Blogger: Mary Keeley
Several clients are doing final polishing of their books and proposals to get them ready for me to send to editors after the Christmas holidays. Maybe this describes the stage you’re at too. While you’re consumed with fixing craft issues or articulating convincing solutions for your nonfiction topic, don’t overlook the many little errors that detract from your manuscript.
Authors who have been published for years fall into some of these errors too, but back when they got their first contract, the market wasn’t as tight. Publishers had a larger editorial staff that was able to work with manuscripts in greater depth. But in today’s publishing economy, overloaded editors often reject proposals based on these same errors, concluding the writer isn’t ready for publication. You can reduce the odds of this happening by correcting common sentence structure and word usage problems. The following 10 tips for a clean manuscript address the most frequent mistakes I see.
Popular errors in word usage:
- Fewer vs. less. Fewer refers to number; less refers to amount or degree. Examples: That jar contains fewer jellybeans. That jar is less
- Who vs. whom. Who is the nominative form; whom is the predicate form. Example #1: Who wrote this piece? This piece was written by whom?
- That vs. who/whom. Use that in reference to an object. Use who/whom when referring to a person. Example: John found the book that was in the library. John, who was in the library, found the book.
- That vs. which. A restrictive clause calls for Which is used in nonrestrictive clauses and requires a comma in front of it because it’s additional information that doesn’t change the meaning of the sentence. Examples: Sue bought the dress that fit her best. Sue bought the dress that fit her best, which happened to be on sale.
- Anxious or Eager. Anxious is a form of the word anxiety and should be used only in that context. Example: I am anxious about the appointment with my doctor. I am eager to go to the concert.
Sentence structure issues:
- Wrong order of thoughts results in a sentence that’s cumbersome to read and hard to understand the main thought.
- Using the wrong word or phrase stops short of nailing the intended point.
- Packing too much into one sentence becomes a chore for readers when they have to re-read it in order to grasp everything being said.
- Repetition of a word or phrase makes readers bored. It’s best to not repeat a descriptive word within several paragraphs.
- Lack of variation in the length of sentences is okay if you want to put readers to sleep; it’s monotonous. A string of short sentences or incomplete sentences is choppy as well. You’ll lose readers’ attention when you have a string of long sentences.
I confess to being guilty of some of these mistakes myself. Most writers are. And relaxed email and blogging style and abbreviated texting jargon dull our alertness to these mistakes. But avoiding these 10 errors in your manuscript and proposal could make all the difference when you need to impress agents and editors with your writing ability.
What additional word usage errors do you see frequently? Which mistakes are you prone to make? Which ones have been unclear to you until now?