Posted On November 17, 2014 by Print This Post

Editing and Proofreading Tidbits by Karen R. Sanderson

When you’re looking for a guest for RU and you run across a woman on twitter named Word Shark? Oh yeah, you can bet she’s going to get an invite! Karen Sanderson aka The Word Shark joins us today with a great post on how to improve your own editing and proofreading.

We all have bad writing habits. Sometimes we don’t know what these bad habits are until someone points them out. Enter the good editor – or at least a few good beta readers!

Here I share tips I’ve compiled over years of editing and proofreading many genres – romance, mystery, experimental, western, horror, memoir, and non-fiction.

These tips are all quick and easy fixes for any work in progress.

List of Chapters

You have a list of chapters at the beginning of the book, say 30 chapters. But the book has 31 chapters. Oops.

If you name your chapters, make sure they translate from Contents to text.

Michael or Mike?

Throughout the book you call a dude “Michael.” Then in one chapter you use “Mike.”

I’m thinking, “Who’s Mike?”

Or you spell a character’s name “Karen” and then later you call her “Karin.”

Ellipsis …

A mark used to indicate that something has been omitted from a text.

Why are so many writers using these … on every dang page?

Or in one place you have…. and then you have ……. and then in another place you have …and then in another place…

If you must use the dot-dot-dot, make them the same throughout the manuscript. Type them with a space before/space after or no space before/no space after. And the same number of dot-dot-dots.

Consistency. That’s the ticket!

Learn to use commas and punctuation

And then you can break the rules – if you want to.

My favorite resources –

Diane Hacker, Rules for Writers

Strunk & White’s, The Elements of Style


He sat in a dark, red velvet, plush, antique chair with a heavy, green, cable-knit sweater around his shoulders with a well-worn, old, leather-bound book on his lap.

Okay, this is an exaggeration. But still. Some of y’all are using way too many adjectives.


Many uses of “that” can be deleted. Read a sentence with “that” in it. Then read it without “that.” Many times it is not needed.

Overuse of adverbs

Yeah, I’ve heard it all about adverbs, repeatedly. Some writers use them responsibly. Some writers overuse them, continuously.

A few adverbs aren’t so bad, here and there, sparingly.

White space

Extra long paragraphs in any book – e- or print – make me cringe (and fast forward).

Add white space. Either chop up your paragraphs or put more dialog in your prose.

Echo … echo … echo

If I used “makes me cringe” on Page 12 and then again on Page 13, you would notice, right?

Even simple words, like “black,” “tired,” “strong,” “hard,” – when repeated – create an “echo.”

I answered, she expressed, he questioned

Hmmm. Mostly, I’d have to say stick with the tried and true.

Use, “he said,” “she said.”

Once in a teensy while, you can use the other stuff – but not every darn time a character says something.

“Was” and “Were”

We have all have heard about passive voice.

“Angie was eating gumbo in Baton Rouge.”

Try instead, “Angie ate gumbo in Baton Rouge.”

“The writers were attacking the editor.”

Try instead, “The writers attacked the editor.”

Seemed, appeared (also show, don’t tell)

Marie seemed nervous. Blah. Shawn appeared bored. Blech.

Don’t tell us a character “seemed upset,” or “appeared bored,” show us how she is upset or how she is bored.

Show us the beads of sweat on her brow, her chewing on her bottom lip, her clenching fists.

Show us her slouchy posture in the chair, her wandering or rolling eyes, her picking at her nails.

I’m reminded of Anton Chekhov: Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.

Boring dialog vs. character-driven dialog

I edited J. J. Brown’s American Dream. All of J.J.’s characters have a personality that worked with the dialog.

One of J.J.’s characters is a Frenchman, and his English dialog has a French flair. He would often say, “Oui?” or “Yes?” or “No?” at the end of his bits of dialog.

Do you work on giving each character a distinctive voice?

A character clears his throat before speaking

A character uses a lot of similes or clichés

A character uses no contractions

A character quotes the Bible

Number of words in a sentence

All your sentences have the same number of words. There is no variety in your novel’s sentence structure. I am getting bored by your mundane sentence structure. I beg you to give me some sentence variety.

All of the sentences in the above paragraph have the same number of words. Boring, right?

Part of my bio says …

Karen R. Sanderson was raised by a mother who wanted to be an English teacher and who worked for Merriam-Webster as a proofreader and an aunt who could complete the Sunday New York Times crossword in a day.

Mom and Aunt Agnes – “Ang” – were always correcting our grammar. I’m so glad they were such sticklers.

Lay and lie

Chickens lay eggs, Little girls aren’t chickens.

So if I told Mom I was going to lay down, Mom would say, “Lie down. Chickens lay eggs…”

Continue on

This is one of those things my Mother would chide me about. Continue ON is redundant.

Also consider lift UP. Or drop DOWN. Or jump OVER.

Exact same

“I have the exact same sweater.”

“Wayne has the exact same eyes as his daddy.”

Mom and Ang explained exact same is redundant and should not be used together.


Mom and Ang said using profanity was proof of a lack of vocabulary.

I’ve been known to curse like a Merchant Marine when I bang my thumb with a hammer. I’ve been known to use “WTF?” or “WTH?” here and there.

I certainly don’t advocate using only goodie-goodie words in all stories. Sometimes your bad-guy character or your frustrated heroine needs to slip in a curse word.

An author says, “I need this back next week”

I’m sorry, but this makes me smile (okay, guffaw). Ain’t gonna happen. Depending on your word count, it might take a month or more to produce a quality, edited product. After you receive suggested edits, it could take weeks to incorporate said edits into your novel.

Most important editorial thing ever

Here is the most important editorial suggestion I’m ever gonna give ya – Do not wait until you are ready to publish to find an editor.

Finding the right editor takes time and research, it takes building a relationship, it takes trial and error, it takes building a relationship.

Yes, I said it twice. Building a relationship.

Strangers on a train

A prospective client contacts me. I never heard of this person. I’m not connected via social networking with this person. Never worked with this person. How can we possibly labor together – effectively – without knowing each other?

Finding the right editor

I feel so strongly about this aspect of writing and publishing, I have featured other editors on my blog. It’s not important you pick me; it’s important to pick the right editor for you.


What bad habits do you have that might possibly be cleaned up? Have you had bad habits pointed out by beta readers or an editor? What are you doing to find your just-right editor?


Join us on Wednesday with contributor Pat Haggerty!


Bio: Karen R. Sanderson was raised by a mother who wanted to be an English teacher and who worked for Merriam-Webster as a proofreader and an aunt who could complete the Sunday New York Times crossword in a day. Karen completed writing coursework through UCLA and University of New Mexico and was the winner of the SouthWest Writers 2009 Writing Contest – The Best Hook. She is currently pursuing her BA in English at Minot State University. Her short stories have been featured in The Rose & Thorn Journal, Every Child is Entitled to Innocence anthology, Valley Living Magazine,, and

Connect with Karen on her website, blog, Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and LinkedIn.

Similar Posts:

Share Button



28 Responses to “Editing and Proofreading Tidbits by Karen R. Sanderson”

  1. I’ve had the pleasure of knowing Karen for several years, now. Her editing eye is always spot on, her advice always trenchant. A pleasure to see her here and to discover Romance U..

    Posted by Shawn MacKENZIE | November 17, 2014, 6:46 am
  2. via email…

    Fast, wry, comprehensive and spot-on. Print, laminate, and hang over your computer screen.

    – Faith

    Posted by Carrie Spencer | November 17, 2014, 9:00 am
  3. Morning Karen!

    Excellent post – short and to the point. Love it.

    So tell me, if someone wanted you as an editor, how would they go about it? They’ve read through your blog, maybe even this post, so they feel they “know” you a bit…how would you start working with someone new?

    Thanks so much for being with us today!


    Posted by Carrie Spencer | November 17, 2014, 9:06 am
    • I’d start by visiting the editor’s blog and website. Follow the blog – do you like their posts? Do you like their advice? If you feel you might like to work with that editor, ask for a sample or ask if you can send them 4-5 pages to edit/proofread. And start an email dialog, ask questions about experience, past clients, etc. If you don’t get the right feel from that editor, try another one. I’d suggest trying and trying until you have met the perfect match, someone who ‘gets’ you. If you would like to chat more, send me an email and I will help you find that just-right editor (even if it’s not me!).

      Posted by Karen R. Sanderson | November 17, 2014, 12:17 pm
      • More on this comment – I ask for samples from clients before I agree to work with them, exchange a few emails, visit all their social networking. I am an editor/proofreader, not a ghost writer or a book-writing coach. I work with clients who understand general writing rules, good story, good characterizations, etc. If I feel a writer needs to go back to the drawing board – learn the general rules of good story telling – I will not work with that writer, and I do suggest what they need to work on before hiring an editor.

        Posted by Karen R. Sanderson | November 17, 2014, 12:50 pm
  4. Great reminders. My teeth ache when I read a story which disregards these important rules.
    I’ve heard story is more important than all the rules. I cannot read a story with poor grammar and spelling.

    Posted by Tess | November 17, 2014, 10:26 am
    • There are so many important rules. I can’t even keep them straight! That’s why I have lots of reference manuals. And story is important, but if I purchase or receive a book that has poor punctuation, grammar, typos, etc., I put it down. I also employ my own editor (even editors should not edit and proofread their own stuff) – Shawn MacKenzie – and she is absolutely fabulous.

      Posted by Karen R. Sanderson | November 17, 2014, 12:21 pm
  5. What a great post – I’m trying to memorize your mom’s and aunt’s sayings. They’re really helpful!

    Posted by Becke Martin Davis | November 17, 2014, 2:34 pm
  6. Excellent tips, Karen.I had to smile at the comments about your mom and aunt. My mother was a super secretary. One of her pet peeves was the redundancy of saying “type up the paper.” She corrected me every time she heard me say, I’m going to “type up” something. Finally, I got to where I corrected myself just before she did. 🙂 Thanks for good info and a sweet memory. I FBed and Tweeted.

    Posted by Marsha R. West | November 17, 2014, 2:43 pm
    • Thank you for the shares, Marsha. Mom and Ang were always on us kids – not that we appreciated it then, but I sure appreciate it now. Mom and Ang corrected me through my teens, 20s, 30s, 40s … I sure wish they were still around to see what I’ve done with it!

      Posted by Karen R. Sanderson | November 17, 2014, 5:26 pm
  7. Way to say it like it is, Karen!

    Posted by Darlene Elizabeth Williams | November 17, 2014, 3:24 pm
  8. Hi Karen,

    Echo. Echo. Lol. That’s one of my peeves when I read, but sometimes there isn’t a substitute word or phrase, so the word (let’s use quadrangle) lands on the page more than once.

    I’ve never thought about sentences with the same number of words. You’ve given me something else to obsesses over.

    Thanks for blogging with us today!

    Posted by Jennifer Tanner | November 17, 2014, 5:08 pm
    • I learned about that “echo” thing a few years ago…and now I find that problem in my own blogs or short stories – rewrite! Don’t obsess, just be aware. And remember, I still learn with each new client. I don’t think there is another word for quadrangle!

      Posted by Karen R. Sanderson | November 17, 2014, 5:30 pm
  9. Karen, this is a fantastic list, and one of the most comprehensive I’ve come across. Great reference!

    I have known Karen for a few years now, and she has edited many articles for me. Her professionalism and “going above and beyond” approach to her work makes her stand out from the crowd. At one level, she has always made me look good by catching errors and inconsistencies. On another and much more important level, she has made me a better writer by making me aware of ways I can tighten, clarify, and add punch to my writing.

    She hasn’t yet gotten me to quit using ellipses where I want to insert a pause…but at least I’m consistent…most of the time! 🙂

    Posted by Elizabeth H. Cottrell | November 23, 2014, 8:32 am
  10. Great advice, Karen!

    Posted by Denise Hisey | November 27, 2014, 2:40 pm
  11. I just subscribed! I really need to learn from you. 🙂 I enjoyed reading!

    Posted by The Fast Fingers | December 12, 2014, 7:40 pm
  12. Thanks for this,
    I am always on the looking out for writing tips. You can never have too many.

    Posted by Jason Chapman | December 13, 2014, 3:13 am
  13. Since I do my own editing as I find proof readers and editors can be pricy–I need good reminders such as these to keep my copy interesting and readable. However, as I have noticed–one can be spot on in their English grammar and writing–and still have a boring story. While in contrast–an exciting story will break all the rules of grammar. So I guess it can go both ways.

    Posted by Laura L. Smith | December 13, 2014, 7:17 am
  14. I have used CreateSpace for two books, but have not used a “beta” reader or someone to simply read through a manuscript and give me feedback.

    Do you have any recommendations? Do you provide such a service?


    Posted by Michael J Contos | December 13, 2014, 9:38 am
  15. It’s a little concerning to read tips from an editor who doesn’t know what the passive voice is:

    Quote: “We have all have heard about passive voice.

    “Angie was eating gumbo in Baton Rouge.”

    Try instead, “Angie ate gumbo in Baton Rouge.”

    The first of these sentences is in the past imperfect tense, the second is in the past perfect. Neither of them is in the passive voice. Passive voice would be:

    ‘Gumbo was being eaten by Angie in Baton Rouge.’

    Posted by Ben Holloway | December 13, 2014, 2:14 pm
  16. My comment from yesterday has disappeared – I don’t know why. But under the heading ‘was and were’ you refer to the passive voice incorrectly. You say:

    ‘We have all have heard about passive voice.

    “Angie was eating gumbo in Baton Rouge.”

    Try instead, “Angie ate gumbo in Baton Rouge.” ‘

    This is not an example of incorrect use of passive voice. Both the sentences above are in the active voice, just different tenses (imperfect past and perfect past)

    Passive voice would be to say:

    ‘Gumbo was being eaten by Angie‘

    – which you would then change to one of your examples to ‘activate’ the verb.

    I have known people get very confused over the passive voice, and it’s no surprise when even the internet gets it wrong sometimes!

    Posted by Ben Holloway | December 14, 2014, 2:13 pm


  1. […] Today I have a guest blog as a visiting professor over at Romance University with Editing and Proofreading Tidbits. […]

  2. […] Editing and Proofreading Tidbits. From Romance Univerity. By Karen R. Sanderson. Read more… […]

Post a comment

Upcoming Posts





Follow Us