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Reduce Word Count and Improve Clarity

Reduce Word Count and Improve Clarity

The most important aspect of your writing is your story. Get your plot, characters, subplots, data, conclusions, and heart of your writing down on the page first. If you’re stuck or face writers block, check out author Adam Dreece’s Get Unstuck video. The next important […]

Editors Make Mistakes Too, and it is Okay

Editors Make Mistakes Too, and it is Okay

It is a lot of work to write a book, and authors and editor’s everywhere can never, no matter how hard they try, be perfect. It is a fool’s errand to consider perfection the goal.

What ultimately matters is that the story shines through in a clear and well-written manner. We do our best for readers. We want to put our best foot forward, but no matter how hard we try someone will always find something we missed.

Plus, we all have off days (not to be confused with days off, which no writer nor editor ever truly gets).

It doesn’t help that English has many dialects (Canadian, American, British, Australian, and other more localized dialects) and subjective choices when it comes to grammar, syntax, and punctuation (it is why we use or create style guides as editors).

For example, the first sentence of this post could:

  • have a comma after the first ‘and’;
  • use a semicolon;
  • be separated into two sentences;
  • use a different conjunctive adverb other than ‘and’;
  • be left as it is.

All of those are technically correct.

A writer gets the story out, then rewrites to improve clarity and hone the story. An editor navigates the technicalities, works with the author’s style, uses the publisher’s or appropriate style guide, and keeps up with current conventions to find the right balance between story, style, and structure. All of that goes into a single sentence.

It isn’t uncommon for the brain to fill in gaps or try to predict what is next as you read, or for your vision to go blurry after reading something for hours or for the tenth time. Remember the meme about reading jumbled words? Cambridge explains some of the science and psuedo science here.

Follow the link below to some famous books that readers still loved (or hated to love or loved to hate) with errors.

Meanwhile I am going to be in a corner trying not to worry about the errors in my own books….

So, You Want to be an Editor?

So, You Want to be an Editor?

People ask a lot of interesting questions of me. As an author and editor, it comes with the job. My favourite questions come from eager individuals genuinely impassioned by reading, writing, and editing. I’ve been asked, “how do you become an editor?”; often, this question […]

Before You Get Published

Before You Get Published

Write Your Manuscript to the End Without a manuscript completed, it is impractical to begin the publishing journey. But, you’re eager to get the book to readers. That’s understandable. Creativity spirals out from you, encouraging you to craft your art and reach across the noise […]

Active vs. Passive Voice and When to Use Them in Your Manuscript

Active vs. Passive Voice and When to Use Them in Your Manuscript

Using the passive voice in your novel is not the end of the world. It isn’t grammatically incorrect, and, it is quite common. There are times when a passive voice is necessary, or, as a writer’s convention or style choice. However, your manuscript’s magic may be lost as readers try to fumble through a passive voice to connect with your characters or content.

If you’re post-secondary educated, passive voice has been drilled into you in the strive for objectivity. If you’re female, you may be more likely to use passive phrasing as a result of social norms. If you’re a politician, well, you use the passive voice all the time.

Using an active voice in your novel or non-fiction means greater clarity for your readers, and, a solid immersive experience for them too. Below I’ve summaries the pros and cons of using the active versus using the passive voice in your manuscript (this applies to most non-fiction and fiction work).

What is the Difference?

Active voice character(s) (subject) performs an action.

Passive voice character(s) (subject) have something happen to them indirectly.

For Example:
Active: She ran.
Passive: She was running.

Writers often fall into the passive when using flashbacks or shallow point of view, or, when there is fear or uncertainty about what is being written.

Cons of Passive Voice

  • Wordiness
  • Confusing/unclear and can obscure meaning
  • Use prepositions/ create prepositional phrases
  • Creates distance between reader and characters by inserting a passive narrator
  • Can be inaccessible for an average audience and is often difficult for English learners to comprehend
  • Promotes power imbalances and is often used to dehumanize minorities and marginalized people
  • “agentless passive voice” can be used to evade responsibility (Eckert and McConnell-Ginet)

When to Use Passive

  • Emphasize something other than the subject/character such as a key item in a mystery or thriller novel that is integral to the plot while obscuring the character who performed the crime.
  • Build a sense of mystery
  • Writing a report or news release
  • Create anonymity
  • You need an authoritative or professional tone
  • Using a passive voice lends a sense of objectivity, and so is often used in scientific writing and business reports to put distance between the reader and the content

Pros of Using an Active Voice

  • Creates an immersive experience for the reader
  • Shorter phrases
  • Adds clarity to your work
  • Improves pacing
  • Gives a sense of immediacy
  • Is accessible to the majority of readers

What to Look for in Your Manuscript


Prepositions indicate a relationship between the subject (noun/pronoun/character) and the rest of the sentence, phrase, or clause. i.e. Zoe and the rest of the dragons – “and” and ‘of’ are prepositions. See Oxford Dictionaries for a brief overview.  A list of prepositions can be found here.

Common offenders:
  • “by”
  • “was”
  • “had”
  • “felt”
  • words ending in ing


  1. Language and Gender by Penelope Eckert and Sally McConnell-Ginet
  2. Gendered Talk at Work by Janet Holmes
  3. http://writing.wisc.edu/Handbook/CCS_activevoice.html
  4. http://www.quickanddirtytips.com/education/grammar/active-voice-versus-passive-voice?page=1
  5. https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/539/02/
  6. https://www.englishclub.com/grammar/prepositions-list.htm
  7. https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/grammar/prepositions
  8. http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=3831 


Want to know more or want Catherine on your team (she’s an editor/Alpha/Beta Reader too!)? Contact her.

The Many Faces of Editing

The Many Faces of Editing

Authors seeking an editor can find themselves in a world of possibilities to bring magic to their manuscripts. The difficulty lies in knowing what type of editing is needed when and for what manuscript. It’s important to clarify the type of editing you require and […]

Alpha – Beta You’re Confused about Readers

Alpha – Beta You’re Confused about Readers

Okay, maybe you aren’t all that confused about Alpha and Beta Readers. Maybe you’ve got an awesome team behind you. Great! But a quick internet survey clearly indicates there is confusion abundant for new and veteran authors and those readers who might be interested in such a role.

What is an Alpha or a Beta Reader?

Well, the short of it is:

  • Alpha Readers assist writers by offering a reader’s perspective for a manuscript after an initial draft. The manuscript often has not been edited. It’s not uncommon for an Alpha to read before the author edits the first draft.

  • Beta Readers assist writers by offering a reader’s perspective for a manuscript which has been edited and is shortly due for publication.


What do they do?

They read. The main goal is to provide feedback to the author to help them gauge audience reception, improve and catch last-minute plot/story holes, and catch embarrassing errors that can easily occur after review after review and hour after hour an author and their professional editor put into a work.


How are they different?

Alphas look at a book for general issues in the story, they don’t concentrate on grammar or punctuation or syntax. They do focus on abhorrent characterization, missing dialogue, missing description and general appeal of the work.

Betas look at a book for appeal to an audience, they catch plot holes, grammar, punctuation, spelling issues, characterization issues, and focus on reader experience including why they loved sections or were thrown out of the book by something.


What’s so great about them?

For the Readers

Alpha/Beta Reading offers the reader sneak peaks into upcoming books, or gives them an opportunity to get goodies from the writers they love before anyone else does (alphas usually get the work even before the editor). It’s a pretty awesome gig for the bibliophile.

For the Authors

Alpha and Beta Readers offer invaluable perspectives from different walks of life.  Some authors seek out Alpha and Beta Readers for their experience, cultural awareness, profession, and genre likes to ensure their work is on the mark with facts, industry, and reader perspectives. They’re a first or last line of defense against the never-ending edit stream, helping to stop major problems and minor annoyances.


What isn’t so great about them?

For the Readers

Good Alpha and Beta Readers can also end up spending time on a manuscript they despise or by an author who is ‘precious’ about their work – as my communications consultant has described. Authors who are precious about their work, who struggle with criticism can be a big turn-off for great readers. As with all art, which is a very personal creative endeavor, it makes sense for authors to hold their works close to their hearts. As a professional artist who seeks to make a living off of their talent, it doesn’t make sense to let that care and investment create a barrier to growth and connection with fans. The impact on reputation is strong. Adam Dreece offers a great example for how to handle criticism point blank from a fan (and Alpha and Beta Readers are fans).


For the Authors

Good Alpha and Beta Readers are hard to find. Authors need constructive criticism, keen eyes, and willing hearts. The reader who just reads works to offer an ‘it’s good’ or ‘it was okay’ is a hindrance on a team of professionals. This is why I advocate that Alpha and Beta Readers be compensated for their time. Good ones are working for the author. They deserve to be paid or somehow appreciated for the time and energy they’re going to put into a work.

There is a great deal of contention in the community about this. Some readers and authors believe whole-heartedly they should not charge or pay for these services. Others won’t waste the time on readers who aren’t professionals. Why? Professional Beta Readers tend to offer higher quality works, are often other authors and editors and reviewers with industry experience, and can deliver constructive criticism. But not always. There can be a great number of fee charging individuals who also just don’t cut it.


How Do I Become an Alpha or Beta Reader?

It’s all about networking, and how you present yourself.  But first, you have to decide if you’re going to do it for free, or professionally. If professionally, you may have to set up an actual business. Check with your local municipal, provincial/state, and federal offices regarding a home-based business.

You’ll need to decide if you’re Alpha or Beta Reading or both.

Next, decide how much time you’re willing to dedicate. Make sure you’re willing to offer constructive feedback by deadlines. A little research can go a long way – find question sheets or checklists online to help identify key issues to look for.

Know any authors? Ask them if they need one.

Another great resource is Goodreads.com. There are many groups set up just for readers and authors to connect. Find an author’s post seeking a reader, or put a post in the right group/topic indicating your favorite genres, themes, topics and authors and that you’re available to Alpha or Beta Read.

There are some online groups and community groups set up as well. Check your local library, writing association and guilds to see if they have any connections you can tap into.

Not a professional? Don’t worry. Audience readers who enjoy the genres they read in still have a lot to offer. If there are sections you hate or love, the authors need to know that.


How Do I Get an Alpha or Beta Reader on My Team?

Ask supportive friends and family who can offer truthful, constructive feedback. Or check out Goodreads.com (which you should be on already if you’re a published author). There are many groups set up just for readers and authors to connect.

A google search or inquiry to your author community might yield professional reader groups or editors willing to Alpha or Beta read for a nominal fee. An editor Alpha/Beta reader is good, they’ll catch a lot of things audience readers won’t. Have both on your team, audience and professionals, but make sure you offer compensation to both. You’ll create a team of loyal supporters who can help bring magic to your manuscripts for years to come. Not to mention, you have a small group to tap into for reviews. I recommend you have no less than 5 and no more than 15 for a manuscript. Integrating comments can be a real challenge from more than 15. If you have more than 15, split the group. Have two phases of read through with two different Alpha/Beta teams. Alternatively, ask some to offer reviews online shortly after/before the book is published and some to Alpha or Beta Read. While reading the reviews, you should take notes on areas for improvement and success.


Want to know more or want Catherine on your team (she’s an editor/Alpha/Beta Reader too!)? Contact her.


An Editor’s Contention

An Editor’s Contention

Writer’s Digest(WD) is a great resource for authors, editors, and writers at any stage in their journey. I see WD advice and articles Tweeted, posted on social media, and referred to across writing and editing blogs. It’s one of my favorite go-to places when I […]