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Writing Tips

The Invisible Gorilla

I recently completed editing an academic textbook. This was a heavy copy edit, as well as reference checking and formatting. I made suggestions for the structure, requested some clarifications, proposed a few transition sentences, and even fixed spelling here and there.  I was happy with the work, and so was the client.

Having a little time on my hands, I drafted an academic article in my field, and asked my former client to take a look at it for me. They made suggestions for the structure, requested some clarifications, proposed a few transition sentences, and even fixed spelling here and there. My initial reaction was to think, how could I have missed these things?

I blame the invisible gorilla (read about it here). Because of how our eyes and our brains work, we often don’t see what we are not looking for. This can have fatal consequences for activities such as driving. You might hear someone say, after a collision, “he came out of nowhere” or “I never saw him.” Good driving means watching for the unexpected. The stakes are lower when you are writing, but the same problem exists.

As an author, you may overlook errors because you are not looking for them. You are concentrating on putting your thoughts on paper, or perhaps imagining the fame and fortune that await, once your masterpiece is published. (That’s how I overcome procrastination, and it’s helped get me published a few times, though fame and fortune still elude me.) It’s hard for an author to switch roles and be the editor of their own work. It can help to take a few days, and work on other things, but nothing beats a second set of eyes.

They say that a person who is their own lawyer has a fool for a client (and they’ve been saying it since at least 1809). That’s not a comment on the skill of the lawyer, but a reminder that one person should not take on two roles. No matter how good a writer you are, the editor should be someone else who can see the gorillas you miss.

Please Get a Second Reader

I recently saw an interesting tweet from an author promoting her e-book. The pitch was good, so I clicked the link through to an Amazon page selling her book. The additional information there was promising, but the reviews were alarming. Just two, and both were one star ratings. The reviewers complained of poor spelling and grammar. No sale. I returned to Twitter, saw another book by a different author, and discovered similar poor reviews. This time the complaints were about a character that apparently had two names, and a sudden ending. A look through Amazon’s listings reveals many more books with one star ratings.

I feel sorry for these authors. They took the time and effort to write  stories. This is not easy. Then they did the work of preparing e-books, posting them to Amazon, and promoting them. All of this takes hard work and courage. The result is public shaming over easily avoided mistakes, and probably poor sales.

Before publishing your e-book, please ask at least one other person to read it. A second set of eyes can spot mistakes that you might overlook. Ideally, the other person reading your book will have a strong grasp of English and is familiar with the genre. They should be able to give you honest and objective feedback about your work.

Other readers can be anyone from friends and family to critique groups and beta readers. Services such as ours offer manuscript evaluation or editing. A manuscript evaluation is a broad review of the strengths and weaknesses in areas including grammar, plot, characterization, and style, with tips for improvements. Editing is a more thorough analysis and correction of one or more specific areas, and is more costly than a manuscript evaluation.

Asking a friend to read and comment on your work is easy. For any other service, make sure you understand exactly what is provided, the terms (such as how long it will take to get the response), and the cost.

If you are interested in a manuscript evaluation from us, you can contact us for more information, or send us your manuscript for a quote and details of what we will provide.

Regardless of how you do it, please get a second reader. Don’t go to all the work of publishing your book, only to end up with discouraging 1 star reviews and poor sales.