Effective writing begins with the Four Cs—ensuring your work is Correct, Consistent, Clear, and Compelling. Though the editor is there to help the author ensure all of these, the author can—in fact, is responsible for—creating the best work possible to begin with. It takes a little extra time, but excellence can’t be rushed.
Is It Correct?
Correct means free of both mechanical and factual errors.
Mechanical correctness means that all conventions of proper spelling, grammar and punctuation are followed. The Chicago Manual of Style and Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary are the standard publishing references.
Writing standards exist for the same reason we have rules of the road: so everyone reads the signs and symbols the same way, and no one collides with a comma on the way to clear understanding.
Factual correctness means not only verifiable information, but also no conflicts with facts stated elsewhere in the piece.
Is It Consistent?
Ensuring consistency requires staying alert to details. For example, if your style is to have all thoughts in italics (standard convention), then be consistent in that style. If you want Ma’am vs ma’am, be consistent.
Easier said than done? Because no one can remember all the minute details that can vary in a document, the best way to ensure consistency is to keep, add to, and refer to a style sheet—a list of anything an author and editor need to remember and keep consistent—spellings, capitalizations, abbreviations, punctuation, number and formatting conventions, and other details that crop up repeatedly.
Bonus tip: Though they doesn’t need to go on a style sheet, if you have complicated plot lines or characters with multiple names or complex relationships, consider keeping a character and plot line list as you write. And do feel free to share this with the proofreader or editor.
Is It Clear and Compelling?
Is your writing presented as well as it might be? Does it communicate as effectively as it can? Those are highly subjective judgments, but ask yourself:
- Is the level of writing appropriate for its audience?
- Does the piece have an effective beginning, middle, and end?
- Is the language overly complex or wordy?
- Is the tone respectful and free of bias?
- Do conclusions flow logically from the stated facts?
- Are common words and expressions used idiomatically?
- Are transitions clear, graceful, and well placed?
- Does the writing contain clear, strong images and active constructions?
- Is there ambiguity?
- Is there redundancy or repetition?
- Do sentences vary in length and structure?
- Are there too many or too few paragraph breaks?
- Is any humor appropriate and tasteful?
You’ve written a masterpiece. Together let’s make sure it’s “framed” in its best light. With author and editor working as a team to make the writing the most effective it can be, we achieve the ultimate goal—a satisfying and enriching experience…for the author and the reader!
~~~~~~~~~~~KD Sullivan, CEO of Untreed Reads, a digital-first publishing and distribution company. With a catalog of hundreds of titles, and with the largest distribution network of almost any other publisher at 200+ retail eBook outlets and 98% of libraries worldwide, Untreed Reads has been a powerful force in the eBook revolution since it was founded in 2008.