5 Things I Wish I’d Known Sooner

Image: Person surrounded by questions.

I recently had an enquiry from a new author who was working towards finding a publisher. This got me thinking about the things I wish I’d known when I was starting out.

1. Formatting Matters

Whatever you’re writing, there are rules to follow when formatting your work (here are some guidelines for formatting your manuscript for a novel, for instance).

If you’re an independent author, following these rules from the outset will make your manuscript easier to read and typeset for publication. If you’re hiring an editor, applying the correct formatting before you send them your work will save their time and your money.

They’ll have more time to resolve any concerns you have, and to check for typos, spelling mistakes, and grammatical errors. Of course, if you do find you’re struggling with formatting, your editor will still be there to help.

If you’re looking for a publisher, then it’s absolutely vital to follow these rules. If you don’t, it’s highly unlikely they’ll read your manuscript.

Most publishers also have their own guidelines on how to submit a manuscript, so it’s best to check these out before you send out your work.

2. Writers’ Groups Are Awesome

Most things I’ve learned about writing, including how to format a manuscript, I first learned from my local writers’ group.

It’s a supportive, warm and varied community on your doorstep. It’s face-to-face and full of knowledge about every aspect of writing.

Every writers’ club is different, so it’s important to find one that’s right for you (Reading Writers suits me well). There are some online groups too, such as WriteWords and Critique Circle.  

3. Directories Make Your Life Easier

Somebody once said to me, “Think about the kind of stuff you like to write and approach publications that publish that kind of thing”.

If there is a magazine you read or an imprint you really like that you think you’d be a good fit for, it never hurts to investigate their submission guidelines.

This style of hunting can feel a bit overwhelming. The Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook is an invaluable resource for taking the legwork out of the situation. A friend of mine also recommends FirstWriter, an online directory of agents, publishers, magazines, and competitions.

4. There’s More Than One Way To Get Information

Podcasts and videos are so, so good for getting more detailed information on specific subjects. I really like this episode from The Editing Podcast, which neatly explains different types of editing.

5. You Can Always Ask An Editor

An editor can offer you an utterly non-judgemental perspective, complete confidentiality, and a friendly smile. If you have a specific problem you’d like advice on, or you’re looking to improve your writing but just don’t feel comfortable sharing your work with people you know, asking an editor could be the solution.

What other tips would you add? Please leave your ideas in the comments. I’d love to hear from you!

Proofreading: Why Choose A Human Eye Over AI?

A few months back my brother and I were chatting when he suddenly asked:

“Why would anyone use a proofreader?”

He raises a valid point. In these days of increasing automation and ever more intuitive AI, why would anyone rely on a human to check their work?

Microsoft Word comes with its own spellchecker (as do most word processing packages). If English isn’t your first language, there is always Google Translate to help you out.

It’s true, Word’s spellchecker has got a lot better since it was first launched. Now it will underline misspelt words in red, offer you a green line for possible grammatical errors, a blue line for a contextual mistake and even a brown dotted line if it thinks you’re using too many words. Some of its suggestions are helpful, others can be downright confusing.

For example, as I write this, it is trying to tell me that I’m spelling “proofreader” wrong. In fact, there are several different ways of writing this word correctly. And no matter how hard it tries, Word will never be able to tell you with absolute certainty whether you’re using “hare”, “hair” or “heir” correctly in a sentence.

Google Translate is frankly an amazing invention. I find it truly mind-boggling that it can translate text instantly. It’s definitely handy if you’re trying to decipher a menu, but don’t rely on it if you want to do anything more complex.

If English isn’t your first language, but you find yourself having to write in English, translation tools won’t be able to offer you accurate advice on grammar. They may also struggle to process figures of speech, like “Bob’s your uncle”, sometimes with disastrous results.

If you’re looking to publish your work, or simply to have it read more widely, making sure your work is clear and easy to read is vital. Confusing sentences, formatting errors and typos can make all the difference between acceptance and rejection with a publisher. More importantly, they can make the difference between someone reading what you have to say and walking away.

A proofreader can look at your work as a whole, in a way that computer software can’t. A proofreader will be able to check your spelling, spot typos and correct grammatical errors with confidence, where Word is only guessing. A proofreader will appreciate whether you are working on an essay or a short story and make sure you have appropriate and consistent formatting for your work.

Best of all, you can talk to a professional proofreader. A good proofreader will work with you to answer any questions you have. If they spot something where your meaning isn’t clear, they’ll ask you about it and help to clarify it, rather than choosing a preset phrase from a list of autocorrect options.

As an author, you have every reason to be confident in your writing. When you choose a professional proofreader to check your work, you can be confident it reads well too.

Think you might need a proofreader? Contact me today.