As with a storyline, I envision a beginning, middle and an end.
  • I begin to write my piece from that concept.
  • I always have that ending in mind yet most often new ideas form in my mind and the piece takes on an entirely different direction and meaning.
  • I structure or shape my ending, my close, based on a new and fluid conclusion to the piece as it has progressed.

During its writing, I read back every word, every line, and every stanza repeatedly. Is its progression fluid, is it clear and engaging? With each new line, I read back again, always repeating that analytical process. I am incessantly reading back through the eyes of my readers, always. It is the reader experience that is paramount. Am I evoking an emotional response? Is it appealing and compelling for its intended audience or would it better be expressed another way?

I obsess on whether the reader is tearing up or grinning from ear to ear. Am I just being a coy and manipulative ass or am I producing something truly meaningful and never self-serving? Now, self-serving is a whole other matter to address and even though one’s content should never be overtly that, there is a quiet sense, as a writer, of the desired self-fulfillment, always. Still, my content always aims to resonate with its intended reader…without exception.

Content Revisions

Regardless of the genre or intended audience, whether a fictional novel, a university dissertation, business communication, content marketing or advertising copy, the primary objective is to write content that fully resonates with the reader. It has to echo, in other words, the reader should be able to relate personally to the content. It should invoke an emotional response. Editing or revision of content brings that content to its most clear and concise delivery while still delivering an enriching experience for the reader. The ambiguous becomes more clear, more appealing and a more natural progression toward the conclusion of the chapter or piece overall.

Revision fine-tunes, makes greater sense, hones in on specifics, filtering out redundancy, superfluous wording, laying bare a truer and more assuming path for the reader to walk along. When describing an action or reaction, use specific description to clearly explain a character’s train of thought to substantiate their response.

As you write, place yourself squarely in the shoes of the character in the moment. Each of their actions or reactions must emulate their personality under a particular circumstance and how that might change during other extenuating circumstances. It has to fit. If your reader does a quick about face there is an immediate and confusing disconnect. As the architect of the story, we need to always be acutely aware of the logical action and reaction that fits each situation and its participants.

In the writing process, if I have done my job you should be sensing the emotions of the characters and in response, you may well feel emotions of your own whether empathy or sadness, supportive or standoffish. In the course of reading, we experience our own sense of emotional responses, some that are powerful enough that our general response to similar circumstances in real life may change in kind. If we are going to interject an out-of-character response in the story we better resolve that displaced response with reasoning accordingly.

What does a creative writer do?

When I say ‘creative writer’ I am doing so from a fictional perspective as well as in the sense of written communications business to business or other specific targeted audience. We are ‘creatives’ in the sense of how we develop our content or copy. We develop the words and message for our intended audience and purpose, right?

We create or write and then were reread over and over again. Then we revise our content or copy through a series of tweaks as we examine our words, under the microscope, from every angle. Does it suit? Does it appeal? Does it invoke the intended response? Does it compel the reader’s own response and/or desired action? We must always read through the eyes of our audience.

We must always be mindful that each and every reader has their own personality, their own belief structure, their own likes, dislikes and reactions to what they see, what they hear and feel when they are reading. Our content should always compliment the reader’s intelligence and innate sensibilities, their potential personality, sense of humor and logic, wit and fancy.

Revisions are for the benefit of the reader and rightly so. Anticipate the changes being made during the editing process and how that might alter the reactions and responses of your readers in kind. Anticipate your readers’ perspective from various angles. As a writer, gauge your own responses as you read back your content and ask yourself how your varied and diverse readership would react in kind.

Build on your story through anticipation

Whether writing your first novel, business communication or advertising copy, it is essential that you write and revise through the anticipation of what it is your readers will be anticipating as they read progressively through your content and how they will react or respond. From a content marketing and advertising copy perspective, register a problem that you know your targeted audience is experiencing, build on the emotions being felt about that problem and show your audience how you can help them overcome that problem.

The approach to writing your novel is not dissimilar. Build a problem into a situation or scene, carefully anticipate your readers’ potential reactions or emotional responses and move the story or message forward with a most logical conclusion or solution to that particular problem.

Write with purpose and direction but the flexibility to allow for change

As writers, we fashion ourselves as conductors of an orchestra; flapping our arms and hands as directional overtures that guide our individual and collective musicians to act and react in response to the intended course of the composition score. As the music plays out in response to our direction, sometimes a wayward yet keenly enthusiastic and artistic soul among the collective throws in their own sense of musical prowess. As a conductor with an acute sense of hearing, you sense an errant series of notes, subtly off course yet curiously intriguing to be sure.

So you strike out for the cessation of sound as you awkwardly collect your thoughts. Then and without undue fuss request that the wayward musician replay that series of notes, audacity aside! Much to your astonishment, you, the masterful conductor, suddenly experience the unexpected; an alternate yet surprisingly pleasing and well-suited interjection of background accompaniment that works even better than the original score. What follows would be a rather furious recording of the new and preferred enhancement of the musical score, with a discreet nod to your ‘co-writer’ as subtle approval and signal to the collective to repeat the overture accordingly.

We must read back our work with an open and receptive mind to change.

Regardless of the source, our intuition becomes imperative in the moment. Trust your instincts, gauge your reader response and go with the subtle nuances of revision as the story or message progresses and as we read back repeatedly during the editing process.

It is the allowance for unexpected change that will shape and reshape our story or message in the most meaningful ways. As in life, we experience many twists and turns in the journey and must adapt to those changes which, for the most part, are positive. We can always alter our course when anticipated changes are not the most suitable to the storyline, message and solution conveyed.

Have you ever sat bolt upright in bed, shocked out of a dead sleep only to groggily awake to brilliant notions for a piece you are writing? Has it caused you to laugh out loud in the triumphant glory that such a critical idea would somehow startle you out of dream state, about your writing project no less, and render your storyline or copy superbly better conveyed? Well, I certainly have experienced that flash of unexpected light and regardless its origin it had me scrambling for the light switch and my pen and writing pad to get it down before the thought drifted in tatters out the open window!

Never take for granted the subtleties of revision on the winds of change. Some things were just meant to be!

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© Don MacIver 2017; All Rights Reserved

Essential Elements of Effective Writing; Plan, Draft, Revise, Proofread and Edit


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Avoiding Problems

Editing and proofreading are critical elements of the writing process but make sure that you give equal and unwavering priority to the writing process itself. Read on…

When writers make haste with any of the essential steps of content development the end result can be a document that lacks clarity, confuses the reader, will appear poorly conceived and lacking authority. At the proofreading stage, the task of going back after your content is completed to resolve such issues will add a substantial amount of work and frustration to the proofreading and editing stages.

Proofreading and editing must be an exacting exercise that examines your content right from the title or heading through to the closing sentence of your content. That goes for any content that is to be distributed in professional circles throughout your place of business, published to a website or other online location or a book manuscript published in print or electronic formats. It is a painstaking and absolutely necessary final step of ensuring your content is error-free, grammatically sound, structurally, substantively and stylistically consistent, fluid and solid in presentation and message delivery.

Unless you take the time and exacting effort to follow through on each and every one of the critical steps to the writing process you are running the risk of your readers questioning your professional standards, your expertise or authority level and the critical risk that your readers or targeted audience will not read through the content and never return to engage in your future publications.

Effective Writing and Editing Strategies

Sufficient Time Allocation

Be sure to allocate sufficient time for articulate, clear and concise content development, proofreading and editing. Create an advanced timeline on a calendar or content management system software that will ensure that you stay on track and on topic. Leave room for unanticipated delays.

Keep in mind that there is nothing worse than scheduling your work so tightly that if any unforeseen distractions or delays occur you are cornered into a stressful and frustrating situation, especially if hard deadlines for submission are on the table. Also, anticipate sufficient time at the conclusion of the project to fully execute the proofreading and editing stages AND time to go back for further revisions and an additional round(s) of proofreading if necessary. So much can be sacrificed by rushing content development only to submit your work before it is at its absolutely best form, presentation, and message delivery.

Brainstorming Your Content in Advance

Set down an advance chronological sequence of content layout, format and subject matter. If you don’t have a plan in place to achieve specific objectives with your content according to its intended audience, your distributed or published material will lack the relevant focus it needs to have the optimum impact on your reading audience. You will also find inconsistencies in your content flow or progression.

From a marketing standpoint, clearly envision ahead of time what problem you are addressing that your readers will typically be faced with and what the best solutions are for your readers or customers to implement to avoid problems and make their life better, smoother, more enjoyable and prosperous.

Research and Knowledge about Your Resources

You should have a solid grasp of essential grammatical and citation rules that apply to the type of content you are producing. If you are getting into unfamiliar territory with the proofreading and editing disciplines you should consider bringing someone into the process that is proficient with resolving spelling, grammar, punctuation and all that is entailed with proofreading and editing textual content.

Keep essential tools such as on or offline dictionaries, thesauruses, style guides, research documents and relevant articles, handbooks and more. Having a skilled and competent mentor available when you need clarification is also a valued asset to the process. At every step of the way, if in doubt refer to those resources rather than leaving the task for the proofing and editing phases which can become monumental works of their own.

Identify Your Vulnerabilities  

Set down on paper a list of those issues which you tend to make errors on; in doing so you will minimize the editing process later on. By following a list of your common challenges you become much more mindful of avoiding those various errors line by line through your content development stages.

The Proofreading and Editing Processes

Many writers elect to print out a hard copy of their content on paper as a preferred method of reading back their content for proofreading and editing purposes. Professional editors and proofreaders will often elect to print for their purposes as well. Errors are often harder to detect on a computer screen. A related practice is to use a straight edge i.e. a book, blank page or ruler to control the eye’s focus strictly on each line being examined to ensure that you are fully focused word by word on each line.

When reading large volumes of written content it is common for the reader to experience a ‘lazy eye’ or scanning/glazing over of textual content. As the author of such content it is easy to become over-confident in your own writing accuracy and the habit of quick scanning of content rather than deliberate, focused attention to every detail becomes a risk. As such, even with repeated rounds of proofreading, you can quite easily fall into this glazing over habit with repeated missed errors as a result.

After your written work has been completed plan some time to sit back and relax away from the project before sitting down for the proofreading and editing processes. Rest your eyes and your mind for a few days before returning to your content. Review with fresh eyes and clarity of mind! You will be much sharper in readiness for this critical phase of your writing.

As an early detection and issue identification process during the writing stages of your content, you may wish to implement software such as Grammarly.com’s online extension for grammar checks. Do not rely solely on any such software to fully identify and resolve the many English language issues that can arise during the writing process.

Read Content Back Aloud

A great way to help you maintain focus is to read back your content out loud. By doing so, you will audibly hear and detect obvious inconsistencies in content delivery, confusing wording or phrasing or material generally out of context with the subject matter. Reading aloud forces you to focus on the text itself rather than the theme or specific ideas being presented. Sentence fragments are a very common issue with many writers. They tend to write as they would speak however incomplete or fragmented sentences are not grammatically correct, read poorly and are often confusing for the reader.

Reading Content Backwards

You may be scratching your head right now at this suggestion but it is also a highly effective method of tighter focus on individual letters and words during the proofreading process. It forces the eyes to have an even narrower focus on individual words, their spelling, sentence completion and comprehension and overall cohesive flow of content from one paragraph to the next.

Have you ever found that in second or third rounds of proofreading you are still missing errors? The problem is very common and goes back to my reference earlier here of the author becoming over-confident in their own writing accuracy. With that over-confidence brings the bad habit of scanning or glazing over content rather than a strict focus on every single letter, word, phrase, and sentence throughout your content.

Think of editing this way: Clean, clear and concise content that informs, inspires, educates and/or entertains is critical. Just as critical is presenting error-free, grammatically correct content and that your ideas flow consistently. When readers and especially potential clients, business associates and influencers read your material, it is critical that they have an extremely positive, impressed and enthusiastic response to your content.

That being said, why would you risk losing that critical new audience, collectively or individually, through sloppy textual content that is riddled with the type of errors already raised here previously? The same goes for purchasing customers of your novels. Make your body of work the best it can possibly be.

thClosely Check Your Punctuation

Punctuation is one area of textual writing that is often overlooked. It is an area that demands advanced study and understanding and should never be second-guessed during the writing process. For anyone well-versed in proper punctuation, nothing looks worse than sloppy, haphazard or misplaced and incorrect use of punctuation.

The English language is highly complex. Unfortunately, the educational system typically glazes over proper grammatical practices. For anyone who aspires to become a published writer or in any way must produce accurate, informative and highly polished and professional content through their place of employment, their business or otherwise, taking appropriate courses in advance to gain that essential knowledge is a must.

Where you do not possess such knowledge you will need to hire a professional proofreader and/or editor to undertake the proofing and editing phases of your content development prior to its distribution or publication. You can utilize MS Word’s built-in spelling and grammar check software as a starting point to the process once your content is ready for proofing but we aware that such software, free or purchased, is not infallible. The software is not human and as such, even through extensive programming the software cannot and does not fully detect spelling and grammatical errors.

Because programming cannot fully address the detection of any and all types of textual content errors for issues such as correct proper name spelling, sentence fragmentation, every instance of proper punctuation and grammar applications, the final examination authority rests with human eyes. The technology just isn’t that far advanced that it is even close to being perfect at this point in time.

Run-on Sentences

Like many of us, it is very easy to find yourself writing elongated or “run-on” sentences. The Flesch-Kincaid Readability Standard was established by scholars years ago which address this issue in the overall presentation of textual content writing. I have focused on these various elements addressed by the standard in a previous article and will not cover that range in this article again today.

The Flesch-Kincaid Readability principles have become ever more critical in today’s world of huge demands on people’s time and focus. This has become statistically evident even more so online where effective content presentation is essential to content marketing and retaining our readers’ short attention span. In a time when online searches produce relevant content in a matter of seconds and the reader expects to determine in only seconds whether or not they are at the right location for the information, they are seeking, highly engaging content is all the more critical.

Once you have engaged readers in your content, on or offline, you must be constantly mindful that all content is well spaced, with easy to read and understand wording. Sentences need to be kept short and to the point and you should refrain from developing paragraphs that exceed three or four sentences maximum, on average, throughout your content body.

As such, well-spaced content that includes space between relatively short paragraphs gives the reader’s eyes a brief pause or rest before reading on and can actually provide critically brief moments to absorb what they have just read. In turn, this overall formula helps to maintain focus, interest, and perspective during that reading experience.

If that focus or interest begins to wander the reader is more inclined to click out or close the book without finishing the read to refer elsewhere for their reading purposes. In terms of published content like novels that translates to lost revenue and repeat customers for the writer.

Ensuring Proper Citation Presentation

Where you have content which requires reference to its original source for proper authority reference, you will need to ensure that you apply the appropriate format of citation and location (in-text). Also, ensure that the references are properly displayed and located i.e. either ‘footnotes’ for references located at the bottom of the same page where the citation is found or ‘endnotes’ which are located at the end or conclusion of a particular chapter or body of text that the citation is found in.

Proper Quotation Form

When you are providing a quotation of the written or verbalized statement of another, you must be sure to include the word for word content in its entirety. Make sure all quoted content is spelled and worded exactly as it was presented by the originator. The quotation should therefore not be altered in any way from its original content and form.

Obtain Content Feedback

Before going forward with your content distribution or publication, take the time to seek feedback from friends, acquaintances, work associates, industry professionals. As writers, we tend to be so closely attached to our written work that we lose a level of objectivity when it comes to the perceived quality of what we write. We are often less critical and effective when it comes to proofreading and editing our own content objectively.

By getting the opinions and early responses from those objective individuals you can get a better sense of how recipients of your content, whether through business or publication, will receive your work. Will they perceive you as an expert source of information or entertainment and want to obtain more of your future works or look to others for that desire or need?

That outside objectivity will help to identify weak spots in your content that contain an error in fact or are less engaging. Feedback will help identify areas of your content that is unclear or confusing, perhaps not fully consistent with the storyline or forward movement of idea flow.

Taking these steps will help you to ensure that your writing improves and is the best it can possibly be in advance of it going out to its intended audience.

~

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© Don MacIver 2017; All Rights Reserved

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Grammar & The English Language


grammar-police-imageAs a textual content editing professional we are often, affectionately or otherwise, referred to as the ‘Grammar Police’! Guilty as charged but then again we are hired to make sure each client’s written content is well-conceived and constructed, makes sense and is highly engaging to its targeted audience. I wear the badge proudly!

In this article I will share some of the more glaring grammatical issues frequenting written content whether in book publications of fiction or non-fiction, advertising and marketing copy, technical writing and any other form or source of written content.

Dictionary.com defines ‘grammar‘ as follows:

1.  the study of the way the sentences of a language are constructed; morphology and syntax.

2.  these features or constructions themselves:

English grammar.

3.  an account of these features; a set of rules accounting for these constructions:

a grammar of English.
4.  Generative Grammar. a device, as a body of rules, whose output is all of the sentences that are permissible in a given language, while excluding all those that are not permissible.

6.  knowledge or usage of the preferred or prescribed forms in speaking or writing:

She said his grammar was terrible.
7.  the elements of any science, art, or subject.

Grammar, as applied in its many forms within the English language, is indeed complex and confusing. Established standards of grammatical correctness have been developed and modified over the years to best represent acceptable application of English rules. The standards include proper word usage, punctuation, capitalization, clarification of words and homonyms, numeric vs written form of numbers within the context of textual content and more.
 
Why the big worry about grammar and punctuation when nobody seems to care anymore? In the course of normal conversation it is one thing to hear misused words and still be able to understand what the speaker is referring to. It becomes quite another issue when the printed or digital forms of written content contain typos, spelling and grammatical errors and riddled with wayward or misused punctuation. Consider the negative impression we would leave with a human resources manager reviewing our cover letter and resume; if the content is riddled with mistakes would you want to hire that applicant?
 
For written content that is produced for publication, informational and/or professional purposes, there is every expectation that the content is error-free and grammatically correct. This becomes especially true for any written content that forms part of a purchased product. The consumer has every reasonable right to expect clean, properly constructed and edited content that is clear and concise in its intent and meaning. The same can be said for written compositions developed and submitted for grading in an educational institution.
 
I recall back to my days in journalism school where the college instructor was, as expected, extremely critical of any paper submitted with even a few errors. We would type our papers on a manual typewriter (yes, I am dating myself but there was purpose in the manual typewriter use – we did have electric typewriters by then!). If we submitted our article or story containing even one single mistake of any kind the instructor would share the errors with the entire class and then tear the paper to shreds and angrily toss the destroyed evidence into the trash can and instruct us to start all over again and not waste the scholar’s time with such sloppy work!
 
Using the manual typewriter was slow, tedious and painstaking but that was the whole point of the exercise. With a manual typewriter, the very construction of the machine forced its user to slowly and methodically strike firmly on the desired keys, thereby demanding a more focused attention to chosen keys for optimum accuracy. We were NOT permitted to use whiteout for correction purposes! Had we been working with an electric typewriter the tendency was to type much faster yet there was greater potential for errors because we were less attentive to the keys we were striking.
 
The whole point of this analogy is to illustrate the necessity for a clean, error free paper. In today’s marketplace the onus is much more on the author of the written content to ensure that it is error-free and grammatically correct as in many instances budget allowance is minimal to non-existent for editorial staff to take over content for final copy readiness.

GRAMMAR RULES

Grammatical rules are indeed complex and widely varied. Complexities of the English language have been passed down through the generations in the form of established and accepted standards, most often found in ‘style guides’ which have been developed in specific countries around the world. Editorial and proofreading professionals use such guides as reference materials when reviewing and revising written content for their clients or in-house staff.

The complexities of the English language demand that we study in great detail the definition, applications and intended usage of specific words or word groups such as nouns, verbs, adverbs, subjects and more to ensure that we apply correct wording in our written compositions in the appropriate form such that those words, combined together, are in grammatical ‘agreement’.

Subject-Verb Agreement

  • single subjects require the compliment of a single verb and plural subjects require the compliment of plural verbs i.e. The list of items is/are on the desk. In this example the ‘list’ is the subject (singular), therefore ‘is’ would be the correct verb used.

Who Vs Whom

  • Rule: Use this he/him method to decide whether who or whom is correct:he = who
    him = whom

    Examples:
    Who/Whom wrote the letter?
    He wrote the letter. Therefore, who is correct.

    Who/Whom should I vote for?
    Should I vote for him? Therefore, whom is correct.

Who, That, Which

Rule 1. Who and sometimes that refer to people. That and which refer to groups or things.

Examples:
Anya is the one who rescued the bird.
“The Man That Got Away” is a great song with a grammatical title.

Lokua is on the team that won first place.
She belongs to a great organization, which specializes in saving endangered species.

Rule 2a. That introduces what is called an essential clause (also known as a restrictive or defining clause). Essential clauses add information that is vital to the point of the sentence.

Example: I do not trust products that claim “all natural ingredients” because this phrase can mean almost anything.
We would not know the type of products being discussed without the that clause.

Rule 2b. Which introduces a nonessential clause (also known as a nonrestrictive or nondefining clause), which adds supplementary information.

Example: The product claiming “all natural ingredients,” which appeared in the Sunday newspaper, is on sale.
The product is already identified. Therefore, which appeared in the Sunday newspaper is a nonessential clause containing additional, but not essential, information.

Prepositions

Definition:  A preposition is a word or set of words that indicates location (in, near, beside, on top of) or some other relationship between a noun or pronoun and other parts of the sentence (about, after, besides, instead of, in accordance with). A preposition isn’t a preposition unless it goes with a related noun or pronoun, called the object of the preposition.

Examples:
Let’s meet before noon.
Before is a preposition; noon is its object.

We’ve never met before.
There is no object; before is an adverb modifying met.

Rule 1. A preposition generally, but not always, goes before its noun or pronoun. One of the undying myths of English grammar is that you may not end a sentence with a preposition. But look at the first example that follows. No one should feel compelled to say, or even write, That is something with which I cannot agree. Just do not use extra prepositions when the meaning is clear without them.

Correct: That is something I cannot agree with.

Correct: Where did you get this?

Incorrect: Where did you get this at?

Correct: How many of you can I depend on?

Correct: Where did he go?

Incorrect: Where did he go to?

Rule 2a. The preposition like means “similar to” or “similarly to.” It should be followed by an object of the preposition (noun, pronoun, noun phrase), not by a subject and verb. Rule of thumb: Avoid like when a verb is involved.

Correct:
You look like your mother.
That is, you look similar to her. (Mother is the object of the preposition like.)

Incorrect:
You look like your mother does.
(Avoid like with noun + verb.)

Rule 2b. Instead of like, use as, as if, as though, or the way when following a comparison with a subject and verb.

Correct: You look the way your mother does.

Incorrect: Do like I ask. (No one would say Do similarly to I ask.)

Correct: Do as I ask.

Incorrect: You look like you’re angry.

Correct: You look as if you’re angry. (OR as though)

Some speakers and writers, to avoid embarrassment, use as when they mean like. The following incorrect sentence came from a grammar guide:

Incorrect: They are considered as any other English words.

Correct: They are considered as any other English words would be.

Correct: They are considered to be like any other English words.

Remember: like means “similar to” or “similarly to”; as means “in the same manner that.” Rule of thumb: Do not use as unless there is a verb involved.

Incorrect: I, as most people, try to use good grammar.

Correct: I, like most people, try to use good grammar.

Correct: I, as most people do, try to use good grammar.

NOTE

The rule distinguishing like from as, as if, as though, and the way is increasingly ignored, but English purists still insist upon it.

Rule 3. The preposition of should never be used in place of the helping verb have.

Correct: I should have done it.

Incorrect: I should of done it.

Rule 4. It is a good practice to follow different with the preposition from. Most traditionalists avoid different than. Although it is an overstatement to call different than incorrect, it remains polarizing: A is different than B comes across as sloppy to a lot of literate readers. If you can replace different than with different from without having to rewrite the rest of the sentence, why not do so?

Polarizing: You’re different than I am.

Unchallengeable: You’re different from me.

 

Rule 5. Use into rather than in to express motion toward something. Use in to tell the location.

Correct: I swam in the pool.

Correct: I walked into the house.

Correct: I looked into the matter.

Incorrect: I dived in the water.

Correct: I dived into the water.

Incorrect: Throw it in the trash.

Correct: Throw it into the trash.

The foregoing ‘rules’ have been extracted verbatim from GrammarBook.com and are but a few of the standards of the English language effectively and properly applied. The publication also addresses proper punctuation which is equally as complex.

Punctuation

This list of punctuation used in the English language is extensive and includes (not entirely):

  • spacing with punctuation
  • periods
  • commas
  • semi-colons
  • quotation marks (including single quote)
  • parentheses and brackets
  • apostrophes
  • hyphens
  • dashes
  • ellipses
  • question marks
  • exclamation points
  • slashes

There are a multiple of on and offline resources that address the English language, grammar, punctuation, sentence composition and more such as GrammarBook.com, Grammarly.com, many of which also incorporate punctuation, grammar and spell check and plagiarism detection.

MS Word documents have a spelling and grammar check which also provides a readability scoring analysis; an effective way to determine whether the content will be readily understood by its targeted audience.

The advantages of a full working comprehension of established rules of grammar and punctuation cannot be understated. Studies in the English language with grammatical elements incorporated in the programs are highly recommended for anyone who will be required to perform at a high skill level from post secondary school studies through to their chosen career path. The greater your comprehension and application of the language, the better qualified you will be to advance your career based on that exceptional performance level.

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