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Grammar Is Sexy

9 Things That Drive Editors Crazy

Every profession has a list of things that drive them crazy. Math teachers can’t stand students who don’t show their work. Bakers can’t stand sloppy measurements. Graphic designers can’t stand illegible fonts.

In the same way, e-book editors have their own pet peeves, things writers do that make them cringe.

I can’t speak for all editors, but here are nine things that really drive me crazy. If you’re looking to hire an editor, try to avoid these.

1. The writer fails to punctuate or capitalize

Come on, you’re writing non-fiction here, and your last name is neither Cummings nor Joyce.

i mean theres probably an exception I havent thought of but ill leave that to you to point out im just an editor after all

The occasional comma error is understandable (we all make them!), but at least look like you’re trying.

2. The writer’s paragraphs are too long

The writer just rambles forever and ever, talking about basically the same thing. The author doesn’t realize that long paragraphs are much harder to read on a screen (especially if they’re part of a web page or blog post). And never mind the poor folks reading on mobile devices. They’re just out of luck. The author needs to realize that breaking paragraphs up into smaller chunks is the way to go, even if your high school English teacher wouldn’t approve (mine wouldn’t either, I’m sure). After all, you’re not after a higher grade, right? The objective is to inform your audience and possibly even make a little money, no? But none of that matters if they get lost in your paragraph. Oh well, I tried. You get the point. I’m going to stop before you get too sick of this to read any further. If you’re still reading this, I’m impressed…you’re persistent. Have a ferret!

3. The writer is afraid to break the rules of standard English

“Ending a sentence with a preposition is something up with which I will not put.”

attributed to Winston Churchill

If you’re writing a grammar textbook or an English style manual, you should probably adhere to the rules of standard English. With anything else, it’s okay to end a sentence with a preposition, use contractions, and begin some of your sentences with “and” or “but.”

You don’t want to sound like a robot, right? Particularly when you’re trying to teach your audience something (which I assume is the aim of most e-books), you want to sound conversational and relatable.

Unless you’re writing a letter to Her Majesty, the Queen’s English probably has no place in your writing.

4. The writer (inappropriately) uses funky fonts, colored text, or ALL CAPS

DO I EVEN HAVE TO SAY IT? ALL CAPS MAKE YOU LOOK LIKE YOU’RE SHOUTING, AND ADDING WEIRD, COLORED FONTS DOESN’T HELP!

Don’t limit yourself to Times New Roman or Arial 12pt, but please avoid Comic Sans or Wingdings, and keep the font consistent throughout your piece.

See this infographic from The Visual Communication Guy for further guidance on using text.

5. The writer’s tone is too dry and serious

This goes back to number 3 in a way, but it’s about more than just grammar. It’s about the way you put together your sentences and vary their structure.

Look, you’re probably very intelligent. You’re certainly knowledgeable, and you have experience (why else would you be writing a book?). Your audience, though, does not care.

This isn’t about showing off or appearing smart. You can convey that a subject is difficult without writing in a way that’s difficult to understand.

Even if you’re writing about a highly technical subject such as bicycle maintenance, you can be informative without being dry.

If nothing else, use second person (you, your) and first person (I, me) as your primary method of addressing the reader. Too much third person (he, she, they, etc.) makes the writing sound impersonal. Just look at this piece–you’ll notice I use mostly second person with first person mixed in where appropriate.

6. The writer’s tone is too casual

“Well, you know, it’s like, really cool. It’s the most AWESOME thing I’ve ever seen! You gotta try it.”

– Overly casual writer

Not only is this sentence vague and non-committal; it’s also far too casual. Granted, there are writers who can pull this off. Rick Bragg and Mark Twain knew how to do it, but you’re probably neither of them.

Particularly in nonfiction, it’s generally best to avoid dialect and slang, especially since your reader may be unfamiliar with the slang of your geographic region.

I find it difficult to avoid the occasional Americanism, and I’m sure my friends across the pond have the opposite problem, but I try to keep my slang to a minimum; you should do the same. That way, your reader can focus on what really matters: your message.

7. The writer gives too many examples…

Or rather, the writer gives examples that are too long. Quoting a relevant academic study can lend credibility to your writing, but don’t quote every word! If your reader wanted a scholarly explanation, they’d be reading a different book (unless you’re a scholar writing for other scholars, of course).

Same goes for non-academic books. A few well-placed quotes from your favorite memoir or novel can add personality to your writing–it shows the reader your influences. Any more than that, though, and the reader may start to wonder, “Whose book am I reading?”

As my Shakespeare professor put it, “If you really feel the need to extensively quote an academic study, do it in the footnotes. That’s what they’re for.” If your reader really wants to read more of what your quoted material, they can consult your footnotes (or hyperlinks) and find it for themselves.

8. …Or not enough

I’m guilty of this in my writing. I assume the reader knows what I mean without explaining myself fully. Don’t fall into this mindset.You want to show your reader, not tell; you do this with a well-chosen example.

For example, you could say something like “freshly ground, French-pressed coffee is superior to instant coffee.” That’s all well and good, but pointless if you don’t provide an example to back up your statement.

Notice the difference an example makes: “Freshly ground, French-pressed coffee is superior to instant coffee. In a blind taste test, 90% of the 100 people surveyed rated the fresh French-pressed coffee as superior in taste, smoothness, complexity.”

This is a much more persuasive and believable statement. The writer made a claim and then backed it up with evidence.

Please note: I know nothing about coffee, so don’t attack me for any ignorance I may display.

Now, in this case, the kind of evidence I chose as an example involved an academic study. This doesn’t always have to be the case–a relevant example could just as easily be from your own life experience.

For instance, the person writing coffee book could have shared a story about the first time they tried fresh, French-pressed coffee and how afterwards they could never go back to instant coffee. Such an example would be just as persuasive (perhaps more so, since it involves a personal story).

My 11th grade English teacher Mrs. Tate put it best: “Say more.” As you’re writing and revising, always ask yourself, “Could I say more?”

9. The writer views their editor as a hired laborer instead of a collaborator

I don’t mean to complain, but I’m not a laborer for hire! I want to work with you to craft a book that is as life-changing and useful to your audience as possible. It’s your book, of course, but my suggestions are meant to enhance your writing and message. Therefore, things work best if you view the writer-editor relationship as a conversation between equals.

I don’t mind if you disagree with my critiques, but don’t boss me around. This goes for any freelancer you work with, be they designer, developer, or accountant (although you probably shouldn’t disagree with your accountant unless you are an accountant yourself).

Seriously, you’ll get so much more out of the experience if you view it as a collaboration.

Don’t Worry

Your editor’s not going to turn you down if your writing contains any of these issues–we’re all guilty of them, and that’s the whole reason people hire editors at all. Still, the collaboration will go a lot smoother if you keep the above things in mind and try to avoid them.

Also, I have to include a….

Shameless Plug

If you struggle with any of the above in your own writing and would like some help, I’d love to work with you. Email me at ransom@grammarissexy.net to start the conversation.

And if you want to receive more advice like this, get sneak-previews of my posts before they go public, and get a free copy of my e-book Blogging Is Sexy: Ten Steps to Exceptional Online Writing, enter your email address below.


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