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How to Keep the Spinach Out

Your first book is written. How exciting! Now all you have to do is upload it and you’re a published author, right?

Not so fast, pardner.

Although no doubt you are a brilliant writer with an amazing grasp of the English language, nobody is perfect.

(But yes, I know—you’re SO close.)

You still need someone to take a look and make sure your words are clear and convey the story or message you intended. They should be free of any distractions or potentially confusing or repetitive verbiage.

Reading a book with errors is like sitting across from a blind date who has spinach in his teeth.* Close your eyes and imagine you are there…

“Oh no, what is that? Ewww! It’s very distracting. I’m finding it difficult to focus on anything he is saying. Just . . . can’t . . . look . . . away!”

“I wonder—is he always like this? Maybe it’s just a one-time thing, or maybe there are all kinds of other icky things I will discover about him.”

“Ugh. I was really looking forward to this experience, but this blemish is really affecting the mood. It could have been so lovely, but now I just don’t know.”

“Honestly, I don’t think I can even stand looking at this any longer. Maybe it’s best if I just leave now and forget the whole thing.”

*This may or may not describe a date I’ve been on in real life. Sigh. #datingishard

Now go back and read those internal comments, but imagine someone is saying that about your book. I’ll wait here until you’re finished.

Ouch. The reader can’t focus on your words? She is getting a bad vibe? She might not even finish your book??

After all your hard work outlining and drafting and revising, of course you want your book to be breathtaking, right? You want your readers to gobble up every word, appreciate what you’ve done, and come back for more.

The great news is that you don’t have to do this yourself—you can outsource it to a professional! In fact, you should really NOT attempt to do this yourself.

Why do I need to hire a professional editor? Can’t I just edit it myself?

Consider this: How many times have you looked at your manuscript since you began writing it? (Hold that thought—we’re coming back to it in a minute.)

Our brains are amazing. They allow us to read quickly, process the words as a whole to determine the basic meaning, and even fill in gaps when there are missing, misspelled, or or repeated words. The more we read a certain passage, the more familiar (and perfect) it looks to our brain.

By the way, did you notice the extra word in the paragraph above? Maybe you did because the words were new to you. But odds are, if this were your manuscript, your brain would have skipped right over it!

Okay, so how many times have you looked at your manuscript since you began writing it? 20? 50? Lost track?

Your brain certainly must think your manuscript is absolute perfection by now!

That’s why you need a “fresh pair of eyes” (as we say in the biz) to find those little errors or opportunities. And, ideally, someone who is specially trained to do so.

Is it going to hurt? I don’t really enjoy getting “constructive feedback.”

Believe it or not, my clients actually thank me for the feedback I give!

They appreciate the time and attention I spend carefully reviewing their documents, line by line and word by word.

And they know I will find things that their brains would likely miss.

Ideally, feedback should be balanced, highlighting what works well and is particularly enjoyable in addition to potential problem areas.

For example, here’s some feedback I provided for a well-known author:

“I really enjoy your writing style: plenty of dialogue, short paragraphs, easy-to-visualize descriptions. There were several scenes that made me LOL, but it was also a sweet story with likable characters.”

Even suggestions for improvement should have a positive spin, with potential solutions identified.

“The double entendres are great . . . the first few made me laugh. However, they tend to be a bit overdone [in some sections]. Consider cutting several and keeping just the strongest.”

Notice how I phrased that: “suggestions for improvement.”

Your editor should provide “potential upgrades” or “possible opportunities”, but never “negative feedback.”

Negative Example: “I don’t really like this character at all. He’s a real jerk.”*

Yuck—who wants that? That would just be demotivating and not helpful at all.

*PS: Your momma’s an unlikable jerk.

  • What specifically don’t you like about the character?

  • How can I make him more likable?

  • How is this likely to impact the story line, or other characters?

Those types of details would be much more constructive.

What other qualities should I look for in a copy editor?

When seeking an editor to review your document, look for someone who is a good fit overall. Make sure they understand your preferences and writing style, and they make every effort to incorporate them.

  • Do you like using sentence fragments? Short, simple phrases. So powerful.

  • Do you prefer to use dashes—instead of colons (:)—to offset or emphasize words? That’s totally cool.

A great editor is a collaborative partner who makes simple corrections and adjustments without changing the flavor and essence of what you’ve written.

Authors who invest time and money in professional editing for their manuscripts ensure readers can focus on their brilliant words, and not get distracted with bits of “spinach.” A high-quality editorial review polishes your words so they are showcased in the best possible light.

And doesn’t your book deserve that?

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