Thursday, April 15, 2021

How to save a bundle on editing costs – without sacrificing quality

by Jodie Renner, freelance fiction editor & craft-of-writing author

Whether you plan to publish your novel yourself, query agents, or pitch it directly to publishers, it’s highly recommended (essential, really) to get your manuscript edited by a respected freelance fiction editor who reads and edits your genre. 

Can’t afford it, you say? Realistically, if you want your novel to get accepted, sell well, and get lots of 5-star reviews, you can’t afford not to. All successful authors use editors. Read the Acknowledgments page of bestsellers  the author often thanks 3-5 editors. (Of course, the average indie author can't afford that, but at least get one!)

Editing fees vary hugely, depending on the length and quality of the manuscript and how much work is needed to take it from “so-so” or “pretty good” to a real page-turner that engages readers, sells well, and garners great reviews. 

Before approaching an editor, it's important to be sure your story is already as tight and compelling as you can make it – and that it’s under 100,000 words long. 70-90K is generally preferred for today’s fiction.

Here are some tips for reducing your editing costs and ensuring a much higher-quality edit and final product. Down at the bottom you'll find more specific tips for revising various aspects of your story.

Don’t be in a hurry to pitch or publish your book before it’s ready.

If you rush to publish an early draft, you could do your reputation as a writer a lot of damage. Once the book is out there and getting negative reviews, the bad publicity could sink your career before it has had a chance to take off. And you can't get those reviews deleted  they won't go away. It’s important to open your mind to the very real possibility probability that your story could use clarification, tightening,  revising, polishing, and generally sprucing up on several levels, areas that may not have occurred to you because you’re too close to the story or maybe even unaware of key techniques that bring fiction to life. 

First, of course, write freely. Then, when inspiration wanes, step back, hone your skills, and evaluate.

First, get your ideas down as quickly as you can, with no editing – write with wild abandon and let your muse flow freely. But once you’ve gotten your story down (or as far as your initial surge of creativity will take you for now), it’s a good time to put it aside for a week or three and bone up on some current, well-respected craft advice, with your story in the back of your mind. Then you can re-attack your novel with fresh ideas and inspiration, and address any possible issues you weren’t aware of that could be considered amateurish, confusing, heavy-handed, or boring to today’s sophisticated, savvy readers. 

Now’s the time to read a few books by the writing “gurus” and maybe join a critique group (in-person or online) and/or attend some writing workshops. Also, read and analyze successful novels in your genre.

Then, notes in hand, roll up your sleeves and revise your novel, based on what you’ve learned. (See link at the end to my step-by-step revision tips.)

If you then send your improved story, rather than your first or second draft, to a freelance editor, they will be able to concentrate on more advanced fine-tuning instead of just spending all their time and energy flagging basic issues and newbie-type weaknesses. 

With a cleaner, sharper copy, they'll be able to tackle more advanced issues and take your manuscript up several more levels. Not only that, if you're more informed, you’ll “get” the editor’s suggestions, so the whole process will go a lot smoother and be more enjoyable and beneficial.

A great book to start with is my short, sweet, to-the-point, award-winning Editor’s Guide to Writing Compelling Stories,  Fire up Your Fiction. 

And for additional advice on point of view, avoiding author intrusions, and showing instead of telling, peruse Captivate Your Readers

And if you’re writing a suspenseful story or other fast-paced fiction, check out my Writing a Killer Thriller for more great tips. 

All three are available in print or e-book, which you can also read on your computer, laptop, tablet, or smartphone. 

And when it comes time to find a freelance editor, don’t shop for the cheapest one and insist that your manuscript only needs a quick final proofread or light edit.  

That approach will result in a cursory, superficial, even substandard job, like hiring a painter to paint the exterior of a house that’s falling over and needs rebuilding, and will actually end up costing you more money in the long run.


Because you could well be unaware of how many structural, content, and stylistic weaknesses your story may contain, which should be addressed and fixed before the final copyedit stage.

Paying for a basic copyedit and proofread on a long, weak manuscript, only to find out later it needs a major overhaul, which will then require rewriting and another full copyedit, is short-sighted — and money down the drain.

Is your novel more than 90-100K words long? Time to go through and tighten it up!

If your novel is a rambling 120-130,000 words long, it needs weeding of anything superfluous or repetitious. It’s very likely you need to focus your story; cut down on descriptions, explanations, and backstory; eliminate or combine some characters; maybe delete a sub-plot or two; plug some plot holes; fix point-of-view issues; pick up the pace, make your dialogue snappier; and turn those long, meandering sentences and paragraphs into lean, mean, to-the-point writing.

Not only will this process make your story much stronger and more captivating, but it will save you a bundle on editing costs, since freelance editors charge by the word, the page, or the hour, and editing your 80 or 90,000-word, tighter, self-edited and revised book will cost you a whole lot less than asking them to slog through 120-130K words written in rambling, convoluted sentences.

Is your novel too long? Check out these practical tips:

 ~ How to Slash Your Word Count by 20-40% …and tighten up your story without losing any of the good stuff!

Your story may even need a structural or developmental edit.

If you’re at the stage where you know it’s not great, but you’re too close to your story to pinpoint the weaknesses, perhaps you should hire a developmental editor or book coach to stand back and take a look at the big picture for you and give you a professional assessment of your manuscript’s strengths and weaknesses. 

Or if you can’t afford a developmental editor, try a critique group or 3-6 beta (volunteer) readers – smart acquaintances who read a lot in your genre – to give you some advice on your story line and characters and flag any plot holes or spots where the story lags or is confusing or illogical, or they can't warm up to the character.  Here is a list of questions to ask your beta readers.

Enlist help to ferret out inconsistencies and inaccuracies.

You don’t want to lose reader trust and invite bad reviews by being careless about facts and time sequences, etc., either. Find a critique partner or an astute friend or two with an inquiring mind and an eye for detail and ask them to read your story purely for logistics. Do all the details make sense? How about the time sequences? Character motivations? Accuracy of information?

For technical info, do your research or try to find an expert or two in the field, and rather than asking them to plow through your whole novel, just send them the sections that are relevant to their area of expertise. 

It’s even possible that you’ve based your whole story premise on something that doesn’t actually make sense or is just too far-fetched, and the sooner you find that out the better!

Read it aloud.

Read your whole story out loud to check for a natural, easy flow of ideas, in the characters’ vernacular and voice, which of course need to suit the tone, mood, and situation. This part of the process should also help you cut down on awkward sentences, confusing wording, and overall rambling / wordiness, all of which will turn agents and readers off. 

Run it through grammar check and spell-check. 

Or get someone you know who's good at that to go through it for you. Of course, you and they need to keep in mind that fiction is usually written in casual language, with lots of contractions, and the dialogue is often in incomplete sentences, with colloquial and sometimes profane language.

The more advance work you do, the less you’ll pay for editing.

So, to save money and increase your sales and royalties, after writing your first or second draft, it’s critical to hone your fiction-writing skills and go through your manuscript several more times and enlist some beta readers to give you feedback before sending it to an editor. 

Also, be sure to find an editor who specializes in fiction and edits your genre, and get them to do a sample edit (free or paid) of at least the first four or five pages. 

(See my article, “Looking for an editor? Check them out very carefully!”

Many editors, including myself, will offer a detailed edit and critique of the first few chapters (not free, of course, and you need to send them a brief synopsis, too, so they'll know what the story is about). I highly recommend you start with that introductory edit. This is often a huge eye-opener for the author and money extremely well-spent, as you can then use their suggestions to revise the rest of the novel before getting them (or another editor) to go through the rest, at a  possibly significantly  lower rate because it will now be cleaner, tighter, and more polished. 

And don’t make your main priority finding the cheapest editor, as they may be just starting out and unaware of important fiction-writing issues that should be addressed, such as point of view, showing instead of telling, and avoiding info dumps and other author intrusions. 

And whatever you do, don’t tie the editor’s hands by insisting your manuscript only needs a light edit, because that’s cheaper. 

You could well end up paying for that uninformed, “cheap” light edit on an overlong, weak manuscript, then discovering that the story has big issues that need to be addressed and requires major revisions, including slashing and rewriting. Then you’ll have to pay for another complete edit of the new version! $$ multiplied!

Speaking as a professional editor with 13 years of experience, I have found that often, new writers are unaware of weaknesses in their novels, issues that can cause rejections or that readers will catch and complain about. You don’t necessarily know what you don’t know.

Also, check out the editor's guidelines and be sure to send them what they need, including the genre, a brief synopsis (story line), and brief character descriptions. 

And be sure to format your novel properly before sending it to an editor or agent: 

Times New Roman, 12-point, double-spaced, left-justified, paragraphs indented, no extra space between paragraphs, and one space (not two) between sentences. And don't use Tab or the space bar for indents  that causes headaches. Use the Paragraph function to do it properly. 

For more specific tips, see my article, Basic Formatting of Your Manuscript.

Check out these other articles by Jodie for lots of concrete tips on revising and tightening your novel (Click on the titles below):

REVISE FOR SUCCESS – A Stress-Free, Concrete Plan of Action for Revising, Editing, and Polishing YourNovel

Is your novel more than 90K words?

 ~ How to Slash Your Word Count by 20-40% …and tighten up your story without losing any of the good stuff!

~ 15 Questions for Your Beta Readers -- and to focus your own revisions

And a handy alphabetical spelling checklist:

~ 90+ Commonly Misused Sound-Alike Word Pairs

Jodie Renner is a freelance fiction editor and the award-winning author of three writing guides in her series An Editor’s Guide to Writing Compelling Fiction: FIRE UP YOUR FICTION, CAPTIVATE YOUR READERS, and WRITING A KILLER THRILLER, as well as two clickable time-saving e-resources, QUICK CLICKS: Spelling List and QUICK CLICKS: Word Usage. She has also organized and edited two anthologies for charity. Website:, Facebook, Amazon Author Page.

Friday, April 9, 2021

90+ Commonly Misspelled Sound-Alike Word Pairs

by Jodie Renner, editor & author  

Have you chosen the right word/spelling for the meaning you want to convey? When two (or three) words sound the same, it's easy to inadvertently choose the wrong one.

 If you sometimes get a “brain blip” about the spelling of homonyms / homophones, bookmark this chart to help you with 90+ of the most commonly confused, misused, or misspelled sound-alikes in English.

The list, with deliberately simplified definitions for quick and easy reference, is in alphabetical order and includes some easier words you may know well and other combos you may not be 100% sure of, such as rein/reign, illusion/allusion, oral/aural, cord/chord, pour/pore, it
s/its compliment/complement, aisle/isle, peddle/pedal, gorilla/guerrilla, exercise/exorcise, discreet/discrete, whos/whose, peek/peak, council/counsel, and lightning/lightening.

accept – to take, receive
except – all but this or that one

ad  advertisement
add  plus; augment; increase

advice (noun) – you give advice
advise (verb) – you advise someone

affect (verb) – to cause change
effect (noun) – the result of change

aisle – corridor in a store or church
isle – island
I’ll – I will

allot – to assign, to distribute
a lot – many, a bunch, numerous
alot – not a word

allowed – permitted
aloud – out loud (not silent)

allusion – an indirect reference to something (you allude to something)
illusion – false impression, misconception

altar  a table or place that serves as a center of worship or ritual
alter  to change, fix

aw (or aww) – to express a soft, warm feeling (Aw, that's cute.)
awe – expressing wonder, reverence, or admiration (in awe of something)

bare – unclothed; unprotected; plain; unadorned
bear – wild animal; to hold up or support

bazaar – open-air market
bizarre – strange, weird

beat – win, overcome; or hit, strike
beet – red root vegetable

bolder – braver
boulder – a large rock

boarder – room renter who gets meals as well
border – edge, boundary

brake – to slow or stop vehicle
break – shatter, fracture

buy – to purchase
by – go past; near; doer, creator
bye – goodbye

capital – city, wealth, uppercase letter     
capitol – legislative building

chord – musical, strike a chord
cord – string, rope; vocal cords

coma – lengthy unconsciousness
comma , (punctuation mark)

complement – goes well with
compliment – say something nice

complementary – free
complimentary – giving compliments, praise

council – a group of people in charge
counsel – to give advice or instruction

coarse – rough, harsh, crude
course – route, direction, program, class

desert – dry, arid area
dessert – sweet treat after meal
  But "He got his just deserts" = "He got what was deserved."

discreet – unobtrusive, modest, prudent
discrete – distinct, individual, finite

doe – female deer
dough – unbaked cookies, bread, etc.      

do – to act
dew – moisture, condensation
due – owed, need to pay

dual – double, two

duel – combat, conflict, or contest between two opponents

evasive  avoiding
invasive  taking over, invading, attacking

exercise – exertion, action, practice
exorcise – to expel, to get rid of (evil spirits)

fair – not dark; unbiased; exhibition
fare – price, fee; food, diet

faze – to disturb, disconcert, daunt, bother, worry
phase – a stage of change

farther – physical distance
further – additional

feet – plural of foot
feat – significant, difficult act or accomplishment

flair  talent or ability
flare  blaze, flame

flea – bug
flee – run away

formally – in a formal manner
formerly – previously

forward  ahead
Foreword  part of the front matter of a book

gorilla – ape
guerrilla or guerilla – type of fighter

grate – to cut up; to irritate
great – wonderful; very large

grisly – gruesome
grizzly – bear

heal – to make well
heel – back of foot

hear – sound
here – place

heroin – drug
heroine – female hero

higher – farther up
hire – to employ someone

hoard – to accumulate a lot (too much)
horde – a large group or gathering

hoarse – condition of throat/voice
horse – large animal

humerus – bone
humorous – funny

incite  stir up, spur on, urge on
insight  perception, discernment, wisdom, seeing clearly

insure – to get insurance
ensure – to make sure

it’s – it is or it has
its – belongs to it

 denim casual pants
genes  hereditary genetics

juggler – person who juggles
jugular – related to the throat

lightening – making lighter or paler
lightning – flashes in a storm

loan – something someone lends
lone – alone, solitary

loose – not tight
lose – misplace, opposite of find

main – principal, most important
mane – hair on a horse or lion

no – negative; opposite of yes     
know – to be aware of

oral – related to speaking
aural – related to hearing

our – belongs to us
are – to be: we are, they are

pail – bucket
pale – light-colored

pain – hurt
pane – window

pair – two together
pare – to peel, cut
pear – a fruit

passed - went by, past tense of pass
past - before now, earlier on, ago, bygone, elapsed, beyond (went past)

patience – the ability to wait
patients – people under medical care

peal – ringing of bells
peel – to remove outer layer

peace – not war
piece – part, portion, fragment

peak – highest point
peek – glimpse
pique – excite, arouse (curiosity, etc.)

pedal – part of bicycle, make bike move
peddle – sell

perspective  a mental view; a visible scene; a point of view or opinion
prospective  expected; likely to be or to become

picture  image
pitcher  container for liquid; one who pitches

plain – not fancy
plane – flies in the sky

pore over – study carefully
pour over – dispense liquid

principal – main, head of school
principle – basic truth or law

quiet – opposite of loud or noisy
quite – sort of

raise – to lift up
raze – to tear down
rays – beams of radiant energy 
– the sun's rays 

rapt – engrossed, absorbed in
wrapped – covered, past tense of wrap

rain – water falling
reign – monarch’s rule
rein – strap for a horse; to curb or restrain - rein in

review – look over, go over
revue – theatrical production

right – correct; good; opposite of left
rite – a ceremonial practice ("rite of passage")

sail – part of a boat
sale – discounted prices

sight – something you see
site – location, area
cite – to quote something

sole – one; fish; bottom of foot or shoe
soul – spirit, spiritual part of person

stair – steps
stare – to look intently at

stake – pointed piece of wood; prize; share
steak – cut of meat

stationary – not moving
stationery – writing materials

steal – take without permission
steel – metal

tail – part of animal
tale – story

than – compared to
then – what comes after

their – belongs to them    

there – not here
they’re – they are

threw – tossed
through – pass in and out

to – where you’re going
too – also; excessive
two – 2

vain – conceited; unsuccessful
vane – weather vane
vein – blood vessel; narrow channel; lode (minerals)

wait – don’t go yet
weight – measure mass

wander – to go aimlessly
wonder – to think about something (verb); awe (noun)

wave  hand motion, flutter
waive  to forgo, relinquish (waive your rights)

way  manner, method
weigh  to measure mass or importance

weak  not strong
week  seven days in a row

weather – atmospheric conditions – rain, snow, etc.
whether – choosing or comparing alternatives

were – past tense of "are" - they were
we’re – we are                                               

where – a place

wet – not dry
whet – excite, stimulate; sharpen

which – which one?
witch – woman who practices sorcery

whine – complain
wine – alcoholic beverage from grapes

who’s – who is
whose – belongs to whom

whoa – stop, cease
woe – sadness

wrapped – covered, past tense of wrap
rapt – enthralled, captivated, engrossed in

write – create note, message, story with words
right – correct; opposite of left

you’re – you are
your – belongs to you

Do you have any others you'd like me to add? Please mention them in the comments below.

See also "Just the Right Word is Only a Click Away".

Have trouble remembering whether to hyphenate a word or not? Check out "It's All About Those Hyphens!"

For many more words, in alphabetical order, with explanations and examples, check out Jodie's two handy, clickable, time-saving e-resources for writers, editors, students, and anyone else with writing projects: Quick Clicks: WORD USAGE – Precise Word Choices at Your Fingertips 
With all kinds of internal links, they’re both super quick and easy to use! (They're designed to work on e-readers, tablets, laptops, and computers, but not phones.)

Click HERE to choose a way to receive email alerts of new posts published on this blog. 

Jodie Renner is a former English (and French) teacher, a freelance fiction editor and book coach, and the award-winning author of three writing guides in her series An Editor’s Guide to Writing Compelling Fiction: FIRE UP YOUR FICTION, CAPTIVATE YOUR READERS, and WRITING A KILLER THRILLER, as well as two clickable time-saving e-resources, QUICK CLICKS: Spelling List and QUICK CLICKS: Word Usage. She has also organized and edited two anthologies. Website:, Facebook, Amazon Author Page.

Friday, April 2, 2021

A Single Word Can Change the Tone

by Jodie Renner, editor & author  

In your WIP, are you inadvertently tossing in a word here and there that jolts the readers out of your story or gives an incongruous impression?

Once you’ve completed a first or second draft of your story (or your muse is taking a break), now’s the time to go back and reread each scene carefully. Does every word you’ve chosen contribute to creating the overall tone and mood you’re going for in that scene? Or are some of your word choices unintentionally detracting from the impression you want readers to take away?

Is it possible you may have unconsciously inserted the odd “cheery” word into a tense scene in your story? Or a relaxed-sounding word in a scene where the character is stressed or in a hurry? Or maybe your teenager or blue-collar worker sounds too articulate? I’ve seen examples of these quite often in the fiction I’ve edited over the years.

For example, the heroine and hero are running through the woods, pursued by bad guys intent on killing them. The debut author, thinking it’s a good idea to describe the setting, uses words like “leaves dancing in the light” and “birds chirping” and “babbling brook.” These light-hearted, cheerful words detract from the desperation she’s trying to convey as the young couple races frantically to escape their pursuers. In this situation, it would be better to use more ominous words, perhaps crows cawing, a wolf howling, water crashing over rapids, or thunder cracking.

Read through each of your scenes and make sure every word you use to describe the setting, the people, and their actions, words, and thoughts contributes to create the impression you’re going for in that scene, rather than undermining your intentions.


Here’s an example, slightly disguised, from my editing. It’s supposed to be a tense, scary moment, but the author has, without thinking about the impact, inserted relaxed, even joyful imagery that counteracts and weakens the apprehensive mood he is trying to convey (my bolding).

He locked the door behind him, his harried mind ricocheting between frightened alertness and sheer fatigue. He took a furtive glance out the window. No one there, so far. Despite the cold, a warming shaft of morning sunlight filtered through the stained curtain, and languid dust particles slow-danced in its beam.

What had he gotten himself into? They would certainly be on to him now—it was only a matter of time before they found him. He looked out again through the thin curtain. Sunbeams were filtering through the branches of an old tree outside the window, the shriveled shapes of the leaves dancing in the breezeplaying gleefully with the light. He swore he saw movement on the ground outside—a figure.

Some of the wording in the two paragraphs above is excellent, like “his harried mind ricocheting between frightened alertness and sheer fatigue” and the phrases “furtive glance,” “stained curtain” and “shriveled shapes of the leaves.” But the boldfaced words and phrases, warming, languid, slow-danced, sunbeams, dancing in the breeze, and playing gleefully with the light weaken the imagery and tone because they’re too happy and carefree for the intended ominous mood. Perhaps the writer, caught up in describing the view outside in a literary, “writerly” way, momentarily forgot he was going for frightened.  

Check to be sure every detail of your imagery enhances the overall mood and tone of the situation.

Here’s another example where the description of the setting detracts from the power of the scene and doesn’t match how the character would or should be feeling at that moment.

The protagonist has just had a shock at the end of the last chapter, where she’s discovered her colleague murdered. This is the beginning of the next chapter, a jump of a few days.

  Mary gazed at the brightening horizon, immersing herself in the beauty of the rising sun. She watched as the dawn’s rays danced across the waves. Mary adored this time of day when the hustle and bustle had not yet started, and she could enjoy watching the waves wash in and listening to the seagulls overhead. It was one of the many reasons she loved this area so much.

  Since the murder of Teresa three days ago, Mary had been in a state of turmoil. Teresa’s death had changed everything. Gruesome images continually flickered through her mind like an unending motion picture. She could think of nothing else and was racked by guilt.

 To me, the two paragraphs seem contradictory in mood. If she’s racked by guilt and can think of nothing else, how can she enjoy the sunrise so much?

Be sure to choose words that fit the mood you’re trying to convey.


Here’s another example of a tense, life-threatening scene whose power and tension have been inadvertently eroded by almost comical imagery.


To read the rest of this blog post by Jodie Renner, published over at The Kill Zone Blog, click HERE.

Jodie Renner is a freelance fiction editor and the award-winning author of three craft-of-writing guides in her series An Editor’s Guide to Writing Compelling Fiction: FIRE UP YOUR FICTION,  CAPTIVATE YOUR READERS, and WRITING A KILLER THRILLER, as well as two clickable time-saving e-resources, QUICK CLICKS: Spelling List and QUICK CLICKS: Word Usage. She has also organized two anthologies for charity: VOICES FROM THE VALLEYS – Stories and Poems about Life in BC’s Interior, and CHILDHOOD REGAINED – Stories of Hope for Asian Child Workers. You can find Jodie on her Amazon Author Page, at, and on Facebook.