It’s the little things that make my eye twitch when I run across them in a published book. These are mistake such as misspelled words or wrong term usage (clinched instead of clenched when referring to a tightened fist or jaw, for example), and a myriad of tiny errors that can be and sometimes are missed even in the best of edits.
In a perfect world every book would be published without an error or two. We’d all like to say we could catch every missing comma in a manuscript, but if you think about it, the average novel consists of 60,000 words. Those words translate into approximately 272,000 characters. What are the odds? Authors can beat the odds if they take a proactive stance.
That’s why self-editing is so important. The job can’t be left only to the “professionals.” Any author who has submitted what they believe to be a near-perfect manuscript can attest to the fact that an editor will most likely find something to nitpick on every page of the story.
Authors who sweat those small thing are a great asset to an editor. No, they aren’t expected to catch everything in a novel, but when they do their best, that helps to produce a cleaner product, which helps eliminate reader eye twitches.
Here are some common mistakes that should be on every author’s style sheet or check list:
The aforesaid mentioned clinched versus clenched along with other difficult words, such as affect/effect, then/than, assure/ensure/insure, desert/dessert, hoard/horde, setup/set-up/set up, underway/under way and the one I struggle to grasp: further/farther.
Words that can be compounded but are not always so: a part/apart, a while/awhile, any more/anymore, every day/everyday.
Words that are often written as two words when the correct form is a compound: backseat, seatbelt, backyard.
Words that are always two words, unless hyphenated. For example, it is never goodnight, but good night or when used as an adjective describing a noun, good-night kiss. Also, it’s always good-bye.
Words that are often misspelled. For instance, it’s not hairbrained but harebrained. The word is tell-tale not tale-tell, tell-tell, or tale-tale, espresso and not expresso, and no matter how much anyone insists that it is working its way into the English language, it is never alright but all right.
Words that are often confused, such as anxious vs. eager, as vs. like, among vs. between.
Also, publisher preferences are good to note. Pelican Book Group prefers OK instead of okay.
Because I personally prefer okay, I have to be very cautious about this. Noting it on my style sheet or checklist helps me to remember to check my edits when I’m working on a review or an acquisition. Other preferences might include blonde/blond and the various ways it can be used. Internet terms are also publisher preferences. Internet vs. internet, online vs. on-line, and e-mail vs. email.
I find collecting this information fun and useful. What I don’t collect, I make sure to look up in the Chicago Manual of Style. When I do look them up, I usually place them on my list.
These are just some of the ways that authors can help eliminate that eye twitch. Mine never twitches more than when I find a mistake I missed in my own work.