It is rare to open a book, even one written by a best-selling author and produced by a prestigious publisher, without finding in those four-hundred or so pages, a typo; perfection is elusive.

However, it's unlikely you'll find a grammatical error or wrong use affect/effect. If you want to run with the big dogs, you've gotta pick tall trees. Learn your craft and seek excellence.

To recapitulate:

The days are gone when a publisher's editor accepts a stack of hand-written pages, corrects every spelling and grammatical offense, enhances word usage, decides which characters to keep or delete, reorders scenes so the story flows, and digests it into a contemporary classic.

Nowadays, neither agent nor publisher will accept a manuscript unless the first paragraphs demonstrate that a major effort was made toward publishability before they received it.

As they read passed those perfect opening lines, the promise of their first impression must be maintained to the final page.

Even if your intent from the outset is to self-publish, the quality of your manuscript must be agent-ready to be well received by readers outside your immediate family.

Spelling, Punctuation, & Grammar

Absolutely foundational is your adherence to the most basic rules of the language.

MSWord, and most other processors, have solid spell checkers. They'll also catch egregious errors of grammar and punctuation. MSWord underlines misspelled words in red—including unfamiliar proper nouns. Possible grammatical and punctuation issues are underscored in blue.

If not using MSWord, familiarize yourself with your program's alert flags.

The first step of this proverbial longest journey is to allow your tools to do everything they can. Scroll through the document with care to spot the spelling and grammatical errors indicated by the software.


While scanning, look up the precise meaning of any word for which you can't immediately produce—out loud—a dictionary definition or solid synonym. Immediately: "Instantly" or "Right away."

Is your vocabulary varied? Has the writing been consistantly in the active voice with action words? In dialog, does the vocabulary suit each character's person vis--vis their social, economic, and educational background?

Sophisticated language is like paprika... whatever you're making, it can't hurt to throw some on top. Most novels can use a few words that push the boundaries.

Word Usage

There are a number of common Word Usage issues that plague writers. Each is discussed on this
consolidated page which can be bookmarked for reference.

Closely related words can be genuinely confused, absentmindedly mistyped, or completed improperly by autocorrection:

        Lay versus Lie
        Affect versus Effect
        Less versus Fewer
        Number versus Amount
        Passed versus Past
        Could have versus Could of
        Was versus Were

Beware of the unintentional use of slang. Is the word verbiage or verbage? Verbiage refers to the use of words. Verbage is a euphamism for verbal garbage. There are other words that have appeared in writing derived from poor speech patterns: Supposably instead of supposedly, for example. Spell check will catch that, but it won't flag pacific as a replacement for specific.

The Find function is triggered by CTRL-F in Windows and Command-F in MAC. It opens a dialog box allowing you to search for all the occurances of any character, word, or phrase in the document.

Even if you're sure you have total command of each of the above word-pairs, take the time to search for the occurance of each and verify they have been used properly. It is tedious, but necessary.

Sentence Structure and Superflous Clauses

"For all the obvious reasons, he decided, in spite of him being an introvert, that he'd take the job as spokesperson."

Step 1 edit: Beware of boucing in and out of clauses and falling into comma hell. They distract the reader and slow the read. Reorder the clauses:
"For all the obvious reasons and in spite of him being an introvert, he decided to take the job as spokesperson."

Step 2 edit: In the clause, in spite of him being an introvert, who else would be the introvert?
"For all the obvious reasons and in spite of being an introvert, he decided to take the job as spokesperson."

Step 3 edit: Is "For all the obvious reasons," necessary? If the reasons are obvious, built upon action or narrative that precedes it, why use that hackneyed introductory rhetoric?
"In spite of [despite] being an introvert, he decided to take the job as spokesperson."

Step 4 edit: If the character's introversion is important to the story, it should have been established earlier, not caccooned in this sentence. Remind the reader in active form.
"He challenged his fear to speak in public and took the job as spokesperson."

A streamlined, affirmative fourteen words instead of twenty-one.

Remember, "Kill your darlings?" Don't contrive an awkward sentence just to use a word you're compelled to use, such as "introvert" in the preceding example. It didn't make the final cut; suffer the loss.

Your first time in the meatgrinder of self-editing, a step-by-step approach might be useful. Later on, you'll be cutting-pasting, deleting, and rewording the sentence rapidly, rereading each iteration, paring it down to the final form.

A mnemonic to avoid mid-sentence intrusions is to understand that most are prepositional clauses; they are best positioned pre, or before, the rest of the sentence, sometimes at the end, but rarely in the middle.

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