Besides being a writer, I am also an editor. This means sometimes I am the gorgon whose snaky dreadlocks and generally difficult temperament turn the unwary to stone. (Pardon me a moment – if Heavenly Kevin who does my hair is reading this – it is an exaggeration. My hair is perfect the way you cut it. And if you were to choose to make me wear dreadlocks they would be lovely, stylish dreads I’m sure, and not snakelike at all.)
When wearing my editorial hat, I sometimes have to tell an author that a whole section has to be re-written because as it is currently written, it is not workable. I don’t like to do it, but it happens. All it takes is a poorly worded critique on my part and the author I am trying to help goes to pieces. After all, their entire life is invested in that manuscript and I have just told them it isn’t good enough, if left as it is.
The truth is, there are fundamental flaws which make a manuscript so bad even a super-editor like the ladies I have been privileged to work with on my own writing journey couldn’t straighten it out unless the author is willing to do a rewrite. A manuscript like that will have many flaws, too many to fix in the standard editorial phase.
One glaring flaw which is a deal-breaker is a lack of knowledge on the part of the author in regard to sentence structure. While proper sentence structure sometimes falls by the way in the frenzy of writing your first draft, by the time you have it ready to submit it to an editor you should have found 98% of those wonky sentences and taken care of it to the best of your ability.
Another glaring problem is punctuation. You won’t find every mis-used comma, but you must comb your ms to be sure that dialogue is written like this: “We put the words and punctuation inside the quotation marks,” said the editor.
‘This is wrong”. She said.
Yes, I once received an entire ms with dialogue written exactly like the second sentence. That was only the tip of the iceberg in regard to problems there.
All dialogue must be inside double quotations, and end with a comma IF the words ‘he said’ ‘she said’ or ‘ANYONE’ said, replied, verified or otherwise spoke follows his words.
The editor replied, “The exception is if there are no qualifiers at the end saying who said it.” The end of the sentence is after the character has their say.
It is our job as authors to make every effort to get our manuscript as clean as is possible before we send it off to be beta-read, or have it edited. If you are paying an editor to go over your work, you don’t want them distracted by slip-shod work on your part. They will have enough to do if you have made it as clean as you possibly could.
If you are going to break the rules, you must do so consistently throughout the entire manuscript. Some people use single quotes instead of double quotes, but they do it consistently, and never vary it. To mix it up would confuse the reader, and the beta-reader or line-editor will struggle with it. They are the first readers. If they say there is a problem, then we must accept a problem exists.
Strunk asserted that one must first KNOW the rules to properly break them. This classic reference book is a must-have for any author writing in any genre. It is not too long, but it clearly lays out the fundamentals of plain English style and concentrates attention on the rules of usage and principles which are most commonly violated. This book remains the best handbook a writer can have, and I highly recommend it.
Preparing your manuscript for sending off to an editor you have hired may seem like overkill – after all what are you hiring the editor for, if not to edit? But think about this – if you want the editor to be able to do their job of finding occasional punctuation errors and pointing out badly phrased paragraphs and places you’ve repeated yourself 3 times, you must give them your best effort. It must be as submission ready as you can make it. Otherwise you are asking them to completely rewrite it for you, and no editor is up for that unless they are superhuman!