In the past few years, various software applications have emerged that automatically correct basic issues of spelling, punctuation, and grammar. The most popular is Grammarly, an online grammar checking, spell checking, and plagiarism detection platform developed by Grammarly, Inc. First released in July 2009 and now a ubiquitous feature on nearly every website that requires writing, Grammarly’s proofreading resources check the text against a suite of grammar rules and point out perceived errors as well as the solutions.
It’s an effective and useful tool for detecting the obvious mechanical errors in a document. You might even say that Grammarly has supplanted the services of human proofreaders. As recently as a few short years ago, proofreading was a service commonly offered by professional editors and ghostwriters, but no longer. Thanks to Grammarly, the market has evaporated.
But clients who want their books to rise above the ordinary and stand out in a crowded marketplace know that Grammarly is not the answer. While Grammarly is useful if you want your book or report to read like everyone else’s, and it’s effective for dry, boring text, it does nothing to improve the ideas you’re presenting in your book, whether it’s a non-fiction self-help book or an exciting novel.
Great Writing Goes Beyond Grammarly
In any book, how you express your ideas, and the clarity and vividness with which they impact the reader, are far beyond the limited mechanical capabilities of Grammarly. Great writing makes an emotional impact on the reader. It thrills, delights, warns, or soothes them. To accomplish your mission, you often need to violate the rules of grammar to effectively reach your reader. In fiction, particularly, authors often use “incomplete” sentences convey their ideas with impact. Consider this hypothetical excerpt from a thriller:
“Hands up,” barked the gangster.
Judy saw the gun. Big. Loaded. Pointed at her head. It meant death – quick, brutal, bloody. Her hands flew up. Words stuck in her throat. Stomach churned. The black muzzle grinned. No saving you, it sneered.
And so on – you get the idea. Only a skilled editor can help you improve all the critical elements of your story, including plot, character, pacing, suspense, your unique voice, and the other ingredients that make a book a compelling must-read!
In non-fiction, Grammarly can’t elevate boring, repetitive writing that lacks spark and sounds like everyone else. It can’t contribute new ideas and make the unexpected connections that make your book stand out. For maximum impact, and to put your book on a level above the ordinary, you need a skilled, professional editor or ghostwriter who will give your writing the magic touch readers crave.
Thomas Hauck is a professional book editor and ghostwriter serving a wide range of clients from major New York publishing houses to first-time self-published authors.
As a ghostwriter who has authored dozens of self-help books for both self-published authors and major New York publishing houses, one of the biggest questions that I and my clients must consider is how to credit quotes and research by third parties.
For example, let’s say you’re writing a book on heart health. In your book you want to back up your claims with evidence garnered by research studies. In the course of your research, you find a report in a health journal that concludes people who consume blueberries have fewer heart attacks. This is good news! To bring this information to your reader, you have three choices:
You can write, “Researchers have found that eating blueberries lowers your risk of heart attack.” Legally, this is all you need to say. The problem is that it’s vague and unsubstantiated. What researchers? In India, China, or the United States? How many people were in the test sample? How long ago did this happen? A reference like this one is no better than what you find in internet articles, and not good enough for a credible book.
You can write, “Researchers at Harvard University found that among a sample of fifty adults, eating blueberries lowered their risk of heart attack by ten percent.” It’s better, but you’re still not giving the reader enough information that will allow them to find the article or report for themselves.
You can provide a footnote. For academic journals and articles, footnotes or endnotes are required. A footnote provides precise information about the article so that anyone can find it. The drawback to footnotes is that they can make your book look like an academic publication. If you’re writing in a folksy down-to-earth voice for a mass audience, you may not want footnotes.
You can give more complete information in the text, so that the reader can find the article. You might say, “As researchers Ben Wong and others revealed in their 2015 article ‘The heart health benefits of blueberries,’ this delicious fruit can reduce your chances of having a heart attack by ten percent.” This is enough information so that the researchers are properly credited and anyone could verify the source. You can also add the publication, like this: (Jour Nat Hlth, vol 4, no 6, 345-349).
How about internet links? You can add them to footnotes, but remember that despite the popular conception that everything on the internet is there forever, this isn’t true. Pages disappear and links get broken. If you include the link, always give the date it was accessed (“Accessed 4 June 2019”). This will cover you in case the page vanishes.
Thomas Hauck is a professional ghostwriter and book editor serving a wide range of clients from major publishers to emerging authors.
In his new novel A Town Called Malice, Adam Abramowitz continues the exploits of Zesty Meyers, the 1980s Boston bike courier. When a rock and roll legend suspected of murdering his girlfriend reappears after thirty years on the run, Zesty is once again haunted by his family’s criminal past. What makes the novel especially fun is Abramowitz’s skill at weaving the neighborhoods, personalities, and even the real rock and roll nightclub scene into the narrative. Lots of local rock bands are mentioned in the story, including my own alma mater, The Atlantics. For anyone who knows Boston or who enjoys a fast-paced darkly comic thriller, this will be the sizzling beach read of the summer!
I ghostwrite a lot of thrillers for my valued clients. (Surprised? Don’t be!) Naturally they often ask questions about the writing process and the relative importance of various elements including character development.
Generally in thrillers you don’t spend much time on character development outside of revealing the character as he or she works their way through various challenges. The best character development happens without the reader being aware of it… you just form an impression as the pages unfold. For example, in a scene we might show that our hero is a very skilled driver and knows a lot about cars. We don’t tell the reader this; we show the reader by letting the reader watch him or her in action.
For example, if you read the four Gospels–which read like thrillers as Jesus makes his way to Jerusalem and betrayal–nowhere will you find a physical description of Jesus, or of anyone else for that matter. You find only the bare minimum of description necessary to make the story clear.
For a more recent example, if you read James Bond novels, Ian Fleming’s physical description of him is very sketchy. He has a scar on his cheek, and his hair curls over one side of his forehead… and that’s about it! We learn about Bond’s character by watching him in action. Generally, you want the reader to be able to imagine your hero the way they want to imagine them. If your reader is black, you want him or her to imagine the hero is black too. In fact, if they ever decide to cast a black actor as James Bond, I don’t think you’ll find anything in the books to directly contradict that choice.
In thrillers, every moment that’s lacking in tension is a moment when the reader may lose interest. Tension is key. Non-essential descriptions of anything tend to dissipate tension.
Having said that, until the day it’s published a novel is a work in progress, and revisions, subtractions, and additions are a normal part of the process! At any time an author could add scenes that reveal the hero’s personality, but they may not be tied to the plot.
Thomas Hauck is a published author, ghostwriter, and book editor.
My fiction clients often ask me if I think their novel could be a success, or even a best seller. My answer is that once you reach a certain minimum level of professionalism in your writing – which takes some work! – then it all depends on your story and if it resonates with readers. Or more specifically, with many readers who otherwise would have no reason to read your book. That is, people who aren’t your friends and family.
It really does depend on your story. Take, for example, genre fiction, and specifically romance novels or their various subcategories of romance mystery, romance thriller, western romance, and so forth. The authors and publishers who produce these books, which are highly profitable, have an advantage because they know their audience and can give them what they want. The plot lines are standardized, the protagonists of a type, the locations familiar (or exotic, if that’s the subgenre), and the sex scenes carefully calibrated to fall within a range between “mild” and “scorching.” The book covers are very carefully designed to show two people in a physical or romantic relationship (depending on the level of heat), and to give the reader sufficient clues about what to expect. Often the faces aren’t fully shown, which allows the reader to imagine being in the scene.
Once the basic requirements have been met, all that’s left is to deliver the goods. It’s almost like filling in the blanks.
This is why authors of literary novels often tear out their hair when reading a genre novel. “The writing is terrible!” they cry. “The author of this book breaks every basic rule of good fiction writing! How can they get away with it?”
It’s true. If you flip through the pages of a genre novel, you’ll see many writing sins. These include boring “information dumps,” where the author will introduce a character (using many adjectives) and then immediately spend the next few paragraphs telling us about the character – where she worked, why she didn’t have a boyfriend, and how her mother was lingering near death in a lonely rest home. This is meant to help us “get to know” the character. It’s very bluntly done, and most writing teachers will tell you it’s a terrible habit to get into. But it’s part of the genre.
The bottom line is this: the books that sell are the ones that are well written within the limits of the genre and which connect with the reader.
Thomas Hauck is a published author and professional ghostwriter.
I don’t post many client testimonials because when I see them presented on other sites they often seem facile and, well, untrustworthy. But recently an Upwork client posted a five-star review of my services that went above and beyond what I ever expected. Here it is:
“Thomas was an absolute superstar editor and delivered on everything he promised and MORE. He was extremely professional – communicating quickly and often, sticking to deadlines and writing chapter summaries of the key things he had edited. He even went a step further and fact-checked our content without being asked and picked up on some pretty serious inconsistencies that our previous editor hadn’t even noticed! Additionally, he also helped write our contents page and adapted our book structure and added in subtitles where necessary so the chapters had a real sense of consistency. He added so much value to our book and I would 100% use him again in a heartbeat! So – if you are looking for an editor, look no further because THOMAS IS YOUR MAN. Thanks for your all your help – have saved you as a favourite freelancer!”
On the job site Upwork, I recently saw a job posting by a gentleman from France. As part of the qualifications to bid on his book project – which he did not describe in any detail – he wanted all bidders to take the Upwork “English sentence structure” test.
I also noticed that he had only five bidders for his project. Normally, book editing jobs attract up to fifty bids.
I wrote him this note:
“I’ve noticed that you have very few responses to your project posting. Most similar jobs have from twenty to fifty bids. Perhaps this is because most professional editors – like me – don’t think that particular Upwork test is relevant to real-world job success. I looked at the first few questions, and they were highly academic. They want you to be able to identify the various parts of sentences. While this skill is of theoretical interest, it has very little to do with the art of book editing. You want an editor who can help you engage, captivate, and even thrill your reader.
“May I ask you the subject or genre of your book? Is it a novel? A self-help book? A business book? This is an important question. Every book is different, and every genre has its own style and attributes. What works in a novel may not work in a business book. Even the use of grammar can be different across genres.
“You may be worried that if English is your second language, you may not be able to differentiate good editing from bad editing. I understand this. But In the USA we don’t have an equivalent of the Académie française. There is no judging body of language or grammar. There is only the requirement that you communicate with your readers, no matter if they are kids in farm country or CEOs on Wall Street.”
In a novel, you can break the established rules of grammar as much as you like – as long as you know what you’re doing! This is particularly true of what a grammarian would consider an incomplete sentence – one without a verb or a subject. Such as, “He stood in the rain. Freezing, alone. His mind dull. Devoid of rational thought. The cruel sky, black, brooding.” Etc. You get the idea! The bottom line is always communication.
• Thomas Hauck, editor and ghostwriter, serves independent emerging authors and major New York publishers.
One of the features of the English language is a built-in level of redundancy within a certain set of commonly used symbols. While this redundancy provides the writer with choices, it can also make for confusion and, at least among editors, arguments about whether you can use a symbol to express an idea or whether you should write it out using the twenty-six (or 26) letters of the alphabet.
Here are some common examples of our language giving the writer a choice between using a “shorthand” symbol or writing out an idea:
1 = one
15 = fifteen
2,500 = two thousand five hundred
& = and
% = percent
$ = dollar(s)
@ = at the rate of, or at a particular digital address
# = number, as in the quantity of something, or a list number
+ = plus
Numbers have long been a source of contention among editors. In my experience as a ghostwriter of books ranging from novels to self-help books to business books, I’ve found that when the book is “literary,” such as a novel or memoir, the convention is to spell out every number, with some exceptions as noted by the Chicago Manual of Style. These exceptions include street addresses, phone numbers, and the time of day (sometimes). In a novel, for example, you would always write out something like, “The castle was one thousand five hundred years old.” You would never write, “The castle was 1,500 years old.”
At the other end of the spectrum, for non-literary business books, the use of symbols is expected. For example, you would write, “The company shipped 45 units of the product every hour at a price of $56.00 per unit, with a defect rate of less than 1%.” You can violate one of the most ironclad rules of literary writing, which is to never end a sentence with the “%” symbol. You must always write, “…with a defect rate of less than one percent.”
The Challenge of Writing Business Books
In a narrative business book, things can get really confusing! There will be times when a number or symbol will appear in a narrative paragraph, and its use seems odd. For example, “The Ajax Company manufactures a complete line of household goods ranging from dishwashers to can openers. They ship to every continent on the globe, and their customer service center in Boise, Idaho is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.”
Because the paragraph is narrative, it seems wrong to use the numbers 24 and 7. It looks like commercial copy, not like a book. You want it to read, “… their customer service center in Boise, Idaho is open twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.”
But in the next paragraph, you present a lot of data: “In 2018, the Ajax Company achieved an ROI of 8% on sales of $8 million, with an EBITDA of $580,000, putting the company, with its workforce of 1,200 employees, in the top 10% of the white goods market in the four-state region.”
Note that we wrote “four-state region” rather than “4-state region.” This is because the convention is to write out numbers ten and below – except when you’ve got a string of numbers:
“On Tuesday, Ajax shipped 75 washers, 60 dryers, 14 home freezers, and 6 walk-in freezers.” You could write out “six walk-in freezers,” but if a business person is glancing at the row of numbers, it might make more sense to keep them uniform.
Businesspeople also love to use symbols such as # and &. For lists in column form, the pound sign makes sense:
But in a narrative, always write out the word “number.” Such as, “Ajax aims to be number one in its market.”
As for the ampersand, I never use it unless it’s part of a company or law firm name, and it appears on their company documents. Examples include The Procter & Gamble Co. (P&G) and the law firm Kirkland & Ellis.
As a writer, always strive for consistency and clarity, and keep in mind the expectations of your reader!
Thomas Hauck is a professional author, ghostwriter, and book editor serving global clients.
Congratulations to my valued client Al Diaz on the publication of his new book “Mastering the Habits of Continuous Improvement.” Rooted firmly in the industrial principles of Deming, Shewhart, Juran, McGregor, Ohno, Shingo, Pareto, Ishikawa, Rother, Sutherland, and Schwaber, this incisive and information-packed book was written for organizational production leaders to help them reduce or stop the interruptions in their time and focus their team like a laser on delivering predictable, reproducible outcomes each and every time.
This compact book shows managers how to practice and master the core mindsets, habits, and principles that will lead them and their team from sitting on the sidelines to making a difference in the gemba. (Within a lean context, the Japanese word “gemba” refers to the location where value is created.)
Over the last twenty-five years, Al Diaz has coached or trained thousands of students in Lean, Six Sigma, Lean IT, Kanban, Scrum, Scaled Agile, Project Management, and Software. As a program manager, speaker, mentor, author, and coach, Al has served top software and technology companies including Hewlett Packard Enterprise.
By following the advice in “Mastering the Habits of Continuous Improvement,” with step-by-step improvements you can bring your manufacturing processes to their highest level and ensure you stay well ahead of the competition.
With the highest level of personal service, Thomas Hauck helps emerging and veteran authors write, edit, and publish their books.
I do a lot of book editing for my clients. Typically, my job is to clean up the text and make the emotions more vivid or (in the case of business books) the arguments more persuasive. I help my authors organize their thoughts and connect with their readers.
A common problem I encounter is wordiness. Too many extraneous and useless words, used to present the same idea over and over again, will create a soggy, leaden text that quickly becomes boring. If done to excess, all those extra words start to look like filler the author shoveled into the text to boost the word count.
Here’s an example of an unedited paragraph about the responsibilities of a nonprofit board of directors (not an actual client sample – I’ve written this for this post):
“The primary responsibility that the board of directors faces when they collectively go about their business of guiding the nonprofit through its daily operations can be summed up in just a few words. Without oversimplifying too much, it’s safe to say that the typical nonprofit board, in the course of their appointed duties as overseers of the 501 (c)(3) charitable organization, has an important task. In general, you can assert that it is governance rather than management that is their calling; and while some experts may disagree, we can safely say that in the majority of cases of nonprofit boards of directors, this is the path they take. Governance is what the board should occupy itself with, rather than management, because this is what a board is for, and it’s unwise to stray from its most important function and mission.”
It’s a perfectly acceptable paragraph – Grammarly found nothing wrong with it! But it’s deadly dull and stupefyingly uninformative. It takes up space while delivering scant nutrition.
Here’s the same paragraph reduced to its essence:
“The nonprofit board of directors must always concern itself not with the day-to-day management of the organization but with governance.”
This is what the reader needs to know. All the other verbiage was useless. Remember: Never use ten words when one will do!
Thomas Hauck is a professional ghostwriter and book editor serving global clients and major publishing houses.