Self-confessed grammar nerd and professional copy editor Amanda Sumner is passionate about helping writers write better books. This week, Amanda joins us to discuss editing tools authors can use to improve their craft and create high-quality books that fans will love.
Amanda graduated from university with a degree in literature and linguistics and began her career as an editor working in book publishing. She then moved into computational linguistics for a software company that was developing text-to-speech using voices with different accents, genders, and ages. From there, she worked a freelance editor for several publishing houses, magazines, and newspapers, and now she offers copyediting services to authors at her website Careful Copyediting. In addition to her copyediting work, Amanda is getting ready to step out as an author with her debut novel due out in April.
“Spell Check is So 20th Century”
In 2014, Amanda gave a talk at the Romance Writers of America national conference, putting together a presentation entitled, “Spell Check Is So 20th Century: Using Editing Software (and Other Technology) to Improve Your Writing.” In it, she highlights some of the top grammar software like Grammarly, White Smoke, and ProWritingAid; compares their capabilities, practical applications, and prices; and discusses how authors can utilize these tools to improve their own writing.
Even if authors are particularly clean writers and editors, using editing software can not only help catch mistakes, but help authors improve their writing by identifying problems such as overused words, incorrectly used punctuation, and sentence fragments, just to name a few. The Hemingway App will catch instances of passive voice. The NaturalReader app can read a manuscript out loud in different accents and genders, making it easier for authors to catch mistakes while proofreading.
“The cleaner the manuscript you give to your copy editor, the cleaner it’s going to come out; and the stronger it is, the stronger it’s going to come out,” Amanda says, which could also save authors money. “If you feel like your manuscript is exceptionally clean, you can ask if your editor would be willing to be paid by the hour.”
Wildcards and Macros
Amanda also points out that Microsoft Word has a couple of powerful features that writers can use to catch mistakes in manuscripts that often slip past eyes during proofreading.
Wildcards, which are located under Word’s search function under “Advanced Find,” allow writers to search for things that aren’t specific, such as mechanical errors in writing like missing closing punctuation, added spaces, and repeated words.
Macros allow users to do a wide range of tasks such as toggle between a final version of a document and one that shows markup when using track changes, easily convert numbers to text or text to numbers, or even count how many times a word or phrase appears in the text.
Given the number of tools writers have at their disposal, selecting and implementing any one application can be daunting. Most editing software applications offer a free trial. Amanda recommends to always try to free version and play around with it to see how it might fit into their production process.
The important thing to remember, Amanda says, is not to get so obsessed with grammar rules. If she could give one piece of advice to an author starting out with their career, she says she would tell them,“Try to enjoy the process of creating and not to apply any given rule universally without question to your manuscript.”
Next Big Thing:
Next up is Amanda’s debut as an author. Her debut romance novel Sit, Stay, Fall in Love, the first book in her Rescue Dog Romance series, is due out April 17, 2016.
- Try out a free trial version of any of the software listed in the links above. You never know what will click in your own editorial process and what could possibly take you to the next level.
- Use a proofreader. Even though Amanda uses software to help her make her manuscripts as perfect as she can, she still makes sure another pair of eyes goes over it to get those little errors that slip by. The fewer the better. Your readers will thank you.
- Use different types of editors. Amanda prefers to use different types of editors — developmental, copy editor, proofreader — because it’s difficult for one person to do all the different editing tasks with a clear eye. It’s easy to let errors sneak in after reading the same manuscript three times.
There are many authors out there that employ a thorough editing process involving several types of editors and readers to ensure their books are of the highest quality. What’s your editing process? How many eyes see your manuscript before you hit “Publish”?
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