February 2013

Because over 50% of my business involves some sort of editing, I often get emails out of the blue asking for editing help. These inquiries typically look something like this:

“Hello, I have a manuscript I’ve just completed, and I need someone to look it over before I send it to a publisher. How much do you charge for editing?”

In response, I have to answer…

“It depends on what kind of editing you need.”

The reply back is normally…

“Well, I don’t know. I just need it to look good.”


It’s very difficult for me to offer a quote with this information. There are many kinds of editing, each having a specific goal, and usually, a different price tag. In Part 1 of this Editing Series, I will present an overview of 3 major types of editing. To be technically correct, these 3 types are broken into even smaller subsections, but I’ve found from a practical standpoint of actually doing the work involved with each of these 3 types, I always include the corresponding subsections in my editing as well.

From broadest to most specific, these 3 areas of editing are:

1. Substantive Editing (I sometimes refer to this as Content Editing when speaking to clients because it better describes the type of editing it is.):

This is the first phase of editing, typically done after the final version of the rough draft is completed. In this phase, an editor will focus on overall organization, presentation, and clarity of the manuscript. This will look very different for fiction vs. nonfiction works. I’ll talk more about the specific elements of each in my next post, but as an overview, some things an editor will look for in this phase include: the flow and transition of paragraphs and thought, consistencies in characters’ dialects, character development, point of view shifts, organization of chapters, use of techniques such as flashbacks, and other such big-picture ideas.

2. Copyediting or Line Editing (Some people call this Manuscript Editing, but to me that’s a pretty vague term and makes this process even more confusing!):

This editing phase will occur after the author has reworked his manuscript based on the editor’s changes and suggestions from the substantive edit. At this point, the manuscript is in its final form from the author’s standpoint. In this phase, the editor will scrutinize the manuscript line by line, searching for things such as: style consistency (including adherence to a house style if necessary), use of redundancies or repetitive words, accuracy of reference notes and tables, proper punctuation, sentence structure, proper grammar, and spelling. The main goal with a copyedit is clarity. It is the editor’s job to make the manuscript as clear and readable as possible, without usurping the author’s voice and style.

3. Proofreading (Technically, this is not really editing, but it is part of the editing process–or should be–for every manuscript.):

Proofreading is the final stage of the editing process and is often done more than once. At publishing houses, manuscripts are normally proofread three times, each time by a different person. Proofreading normally takes place immediately before and then after a manuscript has been formatted for publication. Proofing is the nitty-gritty phase of editing, where editors (some editors don’t do proofreading but will pass the manuscript onto those who specialize in proofing) focus on all the details of the manuscript. Some of these details include: typos, misspellings, punctuation, errors in reference notes, proper pagination, errors in headings/footers, and overall formatting and visual issues.

In my next post, I’ll begin looking at each of these areas in more detail and include tips for self-editing at each stage as well as suggestions on how to find professional help when you need it.

I recently edited a novel where the author used a lot of broken dialogue, interrupted dialogue, and phrasing that often served as side notes in her sentences. For the most part, she had treated each situation with commas or an occasional dash. Because of this, much of the writing tended to run together, without distinctiveness to the sentences. After polishing it up with proper punctuation, her words took on a whole new flair. It’s amazing what the right little marks in your sentences can do for your writing!

Today I’d like to take a look at a constant source of frustration for many writers: differentiating between the use of hyphens, dashes, and commas.

Hyphens: The most common uses for hyphens are to combine compound words (toll-free number), to divide words at the end of a line of text, and to separate numbers or letters (as in a phone number, or when spelling out a word). Hyphens are also used when the second part of  a compound term is omitted (five- or ten-year loan) and often when writing web addresses. For the most part, these are the only times hyphens should be used, if you want to be punctuationally correct (I know punctuationally isn’t really a word, but it works here!).

Typically, instead of a hyphen, what you really want is a dash. There are several forms of dashes (really!), but the two most commonly used are the en dash and em dash.

En dash: This dash is so named because it is the width of a capital N. If you’re using MS-Word, you can insert it by going to the Insert tab on your tool bar, clicking on Symbols, then Special Characters, then En Dash (the 2nd from the top of the list). Since WordPress will not allow me to properly construct an en dash, it will be signified here by two hyphens (–).

Why do you need the en dash, you ask? Several reasons…

Properly used, the en dash will connect inclusive numbers and dates (1996–1999), as well as times (12:00–2:00). It can also be used for inclusive chapters: In the book of Matthew 6–9…

It is also used for to/from destinations: the Miami–Boston flight; or for scores of games: The Cubs finally won, 10–4.

If you do use an en dash, you would not use the phrase “to…from” and vice-versa. For instance, you would say either “The meeting is from 10 to 2,” or  “The meeting is 10–2”; not: “The meeting is from 10–2.”

Em dash: This is the dash most of us think of when we refer to “the dash.” It is so named because it is the width of a capital M. It is constructed the same way in MS-Word as the en dash, except it is found at the top of the list under Special Characters. For our purposes here, I will use 3 hyphens to signify the em dash (—).

The em dash is extremely versatile, often taking the place of commas and colons. Instead of giving commas their own category on this post, I will talk about them here in relation to the em dash, since they are most often misused in this regard.

Perhaps the most common use for em dashes within sentences is when there is an abrupt break in thought:

I am going to the basketball game—even though it’s going to be a blowout—just to appease him.

Often, writers would simply surround that side-note phrase with commas; and, in some cases that can work. In this type of usage, the em dash and the commas may be interchangeable. The test is to see how strong of a statement you want to make with your phrase that is breaking through your sentence. If it’s just a minor aside, then use commas. But if it’s a phrase that you really want to stand out and show its strength in the sentence, you’ll need the em dash.

Em dashes are also correctly used for broken or omitted dialogue:

“I told her she could go with me, but —“

“But what?” Megan replied hastily.

In another case of em dash vs. comma, consider the following sentences:

A laptop, a toothbrush, a change of clothes, that is all she packed for her overnight trip.

A laptop, a toothbrush, a change of clothes—that is all she packed for her overnight trip.

How much stronger and more readable with the em dash instead of the comma! The rule here is that whenever you have an introductory phrase that somehow introduces what follows it—another way of saying this is that an explanatory phrase follows the introductory phrase–the em dash is typically used.

To summarize the use of the em dash, use it for broken phrases or dialogue and in places of commas for a stronger statement or to avoid confusion if you are using several commas to compose a list. Not only is such usage technically correct, but varied use of punctuation will make your writing more interesting and help indicate your areas of emphasis.

My challenge to you is to review your writing and see where you could possibly replace commas with em dashes. Also, look over any inclusive numbers, dates, times, and so forth and replace your hyphens with en dashes. Remember, there are only a few places where hyphens are truly appropriate, so make sure you haven’t misused them in your writing.

In this continuation of my previous post on writing for free, I’m going to look at one more instance when it’s time to say no to not getting paid for your work.

In Part 1 of this post, I mentioned two situations where you should move on from writing for free to getting paid:

1) When you’ve already done free work for a “customer” and they want you to continue working for free

2) When you already have several writing credits to your name

Please refer back to Part 1 for the details on these two scenarios.

A third and final instance I want to mention is…

When you’ve already built a platform or created a brand for yourself. Now, you’re probably thinking, How can I create a platform or brand if I don’t have much writing experience yet? But the truth is, branding has become so important for a writer, that many are doing this first before they ever begin to start trying to get published.

I have heard of many writers who did not start out as writers, but rather as experts in their field. So, they built up a blog or a website, many even held workshops on their topic, and did all they could to become the “go-to” person for their area of expertise. Then, once people knew who they were, they started writing for magazines and then eventually books.

Depending on your subject area, this is a very feasible way to go, especially in today’s viral market. And, once you have established yourself to the point where you do have some name recognition and have begun to build a decent platform of exposure (through speaking engagements and so forth), you will have some leverage when approaching publishers.

You may not have writing credits to your name, but you can approach a publisher by letting them know how many followers you have on your various social media avenues, plus how many speaking engagements you do every month or year. In essence, you’re telling that publisher, “People know my name, and if they are interested in the subject I will be writing about for your magazine, they will come to you to read it.” Having a built-in following before you ever approach a publisher gives you a good case for getting paid for your work.

A great example of this is a now-author I know who began experimenting with a food fast. She wanted to clean up her body and kick-off a major lifestyle change. She had tried many different kinds of fasts, but chose one referred to as the Daniel Fast, after the story of Daniel in the Bible, who basically only ate fruits and veggies and nuts and seeds, despite the king’s offer of giving Daniel the best meats and “delicacies” he had available.

She recorded every single thing she ate as well as how she was doing psychologically and physically during this fast. She blogged about it, tweeted about it, even set up a website for recipes. After a period of time (a few months, I believe), she had so many people following her blog, asking her about her recipes, and trying the fast for themselves, she decided to turn her experience into a book.

She got picked up by a publisher because they could see how much interest there was in her subject, and since she had been though it herself, she was an expert so to speak, in this type of fast. She was not a writer before this experiment, but she is now. We are seeing this more and more in the publishing world.

The point of all of this is to say, don’t think you have to continue to write for free. If you have the credentials, and you have the experience, and people want to hear what you have to say, you should get paid for saying it!