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Editor Scott Pack’s Top Tips

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Scott Pack

This is just one reason why Twitter has huge value for writers.

Editor Scott Pack ( @meandmybigmouth)  of Unbound tweeted this thread of wisdom and solid gold editorial tips – if you want more, there’s a link to his book at the end. Every single one of these are VITAL TO KNOW (although personally, I use single inverted commas for dialogue…. well in truth I *actually* use double because that’s what I type naturally, then I go through and replace them all with single so I don’t blow my editor’s brain, ahem. Find and replace ALL is the writer’s secret weapon.)

So here are Scott’s thoughts, and his super cool gifs – do check out his book (link below)…

I should point out before I start that I tend to work on developmental edits and editorial assessments. I am not a copy editor – my own grammar and punctuation skills are not good enough for that – but I do correct issues if I come across them. And these are some…

DIALOGUE TAGS. Most of the time, just putting ‘she said’ after some speech will do the job. When you are constantly mixing it up – she murmured, she argued, she added ­– it tends to stand out, and not in a good way.

Readers are programmed to sort of ignore ‘said’, which is a good thing as it means dialogue can flow when being read. Only put something else in its place if you really want the reader to notice it.

I always recommend the adverb challenge. Read through your manuscript and every time you hit an adverb do ten sit ups. You’ll either cut down on your adverbs or be super ripped. A win-win.

ADJECTIVES. Perhaps less clunky than adverbs but, again, overuse of them can really stand out. I often see opening pages with dozens of adjectives – hair colour, eye colour, size and shape of things, lots of double or triple adjective use. Be prepared to use more sparingly.

CAPITALS. The names of the seasons do not need initial capitals. It is summer, not Summer. Family relatives do not need capitals – aunt, mum, granddad – unless a proper noun, such as Aunt Jean, or when speaking to them directly, “I am so sorry, Mum.”

And definitely don’t do both. Scott was angry. He clenched his fists, grew red in the face, and shouted, ‘Don’t tell me something and then show me that exact same thing. Just show me, for fuck’s sake!’

DIRECT SPEECH. A repeat of my point from yesterday, punctuation goes inside the inverted commas. “Please use a comma here,” said Scott. And the ‘said Scott’ bit is part of the same sentence, so the full stop does not come till after that.

Pretty much every piece of dialogue that begins with, ‘As you know…’ can be deleted.

NAME CALLING. Again, in real life, people very rarely use each other’s names apart from in an initial address. – Hey, Scott. – Yes, Mary? – Well, Scott, I was wondering how you feel about overuse of names in dialogue? – Actually, Mary, it gets right on my tits.

LYRICS. Not actually an error as such but just a heads up that if you include song lyrics in your book you’ll need the permission of the songwriter and/or the song’s publishing company and this usually costs money. Sometimes lots of money.

These are just some of the things that I notice that aren’t always WRONG, as such, but your work will appear a lot more professional, and attractive to agents and publishers, if you can avoid this shit.

I pay the mortgage by reading unpublished manuscripts and helping authors make them better. Feel free to @ or DM me if you want me to work on yours. But you don’t have to. You can have all these nuggets of wisdom for free.

(c) Scott Pack

I also wrote this book for writers who are ready to submit their work in the hope that they’ll avoid cocking it up. You’re welcome.

About How to Perfect Your Submission: Tips from a Publisher

Essential reading for authors submitting their work to agents or publishers.

Publishing veteran Scott Pack offers sensible, practical advice on how to create the perfect submission.

Based in on his sell-out Guardian Masterclasses, this short guide provides aspiring authors with the tools they need to avoid the classic mistakes made by so many, and to ensure they give their work the best chance possible of being read, considered and published.

Covering all aspects of the submission process, including how to identify the best places to submit your work, writing the ideal cover letter, perfecting your pitch, creating an effective synopsis and strategies for submission, this ebook contains everything you need to get your submission right.

Pick up your copy here!

About the author

Scott Pack is a writer, editor and publisher. He spent the first half of the noughties as Head of Buying for the Waterstones book chain before leaving to become a publisher, working at publishing houses both big and small. Most recently he joined Unbound as Associate Editor. Writers he has published include Dan Rhodes, Natsume Soseki, Charles Lambert, Kristin Hersh, Julie Schumacher, Nikesh Shukla, Niven Govinden, Andrew Kaufman and Brian Aldiss.

He has written a number of humour and trivia books under the pseudonym Steve Stack and has also written, mostly under his own name, for The Times, Guardian, Observer and Private Eye. He was once interviewed for BBC’s Newsround.

His first paid work as a writer came in 1991 when he was commissioned to write a poetry collection, entitled aardvark. Weightless Fireworks is Scott’s first book of poetry since then and is launched 25 years after its predecessor.

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