Writing is hard work. Never mind worrying about the correct use of commas, avoiding sentence fragments, or maintaining the correct tense. As a self-publishing author, what once was the sole concern of proofreaders and editors, now falls on you. An entire library of common mistakes are just waiting to throw you off balance.
Self-publishers must wear all the hats. They no longer just write the book, indie-authors are also proofing it, editing it, formatting it, and finalizing it for production. You’re responsible for the common and uncommon and even wildly complex mistakes.
It’s a lot of work, but it’s crucial.
A book with grammatical and structural errors looks unprofessional and can turn away readers. In a world with so many books only a click away, we cannot rely solely on the strength of the story to propel a book into the reader’s hands. If the book’s description is the first, and most important, element to pulling a reader in, then the second element is the quality and presentation of the writing.
Before a reader will give your characters and plot twists a chance, they will scrutinize your use of the language, your clever commas, agile adjectives, and absurd alliterations (see what I did there?). If you want a reader to fall in love with your masterpiece, your control of the language must be impeccable.
When you proofread your work, keep these common mistakes in mind and look for ways to fix them.
“He ran wildly down the alley because behind him there were monsters” is a passive sentence. Rather than highlight what is happening, and giving the action immediacy, the action has already happened. Consider something like this: “Monsters chased him down the alley”. The same effect is achieved but without the passivity. The action is directly linked and the sentence flows easily.
There are a number of words in English that sound the same but have
“affect” vs. “effect”
“who” vs. “whom”
“they’re” vs. “there” vs. “their”
Tenses must stay consistent (“She laughs until she cried” won’t cut it), and the same goes for pronouns. It is important to be aware of the tense you were working in, and keep it consistent (did you catch that?). Align subject-verb and pronoun-ascendant correctly, so everything agrees (“Each of the players loved their new gear” might look acceptable, but that pronoun needs to agree!)
Commas, Run-Ons, and Fragments
All of these elements refer to the structural design of the sentence. Using commas in the right place, avoiding run-ons (with those wisely placed commas!), and crafting complete sentences all enhance the reader’s experience. A well-placed fragment, especially in dialog, isn’t going to hurt. Just be sparse with your creative license.
Show don’t tell
This might seem too obvious to mention, but it’s worth reiterating. Writing isn’t about telling a reader how something happened, it’s about putting them in the moment and letting them experience it with you. Anton Chekhov said, “Don’t tell me the moon is shining, show me the glint of light on broken glass.” It cannot be stated any better than this.
Today more so than ever before, writers have to be more than just storytellers. They must be self-promoters, self-editors, the harshest critic, and their own strongest advocate. It’s no easy task to stand out amid all the other writers with stories to tell, but the surest way to make your work shine is to polish it to perfection.
Paul is the Senior Copywriter at Lulu, writing weekly blog posts and helping guide content for the company’s marketing. When he’s not deeply entrenched in the publishing and print-on-demand world, he likes to hike the scenic North Carolina landscape, read, sample the fanciest micro-brewed beer, and collect fountain pens. Paul is a dog person, but considers himself cat tolerant.