10 editing tips and sage advice from Melanie Saxton and Wendy Reis

A few tips from me –

Acceptance – Be receptive to critiquing, proofreading, and editing. If you are going to be a writer, this is key. You need to develop a thicker skin, and you need to step away from your baby and consider it “work.” I ask for critiques to practice being humble.

Extraneous words – Be cautious of extraneous words. Words like “just,” “that,” “also,” “really.”

Dialog – Lately I’ve seen a lot of writers embedding quoted material (dialog) into large paragraphs of text and putting more than one speaker in a single paragraph. Break out your dialog and make it clear it’s a conversation. This also adds white space to a page.

Huge blocks of continuous text – It’s hard on a reader. We don’t like it. So stop it.

Punctuation – Misuse of colons, semicolons, parentheses, ellipses, commas, and oh my goodness quotation marks. Learn a few punctuation rules before you go stomping all over them.

Too many adjectives – One or two really good, awesome, fabulous, great adjectives – at most – is sufficient. Use your vocabulary.

Clichés – Think outside the box. Get creative! Do not give me as high as a kite. Or big fish in a small pond. Or bull in a china shop.

Similar names – You have a bunch of characters. One is named Kathy, another Kathryn, another Kat. All Ks or similar “K” sounds. Don’t do this.

Impossible to pronounce without wincing – If you give me names even a Welshman can’t pronounce, it annoys me (and lots of others).

Overuse of pronouns – Using HE and SHE and making reference to more than one HE or more than one SHE in a paragraph. The reader comes away saying, “Huh? He who? She who?”


From Melanie Saxton, Editor  

Manuscript Manicures

I’ve noticed that emerging writers often apologize for their unedited work, explaining they aren’t grammar experts. This always surprises me. After all, there is no rule requiring that authors be English majors. Rather, authors come from all walks of life and their job is to create. No one else in the world could envision and conceive that same book. This makes the mission clear: Never apologize. Just write.

The editor has a different role. We are the manicurists. I tell authors not to worry about anything but capturing their work on paper. This may involve many rewrites, but once they are through it’s time for some buffing and polishing. The jagged little edges include misspellings, typos, grammatical errors, usage and style, tense, subject-verb agreement, hyphenation, mislabeling, awkward transitions and consistency. Therefore, manuscript manicures aren’t just a luxury. They are a necessity. An extra set of trained eyes can make all the difference between a good story and a bestselling novel.

Confident writing involves passion, not perfection, and it’s easier to flow knowing the manicurist awaits, file in hand. Just go for it and don’t worry about a jagged nail. After all, you have staff for that and we are just an email away!

Melanie Saxton

*Melanie Saxton is a writer and contributing editor for six magazines. She edits books for emerging authors and also blogs from her website about new books from a variety of genres. She is employed as a certified special education teacher at a middle school on the outskirts of Houston. Blessed to be raising a lovely and brilliant 15-year-old daughter, she also has a house full of rescued pets. In her spare time, which is precious, she works on her own novels with the aim of publishing in 2012.

Visit Melanie at her website, Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook.


From Wendy Reis, Owner of Wendy Reis Editing

Each POV shift should be a new chapter, regardless of length. That is the approach which is gaining in popularity and it does make it easier for the reader to keep things straight. One character could be used as the star of the show, the primary point of view, with others playing supporting roles and revealing things and angles the Star may not be aware of. The reader
then has the heady I’ve-got-a-secret sense of privileged information.

It is a good idea to do an in-depth outline of the characters before you write so you know what is in character and what isn’t and you don’t need to pay some kill joy like me to point it out for $20 per hour. Passing those outlines along to your editor would be a beneficial gesture.

Wendy Reis

*Wendy has been asked to proofread and edit things since she was in grade 6. She eventually succumbed to the obvious calling to make this her full time pursuit in 2006. She now addresses the problems of fractured or incorrect English in everything from novels and websites or advertising copy to reports, speeches and presentations and correspondence.

Visit Wendy at her website, Twitter, Facebook.


Additional resource – Jeff Goins, Writer, Five Weak Words that Make Your Writing Less Effective.

Not every editor’s style is right for every writer. Here are some more editors you might find helpful – Victoria Ipri, Darlene Oakley, Rachelle Gardner, C. S. Lakin, K. M. Weiland, Marlene Adelstein, A Victoria Mixon.

What editing tips do you have for writers? What rules do you try to adhere to?

Photobucket photo by bluinkalchemist


Filed under Editing & Proofreading, Guest Writers & Bloggers

18 responses to “10 editing tips and sage advice from Melanie Saxton and Wendy Reis

  1. Manicures..hmmmmmm. An editor might help with the final polish but any writer should, imo, come in with their pages neatly clipped and not ragged around the edges. But, hell, I list to the perfectionist side….

  2. I’m pretty picky before I submit work to an editor or proofreader, but that’s me, too. I think first draft, though, is “just writing.”

  3. ???If I understand correctly, the fist manicure ought to be done by the author- -as in the rewrite. THEN, it is time for the professional editor/proofreader. Or am I misreading you Melanie?

    Great tips for learning the rules.

    I know in my writing, the polish is in that rewrite. It is there that, especially if I try to read it aloud, I see clearly how I can make it better. Once it is MY best I send it off to my editor – who happens to be this same Wendy Reis. I think we belong to a mutual admiration society, right Wendy?

  4. Thank you, thank you! I greatly appreciate and can absolutely use those tips. I am of the “edit till my eyeballs bleed,” variety of writer, but have learned (most painfully) that even then there are boo-boos that have slipped past. Thus my new and improved motto: Edit till I think it’s perfect, then send it off to someone else who will actually make it so 🙂

  5. I can’t think of better advice for any writer. I love this blog and these three, talented brave ladies that try to help the free-flowing, artistic, fabulous, wonderful, magnificent…(you take my point) endeavours of many a wanna-be Shakespearean eulogist realise that a little humility goes a long way!

  6. I like the point about similar names, too. I mean, if we are creating our world, not everyone has to have a matching name. Truth is stranger than fiction.

  7. I like to beta read, I feel it helps me as a writer. I get upset when I get Manuscripts that bounce from first person to third person. I would never give that to an editor, it is painful to read and edit. 🙂

    Thank you for the great advice guys!

  8. One thing I see some confusion about is the difference between line editing (manicuring) and developmental editing. Both are essential before publishing. My debut novel is currently in its third round of edits–*post* sale.

    It sold in its 18th draft.

    Thanks for the perspectives!

  9. You bet, Yvonne, I think there is a lot of mutual admiration going on here.

    One thing to keep in mind as a writer is that editors are not the enemy. They do not want to slaughter your baby. You have a lot invested emotionally in your work and we understand that. We want to be on the sidelines cheering you on when you get the recognition you deserve. Take a few deep breaths. You will survive and thrive through the process.

  10. Maybe, or probably, it’s because I have been (and still am) an editor, when I send my manuscript off to my editor at my publishers, it is clean – and in fact, my editor has remarked on my clean manuscripts with some relief *laugh*. Are they perfect? Nope, because I miss things, but I can’t stand sending a messy manuscript! Lawd!

    But, as an editor, I never interfere with the writer’s style and voice, even if sometimes that means letting go “rules” – because I break them, too. However, I’m strict about certain things – like point of view and some others.

    Here’s to editors! 😀

  11. Amen! Here’s to editors who support the writer’s voice and know when rules are broken deliberately. Love them!

  12. Thanks so much for mentioning my editing services. I want to share my two websites, which have some great free resources and helpful tips for writers on choosing and editor, getting a critique, and ways to improve writing. Check out http://www.LiveWriteThrive.com and http://www.CritiqueMyManuscript.com

  13. It’s nice to see so many responses. Different authors need different services. Yvonne, my niche is emerging authors, brand new and often intimidated. I really do encourage them just to create and write. A dog trainer, a police officer, a paralegal — all have different writing skills, some very basic. So many have great stories but lack the grammar background. I don’t want this to intimidate or stop them. I often help developmentally or even conceptually. But the point for new and (sometimes) struggling writers is to find an editor who doesn’t demand a pretty manuscript. They should seek an editor with patience and a big heart — someone who doesn’t judge and welcomes projects that require more rather than less. I help with rewrites and polish the final product. I’m an English and special education teacher, so it comes naturally that I guide during the editing process. Again, not all authors need this level of support. But some do, and that’s where I come in.

  14. One of the points I wanted to make with this blog post is all editors, just like writers, are different. That’s why it’s important to find an editor that works for YOU. We all have different styles – isn’t that wonderful? I like working with my editor because she sees my work from a different perspective, she’s a tremendous writer and has been published, she can help make me shine! While I do advocate self-editing to a degree, I also advocate having a professional look over your work before submission or self-pubbing.

  15. Melanie: I am glad there are services like your available for ’emerging new writers’. That takes a great deal of patience – something I do not have. 🙂 I am sure there are writers who are very grateful to you and would be lost without what you offer. As you say, we need different things.

  16. Great posts and I especially like Karen’s tips. As a freelance developmental editor (thanks Jeff for mentioning me), I find writers
    of all levels deal with the same issues over and over. We all need good outside readers to catch the problems. The writer needs to ‘click’ with their editor but be willing to be open to let in that fresh perspective. I do want a writer who knows what a professional manuscript is supposed to look like and has done at least some homework. Willingness to jump back in and do the work that is necessary is key.

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