The Ultimate Guide to Self-Publishing Platforms

Two decades ago, self-published authors commanded about as much respect for their work as used car salesmen or politicians.

In other words, no one was taking them seriously.

But over time, stories began to emerge about authors like Mark Dawson, who has sold over 2 million copies of his books. Or Amanda Hocking, who back in 2012 reportedly made $2.5 million from sales of her books. Both authors are examples of the earliest success stories in the self-publishing world.

People started to take notice. And as the success stories continued to grow, self-published authors gradually gained a lot more respect for their work.

Today, choosing to self-publish can make a lot of sense for many authors.

If you are interested in self-publishing, the first step is deciding on a platform for publishing and distributing your book.

The good news is, there are many options available to authors interested in taking on the reins of publishing their book. The bad news is, there are so many options available, it can be overwhelming and confusing to navigate all the choices that are out there.

You will need to consider what kind of support services you are willing to pay for, as well as your your budget, your format, and your plans for distribution.

Types of Self-Publishing Services

There are two broad categories of self-publishing companies: retailers and aggregators. Retailers will sell your book through their own online store. Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) and Barnes and Noble Press are two of the biggest, and most well-known retailers. Authors receive payment directly from the retailer for any books sold.

An aggregator is a company that will distribute your book to several book retailers at the same time. This can give a book wider distribution, particularly to foreign markets.

Some self-publishing platforms  also offer a print-on-demand service, which allows authors to have physical copies of their books printed when requested. It also prevents authors from having to print large quantities of books and carry an inventory before being able to sell them.

Overview of Self-Publishing Platforms


Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP)

The behemoth in the self-publishing world is Amazon, who owns Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP). With 85 percent of the ebook market share, they are hard to ignore.

Amazon makes it very attractive to sign up with KDP. For one, if you just want to explore self-publishing, you can upload your book to KDP and have it available for sale on Amazon within 24 hours. Amazon will take a percentage of your royalties for every ebook sold. Depending on the sale price of the ebook, Amazon pays royalties of 35 or 70 percent.

Authors also have the option of participating in KDP Select, a program designed to help authors promote their books on Amazon. Authors agree to give Amazon exclusive distribution of their book for 90 days. You can also re-enroll in the program as many times as you like. In exchange, you are able to participate in book promotions within the KDP Select program.

One benefit of KDP Select is your ebook will be also made available in the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library. The program allows Amazon Prime members with a Kindle device to check out one ebook a month for free. If they read your book, you can earn royalties based on the number of pages read. These royalties are in addition to any earned from the sale of your book.

For authors who want to also sell physical copies of their books, KDP has a print-on-demand service through CreateSpace. Acquired by Amazon in 2005, CreateSpace used to be a separate print-on-demand company. In 2018, it was completely merged into Amazon KDP. Authors can choose to have their print books distributed to Amazon only, where they receive royalties of 60 percent, or they can opt for expanded distribution with royalties of 40 percent.

Barnes and Noble Press

Books published with Barnes and Noble (B&N) Press are sold only on the company’s online and physical bookstores. It is pretty straightforward to upload a book into their self-publishing platform, and it’s free. Once you’ve got your book into the system, it’ll be ready for sale within 72 hours. Royalty rates for ebooks range from 40 to 65 percent, depending on the price of the book.

There are no exclusivity requirements to publish with B&N Press. It is also possible to price your ebook for free, which is something many authors use as an effective promotional tool. B&N press also partners with several other services to help authors with editing, marketing, design, and websites.

Another service offered by B&N Press is a print-on-demand service. Readers can opt to purchase a physical copy of the book through the website. For print books, the royalty rate is 55 percent, minus the cost of printing. Getting your book into Barnes and Noble physical stores, however, requires sales of at least 1,000 copies in a year to be considered for placement.


With its modest share of the U.S. ebook market, Kobo could be easy to overlook. But if you have any interest in sales outside of the U.S. (which you should have if you are trying to reach a large audience), then it’s worth considering Kobo. “We are a very global company,” says author engagement specialist Joni Di Placido. The Toronto-based company is particularly strong in Canada, where they account for 25 percent of ebook sales.

“We focus on a lot of markets outside of North America: Australia, New Zealand, the UK, and also non-English speaking markets,” says Di Placido. “We do really well in the Netherlands. Many Dutch readers like to read English-language books.”

Kobo Writing Life is their free self-publishing platform. It’s simple to use and once your file is ready, your ebook becomes available to readers in over 190 countries. They pay royalties of 70 percent on ebooks priced more than $2.99 in the U.S. or 45 percent for ebooks priced below that amount.

The company also offers authors a promotions tool built right into the dashboard of the program. Authors can apply for both free and price drop promotions. Kobo Writing Life also has partnerships with libraries, including Overdrive. This is a free app many libraries and schools use to provide digital content (ebooks and audiobooks) to their users. Authors can have their titles available in the OverDrive library marketplace and get paid 50 percent of the library price the author sets.

Apple iBooks

By using a direct marketing approach to Mac users, Apple iBooks has managed to become the second largest retailer of ebooks in the U.S. To publish directly on iBooks, you’ll need to use a Mac device. Otherwise you will need to go through an aggregator. Royalties are set at a flat 70 percent rate, regardless of the book price.

Authors can publish their ebooks using Apple Author, or you can even publish your ebook using Pages, the word processor that is included on Apple devices. Books are made available to 40 country-specific ebook stores. One unique feature is you can price your books differently in each country and in the local currency. There is no exclusive distribution contract, and authors can schedule free or discount book promotions at any time.

Apple iBooks is attractive for those who are skilled with design and want to create ebooks with lots of images or graphics. The platform offers several templates, such as for cookbooks, textbooks, and even children’s books. They have a drag and drop feature for adding charts and tables, and even audio and video files to an ebook.


For those interested in quick access to a range of markets, this is where an aggregator is very helpful. These platforms will allow you to publish your book, and they will push it to a range of retailers all at once, including Amazon, B&N Press, Kobo, and Apple. All of your sales can then be combined into one report, resulting in one royalty check each pay period, greatly simplifying the process of distribution. You pay a cut of your royalties to the aggregator for this service.

Key factors to consider when choosing an aggregator are price, distribution, and support.


The first to offer aggregator services, Smashwords has been in the business since 2008. They are one of the world’s largest distributors of self-published ebooks. When asked why an author might choose to use a distributor, Jim Azevado, Smashwords’ Marketing Director explains, “A distributor’s greatest value to self-published authors and independent publishers is massive times savings. With a distributor, you format your book once, choose where you want your book distributed and–viola!–you’re done.”

With Smashwords you get access to their wide distribution network that includes Apple iBooks, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and many other smaller specialty  retailers. One notable exception is that Smashwords does not distribute to Amazon, unless you have earned over $2,000 on their platform.

To submit your book to Smashwords, you will first need to format it yourself. They provide authors with resources to help guide you through the process, including the free Smashwords Style Guide, which “has become sort of the bible for ebook formatting,” Azevado says.

Authors earn up to 80 percent of the retail price for ebooks sold on Smashwords, and up to 60 percent of the list price for ebooks sold at other retailers. They provide daily reports of your sales from the larger retailers.

One interesting feature is Smashwords Presales. Some authors like this feature because it enables them to offer books to their selected readers before the public release date of their book. The company also offers authors help with promotion through events exclusive to Smashwords. They also have a partnership with Findaway Voices to easily turn your book into an audiobook.


Estabished in 2012, Draft2Digital has emerged as another major aggregator for self-published authors. They do not have the largest distribution network, but they do distribute to Amazon. Their network also includes the larger retailers such as Apple iBooks, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo, as well as a partnership with Findaway Voices for audiobooks.

The company strives to distinguish itself as one that provides excellent support to its authors. “We want to give people a venue to self-publish with support, empowering authors to control their path forward,” explains customer services representative Alexis Grey.

One notable feature Draft2Digital offers is they will format your book for both ebook and print at no charge. Some authors prefer to work with Draft2Digital for this feature alone. The company takes 10 percent of the retail price of the book, no matter where it is sold.

Draft2Digital also offers authors access to Universal Book Links (UBLs). Having your book widely available is great for potential book sales. But when an author wishes to promote their book (on their website or through an email, for example), they need to provide the link to the retailers. Many choose to simply include a link to Amazon and maybe one or two other retailers. But with a UBL, authors can just offer one link. This will take customers to a page showing all the retailers where their book is for sale. Instead of having to manage a separate link for each retailer, UBLs consolidates them all into one place. 


Entering the aggregator market in 2015, PublishDrive is fairly new to the scene. But that hasn’t stopped them from quickly establishing themselves as an option worth considering. They have relationships with over 4,500 publishers and 400 stores worldwide. They distribute to the major retailers: Apple Books, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and Google Books.

Their expertise in international distribution is one of their notable features. They have a few stores in Eastern Europe and have headquarters in Hungary. If you are interested in reaching some niche foreign markets, PublishDrive is equipped to help you.

PublishDrive also differs from other aggregators by offering a subscription pricing plan, something no other company does. Authors can pay a flat $100 monthly fee, after which they keep 100 percent of their royalites for any books sold (minus the retailer’s portion). Authors also have the option to pay 10 percent of their revenues if they prefer not to pay a subscription.

The company also provides marketing support to its authors. Authors paying the subscription fee are given some Amazon Advertising credits (basically allowing you to place ads for your product on Amazon) so they can give this approach a try. PublishDrive also allows authors to set price promotions and provide review copies.

Print on Demand Aggregators

The final category of self-publishing platforms are those services that specialize in providing a print-on-demand (POD) option. For any self-published author just starting out, having the ability to print books as they are sold saves on both money and hassle. A few of the more well-established companies are discussed here.


Founded in 2011, Bookbaby has a wide distribution network, including the large retailers Amazon, Apple iBooks, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo, in over 170 countries.

For those who like the idea of a platform that offers support with all aspects of the self-publishing process, Bookbaby offers comprehensive packages. These include the steps needed to get your book ready for publication, such as editing and design services. They also have distribution packages for both ebooks and print books, and offer a print-on-demand service. Bookbaby can also help you with marketing.

They offer a number of different packages as well as individual services. Their most comprehensive package, which costs $1,699, includes cover design, formatting, 25 print books, distribution, a Facebook ad campaign, and a listing in the BookBaby store, Bookshop.

They also don’t take a portion of your ebook sales. Instead, Bookbaby charges a one-time fee of $299 per title. Authors then receive 100 percent of their sales after the retailer’s commission. For sales made through Bookshop, authors earn 85 percent royalties.


IngramSpark’s roots date back to 1996 when Ingram created Lightning Source, which services mid-to-large size publishers. IngramSpark was created for self-published authors in 2013. Similar to the other platforms, IngramSpark will distribute your ebook to the larger online retailers such as Amazon, Apple iBooks, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo.

The reason IngramSpark deserves serious consideration is because it is a part of the Ingram group. Authors have access to Ingram, which is the world’s largest distributor of print and ebooks. They are connected to 39,000 bookstores, libraries, and online retailers in more than 150 countries.

Their print-on-demand feature is one of the most valuable features available to self-publishers today. “There is a lot of flexibility in our system,” explains IngramSpark founder and director Robin Cutler. “The pay-as-you-go model allows authors to make their book available to Ingram in a way where they don’t have to carry any up-front costs.”

For those interested in the best quality print books, IngramSpark offers a premium level of printing. Also, if you are interested in getting your book sold in brick-and-mortar stores, when you use IngramSpark, your book will also be included in Ingram’s wholesaler database. “It will look just like any other book in the system,” Cutler says.

The company also provides a key feature, their book returns option. “Most booksellers will require returnability to stock a book on their shelves,” says Cutler. Authors aren’t required to accept returns, but no returnability is one of the main reasons a bookstore will refuse to carry a self-published book.

IngramSpark charges a 53 percent commission for sales to bookstores and 30 percent to online retailers, minus book production costs. There is also a $49 set-up and $12 annual fee. 

A Word of Caution

While the self-publishing world has many excellent and reputable companies offering services to help you, there are some scammers out there. It is very important that you research any company carefully before signing up with a service.

Many experienced authors advise against using what are known as “vanity presses.” These are companies whose business model is to make money not from book sales, but from the authors directly. They tend to push their products on their customers, make claims they can’t deliver on, and generally end up costing authors a sizable sum while providing little support.

If you are not sure about the legitimacy of a publisher, ask around. “Try not to fall victim to short-term scams that promise thousands of readers in a matter of weeks or months,” advises Smashwords’ Marketing Director Azevedo. Author forums are a good place to check, or simply Googling a company can reveal those with questionable practices.

Choosing a Self-Publishing Platform

Deciding which platform to use to self-publish your book will again depend on your goals and constraints. If you simply would like to have a completed book to satisfy your own creative needs and are not viewing it as a commercial endeavor, you should probably go with the easiest option. That would likely mean using a retailer such as Amazon KDP or Barnes & Noble Press, which are free to use, and allow you to quickly create your book.

If you have a vision of selling a significant number of books, or need the ability to widely distribute your book, then you should consider going with an aggregator.

Keep in mind that you can also choose to use more than one service. Many self-published authors will use Amazon KDP because they have the lion’s share of the ebook market. But they will also sign up with an aggregator to have access to a wider distribution network. If you are interested in having print copies, then look for platforms that offer print-on-demand. And if you hope to see your book sold in brick-and-mortar stores, you should explore using IngramSpark.

Think You’re Done Editing? Take a Step Back.

A writer’s work is never done.

When you’re writing, you can get so wrapped up in the proofreading and editing process that you miss a HUGE oversight or error in your copy. This goes for all writing — whether it’s a marketing letter, a web page, or a novel.

So, when you think you’re done writing and editing and proofreading everything, you’ve got one more milestone to go: Take a step back and examine your work from the 50,000-foot level.

Now isn’t the time to get bogged down by periods and commas: You need to look at the big picture. Check your work for consistency and make sure you address some of these issues:

  • Does the organization need any work? Your copy should flow logically from Point A to Point B. Make sure you’re not missing any steps and that you have strong links connecting each and every paragraph.
  • Have you effectively addressed your reader? You need to make it clear that your reader knows that you have exactly what he wants. This means that all of the features of your product or service need to have a clearly outlined benefit to the reader.
  • Do your differentiators stand out? Be vigilant about making your company’s vital information clear and easy to understand. All of your paragraphs should lead off with a differentiator, and the first paragraph especially should explain and summarize to the reader why they can’t live without your product or service.
  • Are there any logical errors? It can be easy to skip over vital information about something that you know very well — after all, you’re an expert on your company. Double check all of your explanations for clarity, making sure to spell out simply and concisely every aspect of your company (even if you think it’s silly, it could answer a reader’s question).

So, how can you ensure that your copy passes the 50,000-foot level test? A few strategies to try:

  • Give yourself some distance. Step away from the computer for a few hours and let your mind relax. Come back to your copy in the morning with a fresh set of eyes.
  • Let someone else read it. Don’t give it to your mom or your closest co-worker: Try to pick someone who can give you an honest opinion and preferably someone who doesn’t know anything about your product, service, company, or idea. Listen to any questions they may have or sources of any confusion — this is valuable information to a writer!
  • Print it out. Everything looks different on paper than it does on a screen. Printing a hard copy of your work may bring to light something you missed earlier — no joke.

Know of any other strategies that can help in the final editing process? Leave a comment. We’re all ears.

Rewriting: What to do when you have to rephrase someone else’s words

One of the things freelance writers are often called upon to do is rewriting. That is, they’re charged with finding new ways to present information that’s already been written about elsewhere – sometimes because the original format is not suited for the target audience and sometimes to avoid copyright infringement.

This isn’t always easy. Sometimes, the source material is highly technical and therefore difficult to explain to non-expert readers. (Much less frequently, it’s the other way around, with source material written in such a simplistic fashion as to bore the experts.)

And sometimes, when the material comes from a proprietary source, rewriting is a delicate task that requires writers to choose their words carefully and present ideas differently, so as not to blur the boundaries of intellectual property.

Despite these challenges, freelance writers can thread this needle. In this post, we’ll discuss some of the ways freelance writers can achieve their aim while still turning out high-quality copy.

Striking the right tone

We’ll start by addressing the question of how to strike the right tone.

As noted above, rewriting can involve adapting highly technical material for a lay audience – say, using an article from a medical journal as the source material for a blog post on new developments in medical research. If this is the case, the writer handling the assignment should assess two factors: first, the average actual level of technical knowledge displayed in the original material and second, the average likely level of technical knowledge among members of the target audience.

The next step is to estimate the gap between those two averages. Once the writer has an idea of how large that gap is, he or she can choose words that bridge that gap.

Unfortunately, there’s no mathematical formula for making this call. Instead, there’s a subjective element, meaning that the writer has to decide how much to adjust the original material.

If, for example, the source material reads like this …

ORIGINAL: Using genome-wide data from 253,288 individuals, we identified 697 variants at genome-wide significance that together explained one-fifth of the heritability for adult height.

… the writer might offer the following to a general audience with little or no specialized knowledge …

SIMPLIFIED REWRITE: Researchers have determined that 20% of the differences in adult height can be explained by a combination of nearly 700 different genetic variations.

… and the following to readers with a moderate level of specialized knowledge:

MODERATE REWRITE: An analysis of genome-wide data from more than 250,000 individuals has led researchers to conclude that combinations of 697 specific genetic variants account for 20% of inherited differences in height.

Both of these rewrites succeed because they convey the main idea of the source material, using language that is appropriate for the target audience. Even better, they transform dry, technical prose into something that reads more like a story than a laboratory report.

Avoiding copyright violations

But rewriting isn’t always about tone and sizing up target audiences. Sometimes it’s a more straightforward task – something along the lines of summarizing news coverage of a particular topic.

If so, writers must remember that the journalistic material they’re using – wire reports, newspaper articles, magazine features, etc. – is almost always copyrighted. As such, it is subject to legal restrictions on its use, and writers who want to use the information must take steps to ensure that their product does not mirror the original text.

Fortunately, there are several ways to do this. One way is to take the facts presented, and re-word them in a way that is unique, but still tells the same basic information. In practical terms, this might entail starting with “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves” and then using the thesaurus to end up with “The Seven Short Men and Frost White.”

And in less fanciful terms, it might involve starting with this Reuters article, dated September 3 …

ORIGINAL: The U.S. Federal Reserve should cut interest rates by half a percentage point at its meeting in two weeks to get ahead of both financial market expectations for a rate cut and a global trade war that has become a broader “reckoning” over how the world economy is organized, St. Louis Federal Reserve President James Bullard said in an interview on Tuesday.

… and ending up with something like this:

REWRITTEN: James Bullard, the president of the St. Louis Federal Reserve, has spoken out in favor of a cut in interest rates. In an interview with Reuters, Bullard urged the U.S. Federal Reserve to bring interest rates down by 0.5% at an upcoming meeting, saying this would help Washington stay ahead of market expectations and also take the lead in trade disputes that have raised questions about the organization of the global economy.

This method can also be used for direct quotes from proprietary sources. It can help writers start with the following excerpt from the same Reuters article …

ORIGINAL: “This is an unraveling of the trade liberalization process that has been going on since World War Two.”

… and finish with this:

REWRITTEN: According to Bullard, the disputes between the U.S. and other countries such as China indicate that efforts to liberalize trade are faltering after more than 70 years of forward movement.

Writers can also look for opportunities to emphasize a different point from the source material. If the original text addresses a secondary theme somewhere in the middle, the rewritten text can bring that secondary theme into the spotlight, rather than leading with the primary topic.

For example, writers can begin with this …

ORIGINAL: The U.S. Federal Reserve should cut interest rates by half a percentage point at its meeting in two weeks to get ahead of both financial market expectations for a rate cut and a global trade war that has become a broader “reckoning” over how the world economy is organized, St. Louis Federal Reserve President James Bullard said in an interview on Tuesday.

Global investors have sent bond yields plummeting in recent weeks to record lows, leaving the Fed’s overnight policy rate seemingly out of line, Bullard said.

Economic data on Tuesday meanwhile showed the U.S. manufacturing sector had contracted for the first time in three years amid slowing global economic growth and as China and the U.S. ratchet up tariffs on each other.

… and end up with this:

REWRITTEN: James Bullard, the president of the St. Louis Federal Reserve, expressed concern about newly released economic data showing that the domestic manufacturing sector had shrunk for the first time since 2016, even as global economic growth rates slowed and trade disputes between the U.S. and China persisted.

In an interview with Reuters, Bullard noted that recent developments had caused bond yields to sink to new lows. Under these conditions, he said, the U.S. Federal Reserve’s overnight policy rate is due for a change.

He specifically recommended that the Fed consider reducing interest rates by 0.5% at an upcoming meeting. Taking this step would help the U.S. government address financial market players’ predictions of a rate cut and stay one step ahead of questions about how the U.S.-China trade war has affected the organization of the global economy.

Once again, these rewrites succeed because they convey essentially the same ideas and the same information as the source material. But they also serve the writers’ purposes because they use different words and phrases (and sometimes emphasize different points) as they do so.

Coloring outside the lines

In the examples listed above, we have seen that writers who are trying to rework source material face restrictions – either technically, because they are dealing with subject matter that is complex, jargon-laden, and stylized in its presentation, or legally, because of its copyrighted status.

But we have also seen that there are ways to work within and even transcend these restrictions. Writers can benefit significantly if they remember to use basic tools such as a thesaurus, but they can do even more if they find new ways to approach the same old information.

12 Little-Known Punctuation Marks to Make Your Writing More Interesting

It is common knowledge that most sentences end with a period. We are all familiar with the often overused exclamation mark, and we all know that question marks help indicate that a phrase is interrogative.

But, have you ever heard of an “interrobang?” How about a “certitude point?”

This fascinating article from Readers Digest introduces 12 little-known punctuation marks that can help add a bit of pizzazz to your writing.

While these fun punctuation marks may appear to be a new fad, it turns out that some of them have actually been used since as early as the 1500s. Shocking, right?!?

The “percontation point” was originally introduced in the late 1500s as the ending to a rhetorical question. And the “irony mark,” which was first proposed in the 1600s, has been in print since the mid-1800s.

From the “certitude point,” which conveys total conviction, to the “doubt point,” which adds skepticism to your question, these little-known punctuation marks are just the things we never knew our writing needed!

And, let’s be honest, who doesn’t need the occasional “snark mark” in their lives?

11 Common Editing and Typo Mistakes to Watch for in Your Own Book and How to Fix Them

Have you ever read a piece of writing, be it a book, article, or even a blog or social media post, that just leaves you shaking your head, wondering what the author was trying to say?

Don’t let this be you or your book!

From fragmented sentences and misspelled words, to lack of punctuation — good ideas getting lost in bad writing is an all-too-common occurrence nowadays.

It’s important to use correct grammar and spelling when writing your book so you can clearly get your message across while making the flow of the writing unobtrusive and easy to understand. Otherwise, you risk losing your reader altogether. And, if you don’t lose the reader, you at least risk them questioning your knowledge and expertise on the topic you’re writing about.

Always proofread your book, or any other piece of writing, with an eye to these 11 common mistakes that detract from your book’s message and potentially diminish your credibility as an author or expert in your field.

Mistake 1: Word Usage

English is actually a pretty tough language! One reason is the number of words that have multiple meanings with different sounds and spellings. It is quite common to get these words mixed up and use the wrong word or spelling in your writing.

For instance, consider:

  • “Your” vs. “you’re” — One is possessive, and the other is a contraction of the words “you” and “are.”
  • “To” vs. “too” vs. “two” — The first is a preposition while the second can mean “excessive” or “also,” and the last one refers to a number.
  • “There” vs. “their” vs. “they’re” — The first is a location, the second is a possessive word, and the last one again is a contraction of the words “they” and “are.”
  • “Accept” vs. “Except” — Accept means to consent to accept, agree, or come to believe something is valid. “Except” means to exclude. Examples: She accepted his behavior because she loved him. She would believe what he said except it was common for him to lie.

As you can see by these examples, word usage is very important as it can completely change the meaning of what you’re trying to say. It can confuse your reader or, at the very least, distract them from the flow of your writing.

There are certainly too many words like this to give every example, so when in doubt about the correct word and usage, try these helpful references from Inc., English Oxford Living Dictionaries, or Oxford Royale Academy.

Mistake 2: Punctuation

The use of proper punctuation really can make or break the meaning of what you’re trying to say. It helps readers know when to pause or stop and when a question is being asked, and keeps sentences from running altogether, which only creates confusion.

A couple of examples that went viral online not long ago shows the perfect reason correct punctuation is so important:

  • “Let’s eat, Grandpa!” vs. “Let’s eat Grandpa!”
  • “A woman, without her man, is nothing.” vs. “A woman: without her, man is nothing.”

As you can see, the usage of simple commas completely change the meaning of the sentence!

Here are a few other examples of incorrect and correct punctuation to watch out for:

  • “Are you going to eat that.” vs. “Are you going to eat that?”
  • “Its fun to dream about my upcoming vacation.” vs. “It’s fun to dream about my upcoming vacation.”
  • “I love cooking my pets and my family.” vs. “I love cooking, my pets, and my family.”
  • “My mom likes cake. My dad likes pie.” vs. “My mom likes cake; my dad likes pie.” While both technically correct, using a semicolon allows you to take two similar sentences and make them into one while still keeping the flow.

Mistake 3: Tense Usage

The tense usage refers to past, present, and future in writing as it relates to your verb or action.

  • Past tense is, “Sarah ate the apple.”
  • Present tense is, “Sarah eats the apple.”
  • Future tense is, “Sarah will eat the apple.”

You wouldn’t write, “Peter sat (past tense) at the table. He waits (present tense) for her to show up and join him.” It would be, “Peter sat at the table and waited for her to show up to join him.”

You also wouldn’t write, “Peter sits (present tense) at the table waiting (present tense) for her to show up and join him. But she never arrived (past tense).” You might write instead, “Peter sits at the table waiting for her to show up to join him. But she isn’t arriving.”

When you’re editing your book, look for and highlight any inconsistent tense usage. No matter which tense you choose to use, keep all your verbs constant with that tense.

Mistake 4: Point of View

Point of view includes first person (I, talking about oneself), second person (you, as talking directly to the reader), and third person (he/she/they).

Once you’ve picked the appropriate point of view and written your book, you want to be sure you’ve maintained that point of view throughout the writing.

Look at your pronoun usage and make sure you aren’t combining several points of view together. If you are writing in the third person, you won’t want to slip into the first person or vice versa.

  • “I moved to California when I was 4 years old. He was so young he didn’t remember much about that move.”
  • “David was impressed by the size of the tractor. He had never seen one that big before. I was truly in awe of it.”

Mistake 5: Passive Voice

Most of us have heard, most likely from our high school English teachers, that we need to “show and not tell” in writing. But what exactly does that mean? What is passive voice writing?

It all comes down to weak vs. strong verbs.

Writing comes alive when you use strong verbs instead of weak or lazy verbs that need an adverb (words ending in “ly”) to help describe it. Also, using few adjectives – if any – and cutting out “to be” forms of verbs will make your writing stronger and more engaging.

Also, try writing your sentence in a different order. Most passive voice writing is based on the subject of your sentence having something done to it. To turn it into active voice, have your strong verbs coming from your subject instead.

Consider these examples:

  • “The treaty is being signed by the two leaders.” (passive)
  • “The two leaders are signing the treaty.” (active)
  • “The baby was delivered by the inexperienced doctor.” (passive voice with object, verb, subject sequence
  • “The inexperienced doctor delivered the baby.” (active voice with subject, verb, object sequence)

As you read through your book, highlight every adverb and adjective and then go back and replace them using stronger, move active, more compelling verbs. By doing this, you will find it takes care of removing the “to be” verb forms as well.

Mistake 6: Sentence Structure and Length

When editing, review how you structured your sentences. Keep an eye out not only for the correct punctuation but that you have all the correct parts to your sentence (specifically a subject/noun and an action/verb) to make it complete. Certainly, you can use fragmented sentences for emphasis or to make a point, but it needs to be done properly or you’ll just confuse your reader.

You’ll also want to edit your sentences for length and complexity. Make sure you have varied both shorter and longer sentences in your writing to create rhythm. Short of sentences can read choppy and too long of sentences can ramble on, both making it hard for your reader to follow your thought.

While there is no concrete rule to the actual number of words to have in your sentences, the length of them depends a lot on the type and style of your writing. For a more technical style, you’ll find sentences that are more complex and longer than say your online blog post or article. Online writing typically will use shorter sentences and smaller paragraphs. Nonfiction books will be different from those styles as well as from fiction.

In essence, what you’re going for is readability, rhythm, and flow.

Use this free online tool to check your own writing’s readability and get a report like this one:

Mistake 7: Repetition in Sentences and Paragraphs

How many of your sentences start with pronouns?

“He put his arm around her. She shrugged it off, feeling uncomfortable. He looked at her in irritation. She smiled and walked on ahead of him. He walked faster to catch up.”

When you start each sentence with a pronoun, one right after the other, your writing comes across as stilted and dull. And, you want your writing to sparkle!

As you edit your book, look for all your pronouns and see where you can vary your sentence structure to liven up your writing. There are many ways to start a sentence, whether with a pronoun (he/she/it), a proper noun (David/Kathy), or with a dependent clause (With the exception of pizza, Kathy never eats in bed.)

Switching up how you start your sentences will help readers better engage with your writing and make it even more interesting for you.

Mistake 8: Redundancy

While many readers may not catch redundancies in your writing, you can make your book and its message crisper and stronger to your audience by simply removing extra words that are redundant.  

What do I mean by redundant? Different than repetition in the previous mistake above, it is the use of excessive words that mean the same thing within your writing.

Look for wording like these examples:

  • “Her problem first began when he showed up at her door.” Better to write, “Her problem began when he showed up at her door.”
  • “It was the final outcome that caused her to collapse to her knees.” In this sentence, simply write “the outcome.”
  • “John asked her if they could collaborate together on the new project.” Collaborating is doing something together, so it would be better to write, “John asked her if they could collaborate on the new project.”
  • “The gunman was armed as he entered the bank.” If he was a gunman, then he was armed so there is no need to mention it.
  • “The ice was frozen to the middle of the pond.” Ice is always frozen so simply reword the sentence to take out the redundancy. It would be better to say something like, “The ice reached the middle of the pond.”

Certainly, there are many other redundancies that can be and are used that simply bog down otherwise good writing. Highlight these redundancies in your own writing and come back to tighten up your sentences to make them stronger.

Mistake 9: Singular Nouns/Plural Pronouns

Make sure you’re using the correct nouns and pronouns together. If you’re writing about a single subject you want to make sure you use a single pronoun with it.

This common mistake often occurs when a writer is trying to use a pronoun that isn’t gender-specific.

Instead of writing, “The client (singular) may get their (plural) ticket at the front entrance,” write “The client may pick up his or her ticket at the front entrance.” Or, if you’re writing about more than one client, you can word it as, “The clients (plural) may pick up their (plural) tickets at the front entrance.”

While it can be tedious to have to always write “his or her,” without a non-gender-specific pronoun in the English language you can write it as “his or her” for the singular pronoun or work to restructure your sentence so you eliminate the need to use a pronoun altogether, such as, “Clients may pick tickets up at the front entrance.”

Mistake 10: Inconsistencies in Presentation

Inconsistencies in presentation refer to how you refer to a word, phrase, or idea and present it within your book consistently.

As an example, if you are writing a book about Type 1 diabetes, which also could be written as Type 1 Diabetes; Type I Diabetes, Type One Diabetes, or juvenile diabetes), you want to use the same terminology each time you refer to it. If there several ways you can reference the idea or topic, then pick the most commonly used one and present it consistently within your writing.  

Mistake 11: Typos

It isn’t unusual to have typos in your manuscript, which is why it is so important to proofread your book several times before completion. Whether your fingers are just on the wrong keys or you type too fast, it’s common to see dropped letters, missing or misplaced apostrophes, and switched letters that your spellchecker or grammar program won’t find on its own. Oftentimes your typo will be a real word that you didn’t even intend to use.  

Read through your book at the editing stage to find these mistakes. Look for things like:

  • dropped letters such as “an” vs. “and” or “the” vs. “they”
  • missing apostrophes such as “its” vs. “it’s”
  • incorrect word usage such as “than” vs. “then”
  • wrong verb tense such as “choose” vs. “chose”
  • incorrect hyphenation such as “happily employed” vs. “happily employed”

Check out Online Writing Jobs for a handy infographic about catching typos.

Wrapping it Up

These 11 common editing and typo mistakes really can make or break your book. It is important to read over your writing with an eye to the rules of good writing and know that correcting these mistakes will make your book’s message clearer, stronger, and more authoritative.

As harsh as it may sound, your readers will judge your writing and you — your creditability and your expertise — based on how you write as much as by what you write. The importance of editing your book to correct such mistakes can’t be stressed enough, especially if you are using your book to grow your brand, build a business, or set yourself up as an expert in your field.

Don’t let sloppy writing, rushed editing, and easy-to-fix typos deflect from your message to your audience. If you’re unsure of how to properly edit your book for these things, hiring a professional editor is a good option to make your book as professional as possible.

Master of Grammar

While the finale of the Game of Thrones left many fans feeling upset and disappointed, there is one thing that we can all agree on: Ser Davos being dubbed “Master of Grammar” by Bronn was pure magic!

As writers who are frequently accused of being “grammar police,” we found this title to be perfectly fitting. And, it turns out we are not the only ones.

Ever since the airing of that final GOT episode, people all over social media have been talking about the “Master of Grammar.”

From hysterical memes like these:

With millions of Facebook and Twitter posts, the internet was ablaze with talk about this new term.

This article from describes that now-famous scene, and highlights some of the best responses from fans on Twitter, who also had a great appreciation for the term “Master of Grammar.”

But, perhaps the most telling of the term’s popularity, is the fact that Amazon has hopped on the “Master of Grammar” train, and has been cashing in on the term with the sale of T-shirts.

These shirts are available in Men’s, Women’s, and Children’s sizes, and come in 10 different colors. – Perfect for the Masters of Grammar in your lives! (And, dare we say, these would make GREAT TWFH uniforms!)

How to Successfully Self-Edit Your Nonfiction Book

Your book draft is finally finished! Congratulations! Give yourself a pat on the back and a much-needed break—at least for a few days, anyway. You accomplished something most people will never do!

But the work isn’t over yet. It’s time to move on to the next stage of the process—the editing.  

What’s the difference between editing and proofreading?

There are two types of editing processes. The first edit is reviewing your book for the bigger picture — things like the angle of your book, flow, ideas, and content to make sure your book fits together cohesively. The second edit is for line items such as checking for grammar, word usage, repetition, and the like. Proofreading comes after the edits when you do a final review to clear up any grammar, punctuation, misspellings, and citations.

The Large Scope Edits – 4 key points to evaluate the strength of your book’s overall draft

All the line edits and proofreading in the world won’t improve your book if you’re off target with the overall draft and how you articulated your topic’s main points and ideas.

It can be a challenge to see the big picture details when evaluating your own book project. The following are five key areas you’ll want to closely review to make sure your book is on track.

  1. Check your angle: Did you pick the best angle to present your topic? Are there other, more interesting angles you could use to highlight your subject? Is the angle easy to identify? Find out more about book angles here.
  2. Check your book’s flow: Is the information presented in the best possible way? Did you use your outline to organize the writing of your topic, and does it flow in a logical way? Are you being repetitive in your message or information? Did you provide information that seems out of place or in the wrong order?
  3. Check your book’s overall message: What do you want the reader to take away after reading your book? Are you writing to inform, educate, or entertain? Can you clearly identify your book’s intent and message with the information you provided? Will the reader be able to identify your takeaway message(s)?
  4. Check your information: Are you providing clear information for your reader? Are there any pieces of information you are forgetting? If you’re writing to educate, are all the necessary steps included in your book?
  5. Have a peer review your book: It can be helpful to have a second pair of eyes and some honest feedback from someone who is not as close to your project as you are.

The Detailed Edits – Strategies for doing the smaller yet all-important line edits to your book

Line edits are when you go through your book line by line to make sure all the little details are cleaned up in your draft.

But before you get to the line edits, take a break and let the draft sit for several days. This will allow you to take a step back from the project and read it with a fresher pair of eyes.

After you have given it room to breathe, read through the full book. While you can make minor corrections on spelling errors and grammar, it’s best at this point to simply highlight the areas that stand out to you as needing work. Use your word processing program’s highlighting and text color features, as well as its track changes ability, so you can clearly see what you need to come back to and change.

At some point during your self-editing, it is important that you also print your book out and read it aloud. While it may feel tedious at times, this is a must in self- editing. Are you finding yourself bored with a particular section? Highlight it! Chances are, your reader will be bored there, too.

As you do your read through and start to make corrections, you’ll, of course, need to watch out for typos, misspellings, and correct punctuation. You’ll also need to observe areas where you can make the writing stronger, including:

  • Passive voice. You want to eliminate as many passive phrases from your writing as possible. How? Look for any “to be” types of phrases in your writing including sentences using the words is, was, were, and by. Also limit your use of adverbs (words that end in “ly”) because that, too, is passive writing. To help you with editing out passive writing, YourDictionary gives some great examples of what passive voice is and a cool cheat sheet you can download for free.
  • Wordiness – Rewrite longer sentences or rambling paragraphs into fewer words to make them tighter. In most cases, there is no reason to use 15 words when eight will do.
  • Repetition – Keep an eye out for words, phrases, information, and ideas that unnecessarily appear more than once.
  • Consistent information – Keep an eye out for conflicting information throughout your book. This can include names, dates, citations, etc.
  • Sentence and paragraph structure – Have you worked in some variety to your sentence and paragraph structure? Mix it up with one-sentence paragraphs and ultra-short sentences.
  • Using the right words –Always check for words that have different spellings or meanings such as affect/effect, further/farther, then/than, to/too/two, etc. and make sure you have the correct usage.
  • Unnecessary information –Get to the point. Too much unnecessary background bogs down your writing, and you risk losing your reader.
  • Style, tone, and voice– Use a style manual like the Chicago Manual of Style or The Elements of Style to help with line edits and to ensure that you are using the best style, tone, and voice for your book.
  • Grammar, spelling, and correcting errors – Be sure to closely review your book for mistakes.  Grammar and spelling features on your word processing program can help with the final proofing. And don’t forget to check for consistent formatting.

Resources to Help You Self-Edit Your Book

Self-editing is a lot easier than it was 30 years ago. With your word processing software, grammar programs, spell checks, and more, you can move text around and correct typos and other writing issues with ease.

Here are some key resources you’ll want to add to your writing and self-editing toolbox:

MS Office® plugin Grammarly® works on your word processing program to help with grammar and punctuation.

Bookmark websites like, Merriam-Webster’s Thesaurus, Word Usage Tips, and MS Office® can be used to help you with your bibliography, citations, and references.

After the Deadline editing software not only searches for grammar, punctuation, misused words, and other common writing errors, it also searches for any passive or complex phrasing within your writing.

Hemingway App has some cool features you might want to try. It will break down the reading time, the word count, and the number of paragraphs within your document. It uses lots of color to highlight problem areas like the use of adverbs and passive voice.

Final Thoughts

Editing your book can be a challenge. After you put so much time and energy into the draft, it isn’t easy to see areas that need to be cut or improved upon. As authors, we become attached to the words and process of creating our draft.

If you do plan on self-editing your book, be sure to have some friends read your book to give you honest feedback.

And, if you still feel like you need a little help, consider hiring a professional editor to give you the feedback you need. A professional editor is a valuable investment as they can take the full edit off your hands, do a final edit after you’ve self-edited your book, or simply proofread your work and correct any errors you might have missed.  

Designing an Effective Editorial Calendar You Can Stick With – Part 2

In Part 1 of this blog, we shared some strategies and best practices for creating an editorial calendar that you’ll actually want to use. In this installment, we’ll continue the discussion by taking a look at some common stumbling blocks to avoid in the process.

We’ve identified seven common pitfalls that can derail even the most carefully planned editorial calendar – and what you can do to prevent them before they become an issue. 

1. Forgetting the editing and proofreading stages.

Every piece of content, if you want it to be of high-quality and free of errors, needs time set aside for editing and proofreading. Don’t forget to include time for editing and proofing as you create your schedule.

2. Overloading your staff and coworkers.

Unless you are doing everything yourself, from idea generation to the published content, you need to consider others who will be working on the project. Review their workload and how it might impact the project timeline. This information will help ensure that you assign the tasks to the right people so you can stay on target with your set deadlines.

3. Neglecting external deadlines.

If you are creating content for clients or submitting your content to outside publications, you will need to schedule your projects around their editorial calendars, too. Take into consideration their workflow and task due dates and incorporate them with your own calendar. This will help you make sure you can effectively meet deadlines when mixed with all your other projects.

4. Not giving yourself enough wiggle room.

It’s happened to all of us: You look at an assignment and think it will be easier, faster, and less time-consuming than it turns out to be. A few small setbacks (an interviewee has to reschedule at the last minute; your editor gets the flu; your client asks to move the deadline to yesterday) and you’re suddenly rushing to beat the clock. A good rule of thumb is to double the time you think it will take you to do the task.  

5. Providing too much information. Or not enough.

This can be a tricky balance: You don’t want to bog down your editorial calendar with unnecessary information – that just makes it confusing for everyone. At the same time, though, you want to make sure that you’ve given your team enough to work with.  There’s a bit of trial and error involved here – try to keep things simple and ask for feedback from your team.

6. Not sticking with it.

Too often, the tools we create to make our lives easier end up being pushed aside. An editorial calendar is useless if you’re not using it. Commit to using it. Check it daily. Update it as your schedule changes and deadlines shift. Pay attention to what’s working and what’s not – and tweak it to fit the way you work. 

7. Choosing the wrong format for your team or your content.

You may have a colleague who used only spreadsheets for their editorial calendars. Another one might use a fancy, high-priced piece of software. While that may work for them, they also may not work for you. Don’t use these programs simply because someone else does. Use what works best for your content tracking needs. Use programs that not only help you get the most out of your plan but that you are comfortable using and will use.

Six Great Tools For Creating and Managing Your Editorial Calendar

There are many ways you can create and track your editorial calendar. Before you decide on a tool, consider the number of people who will be accessing and using the calendar, the complexities and the number of projects you need to manage, as well as the potential features you will want in your calendar.

Here are six great tools that can help you build and manage your editorial calendar successfully and for the long-term.

  1. Microsoft Office and Google Docs, both of which are easy to use and you probably already have access to, have spreadsheet features. Using a simple and basic spreadsheet might seem a little old school, but it is still a useful tool for creating a decent editorial calendar, especially if you are the only person creating content or if you have only a few types of content projects to manage. Spreadsheets programs, like Excel, allow you to have numerous tabs within each document as you need, unlimited columns and rows, and has highlighting, color, bolding, and other design features to help you organize your content. Many people who regularly create and publish content (like their own business blog) use WordPress content management system (CMS). WordPress had several great plugins that help organize your blog posts to be published on their platform. These include Editorial Calendar; Stresslimit Editorial Calendar; Edit Flow; and Future Posts Calendar. Keep in mind, however, that using plugins can lower your site’s page speed so using an external spreadsheet for your editorial calendar might be a better option.
  2. The HubSpot Editorial Calendar is perfect for beginners new to creating an editorial calendar. They offer a free template and have formats for Excel, Google Sheets, and Google Calendar. They also have social media calendar templates and content editorial calendar templates which include written instructions for easy use. The free template has many of the basic fields you need in an editorial calendar already created so you can get started right away and it’s customizable to expand upon as you grow.
  3. CoSchedule is great for creating and tracking your blog content, but you can create a workflow of your email marketing campaign and social media publishing, allowing you to keep track of all of it in one place. CoSchedule has many features and it easily integrates with other programs such as WordPress and Google Docs.
  4. DivvyHQ is designed for companies that have high volume of content. If you’re to the point where your business or content plan has grown enough that you have trouble keeping up with it, give this software a try. The editorial calendar offers a simple dashboard that lists tasks to be accomplished as well as an unlimited number of shared calendars and workflow management for your whole team.
  5. Trello’s editorial calendar template works whether you have a very simple content process or multiple steps to your workflow. It allows you to map your flow of work and content, set permissions, assign necessary tasks, and track progress all in real time with collaborative features such as boards, lists, and cards.

While it can be time consuming on the front end, designing an easy-to-use, effective editorial calendar isn’t as hard or intimidating as it might first seem. It’s definitely worth the time you put into it to get clear, organized, and stay on track. It will show in the time you save, the number of projects you’ll be able to complete, and even in the quality of your content.

Designing an Editorial Calendar You Can Actually Stick With – Part 1

Are you new to content creation? Having trouble keeping tabs on projects with multiple deadlines and lots of moving parts? Still looking for a good way to organize all your projects?

Designing an easy-to-use, effective editorial calendar is the key to creating consistent, successful content for yourself, your business, or your clients. It might also be the key to keeping your sanity in the process!

What is an Editorial Calendar and Why Do You Need One?

An editorial calendar establishes what projects need to be completed, outlines the workflow or tasks of each project, and helps you track the progress of those projects.

Editorial calendars have been used in the publishing industry for years to help magazine and book editors stay on top of their projects and deadlines. When you or your clients have an online presence and social media platform, an editorial calendar can help you create, publish, and track ongoing content.

Getting Started: The Main Parts of an Editorial Calendar

An editorial calendar can be as detailed as you need it to be. Some editors and project managers prefer to focus on the big-picture stuff like topics and deadlines. Others track projects down to the tiniest details, keeping tabs on things like keywords, audience profiles, click-through rates, social media shares, and more. Regardless of the level of detail and what format or program you use, there are seven key parts to an effective editorial calendar:

  • The name of the project to be completed.
  • The type of project, whether a social media post, blog, magazine article, book, etc.
  • The purpose of the project (inform, announce, get sales, get leads, entertain).
  • Tasks involved in the project and who is responsible for those tasks
  • Where the content will be used, sent, or published.
  • Deadlines for both project completion and publishing.
  • Estimated time for each project and each project task.

Once you have the basic parts of your editorial calendar, you can expand on them as needed. The idea is to create the best calendar for you, one that is fluid so you can grow it as your content needs and projects grow. Need inspiration? You can click here to see some examples.

Creating and Using an Effective Editorial Calendar

The most effective editorial calendars clearly organize the tasks and timing of multiple projects in one easy-to-use tool. It also tracks the flow of each individual project to see progress and completion of the work at hand.

Use these eight time-tested strategies for getting your editorial calendar right from the start:

1. Use one calendar for all content projects.

No matter how many or what types of projects you are trying to manage, or if you have multiple people involved, use only one editorial calendar to track it. Keeping everything in one easy-to see calendar means you’re less likely to miss a deadline or overextend yourself or your staff. Using one editorial calendar also makes it easier to update and revise as needed.  

2. Identify outside influences that may impact your calendar.

If you’re submitting content to an outside publication, you’ll make sure that your editorial calendar aligns with theirs. Depending on your company’s industry or area of expertise, your editorial calendar may be affected by current events, conferences and tradeshows, sales goals, product launches, and more. Make sure to identify these potential sources of conflict and adjust your schedule accordingly.

3. Plan your work, work your plan.

An editorial calendar should show your content plan as a whole, with an emphasis on when it needs to be done and who is in charge of doing it.

From there, break down each project further, showing every task involved from start to finish. This will help you allow enough time to complete the work involved with each task.

In most cases, each individual project’s tasks will include things like creating the topic idea, assigning the content piece, research, interviews, outline, draft, editing, photos, links and credits, approval of writing, proofing, and publishing.

4. Plan for the unexpected.

If you can, keep blocks of unscheduled time to add projects in or move them around as needed. The calendar should be a clear working plan but one that also allows for changes you may need to make in your projects and workflow.

5. Add key information.

Add to your calendar as you become more comfortable and consistent with using it. In addition to including basic information, you can start to add more details like keywords, audience, the number of social media shares, click-through rates, original publishing dates, how often the content was published and where, and spin-off ideas from the original content.

6. Decide how far ahead to plan.

Some content plans encompass a whole year while some may only go six months out. Ultimately, you decide what is appropriate for your goals. Going too far out in advance, however, can be overwhelming, especially if this is your first time using a content plan. Smaller timespans may be easier to stick to at first.

7. Develop a system.

Whether you use a spreadsheet, a calendar program, or a good, old-fashioned paper planner, it’s important that you have a way to easily identify the different elements of each project.

Create multiple tabs or areas on the single calendar based on the type of project, timing, or person assigned to the task.

Use color to identify projects, assigned people, timing, or tasks. Create notifiers or alarms so tasks don’t go missed. Flag or highlight important notes that your team can see.

8. Share and protect.

Make sure that your calendar is available to everyone on your team at all times – and that everyone is aware of important updates and changes.  

Of course, there are risks to allowing everyone to access and update the calendar. It’s a good idea to take some steps to safeguard against accidental deletions or changes. Spreadsheets and other programs will allow for certain fields to be locked and still give others access and updating abilities. Allow for others to update their progress and make notes on the calendar but protect all the main fields such as headers, categories, critical projects, and firm deadlines.

The Next Step:

Now that you know how to create an effective editorial calendar that meets your needs, check out part two of this series to learn about the common pitfalls you should avoid when designing your calendar. You’ll also learn about some of the tools available to help you create this critical document for your content plan.

Copywriter Q&A: Jennifer DeLay Talks Cultural Differences and Editing Work By Non-Native Speakers

At The Writers For Hire (TWFH), our client base includes companies from all over the world. We love meeting and working with clients from other cultures – but collaborating on English-language writing projects with non-native speakers can definitely be challenging.  In this installment of Copywriter Q&A, the talented, multilingual Jennifer DeLay explains how to make the process go smoothly – and to ensure that nothing is lost in translation.

TWFH: Can you talk about your experience editing material written by non-native English speakers?

JD: In the 1990s, I served as section editor and then managing editor of New Europe, a weekly newspaper based in Athens, Greece. My boss and several of my co-workers were not native English speakers. Most of them were Greeks, but a few of them came from other backgrounds – e.g., Bulgaria, former Yugoslavia, Russia, and Georgia.

I then spent two multi-year stints as editor of FSU Oil & Gas Monitor, a weekly trade publication covering oil and gas developments in the former Soviet Union, between 1998 and 2015. About half of the freelancers I worked with there were not native English speakers. They were native speakers of German, Russian, Ukrainian, Georgian, Turkish, Chinese, and … I know there were more, but I can’t remember them all.

TWFH: What are some common editing issues/challenges that arise when working with a non-native English speaker?

JD: There are certain idioms or very specific ways of saying things that make sense in their original language but don’t make any sense when translated into English. For example, one colloquial way to express victory in Greek is “to make someone eat wood.” That doesn’t make sense in English. Or in Russian, the word for “oil pipeline” is neftetruboprovod. This literally translates to “oil pipe duct” in English, which doesn’t really have the same meaning.

TWFH: Are there any English-language conventions that are especially confusing to non-native English speakers? For example, one of our international clients prefers to avoid contractions and idioms as she says they can be unclear/confusing for non-native speakers.

JD: Figures of speech and business jargon can be confusing because they often don’t make literal sense and/or they draw on specific cultural trends that are off the radar in other countries.

TWFH: Do you have any tips/best practices for editors working with non-native English speakers?

JD:  Cultivate a basic level of familiarity with the topic. If you do this, then your alarm bells will ring loud and clear when you read text that seems to be at odds with the source material – and you will know what to ask about when drawing up questions for the writer. In my experience, it’s easier to get questions answered when they are phrased along the lines of “You said A, but I read B in source material X. Could it be that you meant C? If so, I’d like to rephrase this as D.”

Another practice that I’ve found helpful is to read the whole piece from start to finish before I do any editing at all. If I’m still shaky after that, I read it again – out loud. (Thank goodness for the home office.) The point is to get an idea of what the writer is trying to say before I get into the details.

TWFH: We’ve found that if a piece needs very extensive edits, we have trouble refining it once we’ve fixed the big-picture stuff. So we’ll do a bunch of work and someone else will look at it and see a ton of stuff we missed. Any advice here? 

JD: If something has been very hard to get into shape, I send it to another person to read because usually by that point I’m no longer seeing it. So I send it to someone with notes and explain that I’m trying to make sure it flows and that the narrative makes sense.

TWFH: A review by a fresh set of eyes can really help. We’ve also found that it also helps to set the piece aside for a couple of days and come back to it for a re-edit.

JD: Do both of those things if you can! Another approach is to communicate with the writer enough that you’re sure what point he/she is trying to make and then hand it over to another editor with some guidance: “So-and-so is trying to argue that A and B are not good options for scenario X. Please read with the intent of assessing whether that message is clear.”

TWFH: Is there a gentle way to basically say, “the way you wrote this sounds really wrong to a native speaker” without offending someone?

JD: I’ve found that most writers writing in another language are not particular about copy editing — unless it’s a trademarked name, such as the name of a product or a company. Some companies can be particular about using an ampersand instead of “and.”

Other than that, I haven’t had too much trouble with suggestions for moving text around or rewriting. Most people, when they’re not writing in their native language, are not going to make a point of saying, “Of course I spelled this name right! How dare you!”

TWFH: Do you have any other tips or advice for native English-speaking writers working with people from different cultures?  

JD: It helps if you have a knowledge of the culture. For example, if you’re working with a writer from Japan, it might be helpful to know that in business discussions, it’s rare for Japanese people to say “no” directly. Instead, they might say, “It would be prohibitively difficult,” or “This is not the right time.”

A few other examples: People in Israel can be blunt in stating their opinions. It helps to know that so you’re not taken aback by it. And in general, Italian and Greek culture is less formal than, say, Norwegian culture.

I also try to keep an eye out for things like how much small talk people prefer in their communications. Sometimes they get straight to the point, with no boilerplate cordialities, and if that’s the case I say something like, “Hello and thanks for XYZ” and then get down to business. Sometimes they ask me about the weather where I am or ask a question out of curiosity, and if that’s the case I make a point of doing something similar in future communications since that seems to make them comfortable.

TWFH: So it comes down to knowing the culture and how people work together and communicate.

JD: It helps to have that cultural understanding of what they are saying. Here’s another example that may shed some light: In Greece, I was tasked with editing a translated version of a piece written by a Russian trade ministry official. But the official never spoke to us directly. He would only communicate through one of his deputies. And even then, communication was difficult: If I tried to get clarification or talk about deadlines, I didn’t get a whole lot of communication back; my calls were ignored. Eventually, we went ahead and printed what we had. I got a panicked phone call from the deputy, saying, “You have embarrassed trade minister!”  

That incident led me to make a point about being clear about expectations on both sides.

TWFH: Do you ever run into situations where there’s not an exact English translation/equivalent for whatever the original writer was trying to say? What do you do in that case?

JD: If I know the writer’s native language, I try to reverse-engineer it into something that makes a similar point in English. If I don’t, I try to ask the writer whether a substitute phrase would work.