Tag Archives: more to editing than commas

One Comma, Two Meanings


Graphic of a crossed sword and a pencilSo… here’s an interesting one for you.

It’s from my own fiction, so I’m not bothering to change the line to protect the innocent. Let’s just let ‘er rip. (Also, if you want to know more about my own fiction, sign up for the newsletter, eh? Be sure to check the box for the author newsletter. And then stay tuned, because as soon as we have the new website and the book cover and the legal stuff worked out, we’re letting this project loose and I promise you’ve never seen a project like this one.)

Here’s the sentence:

It didn’t help that he still looked good, in a green collared shirt and tan dress pants—very expensive dress pants, she noted.

Pretty innocuous statement, no?

Here’s where it gets interesting: My proofreader, the amazing and wonderful April Hughes (so don’t you dare be thinking I’m picking on her or suggesting she’s not up to par because she totally is. I mean, hello? I PAY HER), suggested I cut the comma after good.

Except… this is where the comma changes the entire meaning.

Because without the comma, the sentence means that he looked good because of the clothes he’s wearing. His looking good is dependent on his clothes.

WITH the comma, the man just looks good, period, and the comma signals that we’re getting a description of his clothing.

Teeny tiny little bits of nuance… that even the best editors can’t catch for you.


Yep. This is one of those sentences, because of the twin meanings, that only the author can choose which message to send to the reader. They’re both grammatically correct. They both paint a vivid picture of the dude. The question is whether or not the dude needs his clothing to enhance his looks… and that’s something no editor can answer for you. All we can do is call it out and suggest the author take a closer look and consider the different messages the sentence is sending, with and without that comma.

For a little piece of punctuation, it’s sure got a lot of power.

Right, Grandma?*


If you’re one of those people who thinks you don’t need an editor, well, I can’t help you. But if you’re not, April and I would both love to work with you, and this isn’t the only project we’ve worked on together! I heartily recommend using one editor for different stages of editing, but most especially using a fresh set of eyes for that final look before you hit publish or submit to your agent/acquiring editor. Yes, it’s more expensive, but you’re worth it.

I promise.

*As in: Let’s eat, Grandma/Let’s eat Grandma


#SaystheEditor: Experience Counts


Lately, I’ve been seeing a lot of blog posts about people — often without experience — now offering editing services.

I remember when I came out of retirement. I’d retired in 1999, and twelve years later, there I was, looking for work. People were slow to take a chance on me, and I was offering very low rates. Heck, in some instances, I was giving work away for free, just so that friends and authors I knew casually could tell their friends they’d seen my work and were happy with it.

But here’s the thing: I’d been editing professionally since the mid ’90s. I came back into this with experience. And even though I’d been officially retired, I really hadn’t stopped editing. Real editors never do, just as real writers never stop writing and real STEM geeks can’t turn off the STEM in their heads. Ever.

And that’s my point: Lately, I’ve been seeing lots of blog posts about people now offering editing services. Yes, their rates may be cheap. Yes, you may be like me and have a thing for the little guy. Support the underdog and all that. Help someone out, especially if it’s a woman-owned business… blah blah. I know all the reasons. I’ve used them to sell my own services.

Cheap or not, new or not, the FIRST question you should ask a potential editor, if you don’t already know the answer: how much experience do you have? I’ve seen folk who say, “I was good at editing a paper I had to write for history, so now I’m an editor.”


Or, “I’ve written ten books and they’ve all gotten five stars at Amazon, so now I’m an editor.”


Neither of those have anything to do with the price of beans, boys and girls. You want someone who has a relationship with language, whose mission is to bring out your best. That’s still my focus, and I still on occasion give freebies to friends and clients. While I used to do it as a way to build my client base, now I do it because it’s the right thing to do. I love what I do. I get up every morning raring to go, ready to dive in and play with words. So if my current crop of clients are all between projects, yeah, I’ll do a freebie. Lawyers call that work pro bono. I call it fun.

Good intentions are great to have. I wish all my fellow editors luck, and I wish all authors would spend the money and use our skills.

But know what I wish even more? That I’d stop finding new clients who say to me, “I wish I’d found you before I used my last editor.”

I wish clients would stop saying, “I threw my money away on that person. They didn’t know nearly as much as you do.”

I wish I’d stop hearing, “I went with them because they were cheap. I got what I paid for, and now I’ve got bad reviews next to my book and it’s stopped selling, so would you please re-edit this and maybe I can save it?”

Yeah, those are flattering comments and often, the clients who say those things to me become loyal clients. (Yes, sometimes, they move on, always in search of someone better, but do they ever find that person?)

But it also kills me to hear that. It means authors didn’t  use word of mouth. They didn’t carefully vet a variety of editors with samples. They didn’t talk to their friends. And usually, they made decisions with their bank accounts.

Yes, editing is expensive. I’m not the most expensive out there, by any means (the woman I use for content work is triple my own rates, and she does no language or grammar work like I do), and I get it when authors say they can’t afford me. But folks, it’s worth trying. And it’s worth hanging in there to find someone really good, really experienced. Who knows how to edit, how to value your work, how to preserve your voice.

I’ve said this before, and I know I’ll say it again. Make wise choices, choices that’ll bolster your career, not sink it. Take a risk on a really good editor, go ahead and build a relationship with him or her. And then hopefully you’ll be saying to your friends, “Go use my editor. She’s great.”

And hopefully I’ll get more e-mails that say, “I read a bunch of reviews of books written by your clients, and the reviews keep getting better and better. You’ve got to be good at what you do.”

Some of that is because the author’s skill is growing, but hopefully it’s because I’m helping them grow that skill.

Choose wisely. Look for experience.