Whether you write fiction or non-fiction, a mistake-free manuscript looks professional. It gives the reader confidence that they are in good hands. This is so important that publishers employ people specifically to worm out embarrassing errors so that the reader trusts what is on the page. I used to be one of them. But as we increasingly do it all ourselves, some howlers are getting through.
And not just typos. In self-published books, on blog posts, newsletters – and indeed query letters – there are four mistakes I see often that can seriously undermine the writer’s credibility:
Names are misspelt
The other day I came across a post on a blog I respect that referred to the heroine of the Tomb Raider game as ‘Lora Croft’. In editing circles, it’s a golden rule that if you use a name, you check it is spelled correctly. Then you check that when you typed it your fingers did what your brain wanted. ‘Lora Croft’ may have been an innocent typo but it makes the writer look like a twit.
Its and it’s are confused
Its means ‘belonging to it’.
It’s is short for ‘it is’.
If you’re still confused, ask yourself if you mean ‘it is’. If you don’t, it’s probably the other one. See how easy it’s?
There and their
If what you mean is ‘where’, the word you want is ‘there’. You may also use it without any meaning of its own in a sentence such as ‘if I see this mistake again there will be blood’. If you mean ‘belonging to them’, you need ‘their’. So there.
Reigns and reins
A horse has reins. A monarch reigns. You can have a reign of terror, but daily I see: ‘so-and-so took over the reigns of power’. This is wrong. They are speaking figuratively of leather straps that steer – and so the correct word is ‘reins’. I also see ‘we had to reign in our spending’. That refers to an act of braking – which is done with a rein. Nay, nay, nay.
These mistakes aren’t just irritating, like typos; they undermine your authority. Don’t lose readers by making them distrust what you write.
Roz Morris is an editor, book doctor, bestselling ghostwriter. Now she’s coming out from under the sheet with novels of her own. She blogs, slightly less bossily, at http://www.nailyournovel.com, tweets as @dirtywhitecandy and is the author of Nail Your Novel – Why Writers Abandon Books and How You Can Draft, Fix and Finish With Confidence.
Find her book on Amazon.com http://ht.ly/3MWBC, outside the US from Lulu http://www.lulu.com/product/paperback/nail-your-novel/5301103 and on the Kindle http://www.amazon.com/Nail-Your-Novel-Confidence-ebook/dp/B004LROOEQ/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&m=A7B2F8DUJ88VZ&s=books&qid=1296691437&sr=1-2
- Writers: How I edit (chazzwrites.wordpress.com)
- Writers: Why self-publishing sucks (and what you can do about it) (chazzwrites.wordpress.com)
- Writers: How to tell when your manuscript is ready (chazzwrites.wordpress.com)