What I Can Do to Help You Write a Better Book?

Basically, here’s what you get when you hire me. You send me your book, either all at once or chapter by chapter, and I use MS Word’s Track Changes tool to make corrections in grammar, spelling, punctuation, syntax, and English usage. And I write to you right on the page (not in those annoying comments balloons) and in boldface so you can easily see my comments and questions.

I’ll add transitions and topic sentences to your paragraphs. I’ll move sentences and paragraphs to clarify the logical or narrative flow of the material. I’ll tell you when the point of view makes a jarring change. If I find that you’re making the same kinds of mistakes over and over again, I’ll give you a tiny tutorial so you can learn the right way to construct a sentence with an introductory or subordinate clause or how to correctly punctuate dialogue. (The punctuation almost always goes inside the quotation marks.) I have told authors how “comprise” should be used. I’ve explained what parallelism in lists means. I’ve helped writers who think and speak in jargon or a highly specialized vocabulary write more clearly for readers who might misunderstand (or laugh at) the jargon.

I’ll pay close attention to details so a character’s name doesn’t suddenly change in the middle of chapter 5. If you suddenly start saying B instead of A, I’ll ask you about it. Sometimes I’ll suggest that you go back and make an outline of what you’re trying to say and then rewrite following your outline. (Try it. It really works.) I’ll suggest books or other references that may be helpful to you.

I’ll help you with your book’s front matter or back matter and format the footnotes, if necessary. I’ll explain (if I really have to) that “foreword” and “forward” are not the same. Neither are “afterword” and “afterward.” I once declined to review a book from a very small publisher that had a Forward and an Afterwards, but when the author questionnaire supplied by the publisher of Finding New Goddesses asked for a “forward,” I asked two friends to help me. One wrote a foreword, the other wrote a forward. So there!

Beginning authors sometimes seem to think their readers live inside their heads with them. They don’t. We need to write clear, accessible prose. Ambiguity is vital to poetry and useful in fiction, but it is less useful in nonfiction. No matter what you’re writing, it has to make sense to people who don’t already know you.

Some years ago, an author in Boston had friends hissing in her ears that I was “ruining” her book by editing it. I put together a list of the steps in my editing process and sent it to her. Then she and I got on the phone (several times). Her book was about a Protestant boy and a Catholic girl in Ireland in the 1930s who fell in love. My author and I learned that we’re both nuts about history. We became good friends. Send me an email and ask for my “Editing Process” list, and I’ll send it to you. It’s a bit longer than it was originally.

I make friends with the authors of nearly all the books I edit. Many authors have come back with their second (and third and fourth and fifth) books