22 Reasons Why Most Authors Need An Editor... by Ivanka Di Felice

22 Reasons Why Most Authors Need An Editor - Case in Point - Me! 


Ivanka Di Felice

I wrote my book A Zany Slice of Italy and thought it was darn near perfect! Then I met my editor…

It was a fortuitous encounter as I had no idea how to find a suitable editor. I searched the net and asked five editors for a sample edit of my story “Stranieri Giusti” (The Right Type of Foreigners.) They all kindly obliged and sent me their work. I compared the five edited versions and immediately felt that the editing done by Patricia Waldygo stood out. While she was the best match, she was not the cheapest of the five and at an original 120,000 words it was going to cost a lot to edit my book. Regardless, I told her what I was looking for and how long my manuscript was. She was willing to help me improve my manuscript prior to handing it off to her, thus saving me money. She directed me to an article she had written on her website www.desertsagebookeditor.comentitled "The Many Ways a Book Can Go Wrong" (or, 22 Reasons Every Author Needs an Editor.) I poured over her advice and found that I was a culprit in 21 out of 22 of the issues she mentions. 

So I got to work.  I worked really, really hard to try to follow her advice and to get my manuscript as good as I could before passing it on to her. I cut away 40,000 excess words without taking out any stories! That meant a huge savings in editing costs and for my readers, a more concise, lively read. Though I caught some of my mistakes, there were still plenty for Patricia to work with!

With permission from Patricia, I have copied below some of the common mistakes that I (along with many other authors, so at least I am in good company) committed.

1. Passive Voice

Passive voice can lend the stamp of authority to a statement and can also absolve the author of personal responsibility. In certain cases, this is effective: “Mistakes were made.” (Visualize an army general explaining why a smart bomb blew up the cookie factory.)

Yet most of the time, passive voice slows down the action and weakens the impact. Often, academic writers will craft an entire book predominantly in passive voice. That’s fine if they are aiming only for a scholarly market or are writing college textbooks, but most publishers of mass market books don’t want this. They usually instruct copy editors to change most passive verb tenses to make the book reader-friendly.

While writing, be on the lookout for an overuse of “is, was, were, am, are, will be, have been” and also “There is,” “There are,” “There was,” There were,” “It was,” and “It is.”

Use the following verb tenses only when absolutely necessary or in sentences where they actually sound better: for example, instead of “I am living on Maple Street,” write “I live on Maple Street.” Other examples of this verb tense are “I was living,” “they are living,” “we were living,” “he was running,” “she was asking,” and so on (in other words, pairing any verb with passive “is, am, was, were,” and so on).

It's fine to use these verb tenses occasionally, but if you find that 90 percent of your verbs are in this category, you've got a problem. Your book will sound flabby and, IMHO, a bit amateurish. As a first choice, use simple present or past tense wherever possible: “he ran,” “she asked,” “we live,” “we lived.”

(Now forgive me if I proceed to break this rule and put some of these book editing tips in passive voice. I need to invoke the voice of authority.)


[Passive] Holes in my sandals were patched with chewing gum.
[Active] I used chewing gum to patch holes in my sandals.

[Passive] The lawyer’s office was littered with cigar butts.
[Active] Cigar butts littered the lawyer’s office.

[Passive] The cash made from playing poker was plunked down in front of my mortified father.
[Active] I plunked down the cash I made from playing poker in front of my mortified father.
The next “crime I committed” from an editor’s viewpoint was to use confusing sentence structure. It all made sense to me but each time Patricia would ask me “Did you mean this or that?”  I realized it was not clear and that it would confuse the reader.

3. Confusing Sentence Structure

One mind-numbing problem occurs with long sentences punctuated by several 

clauses that separate the subject from the verb. If readers have to stop and trace their 

way back to the beginning of a sentence to decipher the meaning, you’ve lost them. 

Nowadays people don’t have the patience for this.

“That it was the Pavlovians’ 
choice to jump into a battle in which they had no 

quarrel, when they would have gained incalculable rewards by patiently standing 

aside while the Canine Corps and the Feline Brigade tried conclusions, which 

profoundly altered the ultimate strategic result of the war, was ignored or minimized.” 

[Book editor's note: Too much information and distance between the noun “choice,” 

and the verb “was ignored or minimized.”]

The following long sentence has no major grammatical errors, but with so much

happening, the reader has to work hard to follow the thread of ideas. Breaking it into 

two or three sentences would help.

“Yet however effective the Pavlovians believed that the call to war would be in 

rousing the asylum’s inmates to invade Burger King and the other restaurants in 

their path--and the evidence is that Professor Barkley, at least, who hung onto his 

dreams of an invincible Canine Nation dominated by the schutzhunds, had high 

hopes for an inmates’ uprising--the threat of anarchy spreading would prompt the 

ASPCA to keep Feline troops permanently stationed in every Long John Silvers for

the rest of the war.”

And I was absolutely convinced those were real words…

5. Coining New Words: Sometimes It Works, Other Times . . . Not So Much

“The teen patted her ‘
food baby’ and sneeringly referred to Dr. Atkins as a quack.”

[Book editor's note: Maybe you thought I would single out "food baby," but someone coined this term years ago and it stuck, thus becoming part of the popular lexicon. No, the culprit here is “sneeringly.” We cannot turn every adjective into an adverb simply by adding “ly.” Well, technically we can, but is this a creation we’ll be proud of?]

I had not planned on writing a book however when so many of my friends encouraged me to put my emails into book form I decided to do it.  However, while transforming emails into stories it was very easy to commit the following crime (and I am guilty as charged!)

9. Time Travel in All Directions

In the following example, by randomly switching verb tenses the author tosses the reader 

from the past to an indefinite imagined future and back to the present.

“Imagine that you have been invited to sail the Caribbean with someone who has 

equipped his yacht with a state-of-the-art audio system and jet-plane-decibel-level 

speakers. Looking forward to a quiet, peaceful voyage, you are trapped in a small 

space and bombarded with bone-jarring noise.”

[Editor's note: The previous passage travels confusingly back and forth through time.

In the first sentence, you have been invited, but presumably this is before you go on 

the trip. In the second sentence, you start out looking forward to a trip that hasn’t 

happened yet, but in mid-sentence you are already on the yacht, trapped.]

In the end I was very happy with the whole editing process. It proved fun and very educational and I can already see that I have put a lot of what I have learned into practice and my next book will (hopefully) not require nearly as much editing! Patricia Waldygo mentions that a book editor will work with you to:

* Emphasize your own unique voice, cut away the “deadwood,” and use language that will appeal to your target audience.
* Ensure that your words are clear, concise, and accurate in conveying your message.
* Focus not only on the details but on the macrocosmic view and, if necessary, rearrange sections of the book for better flow and understanding.
* Fix all errors of syntax, grammar, spelling, capitalization, and so on, as dictated by the Chicago Manual of Style.

Therefore I cannot recommend strongly enough the importance of a good editor. That does not mean that every edited book is going to be a great read, nor that everyone will love a certain book, but at least we, as self published authors, are providing the readers with a book free from spelling and grammatical errors and in turn, will earn respect if we produce a quality product.

Guest Blogger Bio  
Ivanka Di Felice is a writer living in Tuscany. She will assure you that it's far less pretentious than it sounds. She was born in Toronto, Canada. She is 39 years and 94 months old. In her quest for happiness, she followed Nora Ephron’s advice: “Secret to life, marry an Italian.” She loves writing humorous stories and enjoys reading.

Author Links:   

Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/8188137.Ivanka_Di_Felice

Ivanka's Book:


  1. I enjoyed your article so much, I am jumping on the linkie to Patricia Waldygo's original article and reading it. My editor, whom I love, will thank me for it. Besides, there are some fuschia colored passages I cannot read as the text is overlapped. Thanks for the great advice! xo

    1. So sorry about the fuchsia incident, Muffy. :( I will try to fix it so it is legible.

  2. Wonderful article! I love lists.

  3. Thanks for stopping by, Jessie and D.A.!

  4. I agree that a second pair of eyes is absolutely essential to avoid rejections. Through WordsRU.com I was able to get top class editing and proofreading, manuscript critique. They also write excellent author profiles and book synopsis, so pretty much the entire package.
    Proofreading Services For Business
    Research Paper Writing Services
    Children's Book Editing Services
    Children's Book Writing Services
    Scientific Editing Services
    Business Reports Editing
    Technical Editing Services
    Editing Services For Business

  5. This is great advice. If you're looking for professional editing and proofreading, check out WordsRU.com. They are thorough, quick and are ready to answer any questions you might have even after the edit
    Essay Editing Services
    Dissertation Editing Services
    Thesis Editing Services
    Academic Report Editing Services
    Academic ESL
    Personal Statement Editing

  6. Learning to proofread your work yourself is a must-have skill. But, it always helps to have a second pair of eyes review your work to make sure you haven't missed embarassing typos, or grammatical and syntactical errors. I'd suggest WordsRU.com for this. It also saves you a lot of time to have your work formatted according to the right style. Saves you a lot of time and allows you to focus on your work.
    Academic Editing and Proofreading Services
    Academic Editing Services
    Academic Proofreading Services
    Article Editing Services
    Article Writing Services
    Journal Article Editing Services
    Book Editing Services
    Book writing Services

  7. It's very difficult to stumble upon the right essay service for your college needs. That's why reddit lovers prefer


Featured Post

A Character Interview with Dillon from MOUNTAIN BLAZE, plus a conversation with author Debby Grahl!

Today we're bringing something different to Writing in the Modern Age in the form of a character interview. These character interviews, ...