Answer Key

Here is the answer key to the editing exercise:

  1. No one used it any more – should be “anymore” (“anymore” means any longer, “any more” means even the slightest bit more
  2. a insane archmage – should be “an”
  3. what I’ve did – should be “what I’ve done”
  4. Plains of Havok – should be “Havoc”
  5. The atmosphere changed subtlety – should be “subtly”
  6. scared the land – should be “scarred”
  7. The Pains is a bad place… – should be “Plains”
  8. His voice cuts off abruptly – should be “cut” (past tense)
  9. I needed more then that – should be “more than”
  10. It was to far to close the distance – should be “too far”
  11. …the minotaurs body – should be minotaur’s
  12. …every corpse buried there raised again – should be “rose”. For “raised” to be the correct word, there must be an external object being raised.
  13. A hoard of undead – should be “horde”
  14. The ghouls didn’t even slow their visages still locked in hideous grins – should be a comma after “slow”.
  15. Tight, clumped together packs – Should be “clumped-together packs”. While not everyone does this, you typically want to hyphenate compound adjectives, except for adverbs ending in “ly”. E.g. “brand-new car”, but “finely tuned watch”.
  16. At three, he stumbled, dropping his sword. – In the previous paragraph, the orc was described as holding a two-handed battle-axe, not a sword.
  17. I bend to check his corpse – should be “bent”
  18. If he had swooped in and used its claws – pronoun inconsistency. The dragon was referred to as “it” in all other cases, but in this sentence “he” is used. This is a common mistake when talking about non-human characters
  19. The dragon didn’t seem unconcerned. – double negative that changes the intended meaning – should be “seemed unconcerned” or “didn’t seem concerned”.
  20. I could see the ruin of its left eye – the arrow was previously described as hitting above the dragon’s right eye.
  21. …there would be no farther attacks – should be further (farther is used for physical distance, further is used for metaphorical distance)
  22. I heard, and than felt – should be “and then”
  23. “Need some help their?” – should be “there”
  24. He knocked another arrow – should be “nocked”
  25. “Goodbye, Death Walker.” He said, a vicious delight in his voice. – should be a comma at the end of the dialogue, and “he” should be lowercase. See here for more details on punctuating dialogue, a fairly common mistake for new authors:
  26. The the invisibility ring – delete “the”
  27. …I had obtained – period is missing at end of sentence

Editing Exercise

Have you ever wondered how skilled you are at catching errors? Are you an author trying to decide if you need to hire a copy editor? Give this exercise a try. It should be noted, however, that many people find it’s harder to catch errors in your own writing, as your brain may automatically fill in what you intended.

In the short story below (roughly 2500 words long), I have included approximately 25 errors: things like typos, verb tense issues, grammatical errors, entirely wrong words, and continuity errors where a detail is contradicted by previous details. Do not worry about subjective issues or areas where the writing is not wrong but could be made “better”.

Once you are done, you can check the answer key to see if you caught all the intended errors (or possibly even an unintended error). The link to the answer key is at the end of this page.


The Plains of Havoc

The Plains of Havoc used to have another name. No one used it any more. The memories were too painful. It had been a hundred years since a insane archmage had used his own lifeforce to power the strongest curse in history, a hundred years since the suicide spell had transformed the plains into the hell it was now. The wizard was dead, but his legacy lived on. The most powerful magi in the kingdom tried to reverse the spell; no one even came close. In the end, the king gave up and settled for posting a garrison outside the cursed land to make sure no monsters came out. No one cared who, or what, went in. If you were brave or foolish enough to enter, that was your lookout. Most people approve. Everyone has the right to go to hell in their own way.

My name is Walker. Some call me the Death Walker. They say I took down the Order of the Scarlet Blade single-handedly, that I held off an army of ten thousand at the Pass of Kings, that I faced a demon lord and lived. Some say I ate the demon. My exploits are famous throughout the Nine Cities; I’m already a living legend. Mothers use my name to scare their children—Do your chores or the Death Walker will get you!

It’s mostly bullshit.

I make a point of spreading and exaggerating the rumours of what I’ve did or might have done. In my line of work, a good—or more accurately, bad—reputation is more useful than a Ward of Divine Protection. Sometimes I only have to tell someone who I am and they’ll surrender.

And just what is my work? I’ve been a mercenary, assassin, soldier of fortune, treasure hunter—if it requires my specialized talents, I’ll do it. Why? Because killing is something I’m very good at. Pays well, too. And I like to think I mostly kill those who deserve it. You can’t say the same about a lot of my colleagues; for many, the money is just an excuse. They’re killers, so they go where the killing is.

I had just spent the night drinking in a local bar, and my tab was growing alarmingly large. The barkeep had warned me that I was about to be cut off if I didn’t pay up. Now, you might ask: if I’m such a dangerous and feared killer, why bother paying at all? Well, I do have some honour. Besides, the bartenders have a very strong union. If I killed one of them, maybe something I didn’t ask for would get slipped into my next drink.

Some people beg, borrow, or steal to raise quick money. I go monster hunting. If you’re up to it, killing monsters is one of the best ways to get gold. For some reason they always drop treasure after you kill them. No one has ever investigated why; we’re afraid that if we ever found out the answer, the treasure would cease.

So, there I was at the notoriously dangerous Plains of Havok. Tired and more than a little hungover from the night before, but there nonetheless. I can’t remember why I decided to go fight monsters before I had fully sobered up, but it seemed like a good idea at the time.

As I crossed the border of the Plains, I saw the ever-present sign: Here there be monsters. As a warning, it was grammatically incorrect, but clear enough. There was a skull nailed to the signpost. It used to be a dragon’s skull, until someone stole it. The King’s Guards hunted down the thief for a replacement.

The atmosphere changed subtlety as I entered the area. The spiritual trauma from all those years ago scared the land, and it still hadn’t healed. There was a tangible feeling of death and danger in the air. The Pains is a bad place where bad things happen, and that’s why the monsters live there. They fit right in. 

A brute of a Cyclops appeared ahead of me, brandishing a distressingly large club and shouting a war cry. His voice cuts off abruptly, and a confused expression appeared on his face. This was understandable, as an arrow had sprouted in his eye. He died before his brain could process what had happened to him. I hadn’t even altered my stride, just drew and fired in one swift motion. I put my bow away. The Cyclops tribe gave me a healthy distance after that, the cowards.

Checking the corpse, I found only a few silver pieces. I needed more then that to pay off my tab. I paused; there was a soft noise nearby. In the underbrush, I saw a minotaur aiming his crossbow at me, already about to fire. It was to far to close the distance, and I didn’t have time to draw my own bow. I quickly spoke a word of power and a small bolt of energy leaped out from my hand and played across the minotaurs body. He grunted in pain and surprise, dropping the crossbow. He was only stunned, but that was all I needed. I sprinted to his location, drawing my sword as I ran. I reached him just as he recovered from the shock; his neck offered little resistance to my blade as I separated his head and shoulders. I grinned. Buying an enchanted sword was the best gold I’d ever spent. This minotaur happened to have a gold ring that looked to be valuable. Good—a few more finds like that and I could head back to town.

I decided to take a risk and wander over to what used to be the cemetery. When the curse first hit the Plains, every corpse buried there raised again. People have destroyed countless revenants since then, but there always seems to be more. Our best guess is that the lingering effects of the spell continually re-animate the undead. These supernatural fiends were tough, but yielded greater treasure. For some inexplicable reason, it was a truism that the stronger the enemy, the more valuable the items he, she, or it possessed. Most people agreed it was strange; you would think the undead would have little interest in worldly goods. I shrugged and chalked it up as just another of life’s mysteries.

I heard them before I saw them; the mindless undead always emitted an eerie howling sound. Just to look at them was to know fear. These were creatures that were dead but not gone, that should not move but did, that couldn’t be killed because they weren’t truly alive. You don’t fight such horrors—you flee. Unless you’re me.

The creatures sensed my approach. Some didn’t have eyes to see or ears to hear, yet they still sensed me. Turning as one towards me, they made a frightening sight. A hoard of undead bearing down on you could make even the bravest turn tail. They didn’t move fast, but then they didn’t have to. Their mindless tenacity meant they would never stop coming after you. You would tire, eventually. They wouldn’t. And they always fought in packs. Tight, clumped together packs.

I grinned. I was reasonably adept in sorcery, but by no means a master. My mage friend on the other hand…I pulled a small rune from my belt pouch. Responding to my touch, it began to glow with wild, fey energy. It had cost me a not-insignificant sum of gold, and might cost my life if it failed. But I trusted my friend. I spoke the words of magic and concentrated upon the undead. A gout of fire blossomed in their midst, charring the bones of the skeletons. They dropped to the floor, the unholy magicks that animated them disrupted by the flames. The more resilient ghouls were also damaged, but not destroyed. A living being would have been screaming in agony. The ghouls didn’t even slow their visages still locked in hideous grins. But that was alright; the rune still had power. I repeated the activating words, and again spellfire reached out to claim the ghouls. This time, they stopped moving. I stumbled over to the crypt that they had come from, and was pleased to find quite a few valuables.

Wait. Stumbled? My fatigue surprised me. Using the magic had taken more out of me than I thought. I decided it would be prudent to return to town. I started to exit as hurriedly as I could. If I was lucky, I wouldn’t be accosted by any other creatures. About halfway out of the Plains, a chilling scream rang out behind me. I turned to see an orc berserker about a hundred yards away. Maddened beyond hope or reason, his eyes were wild with bloodlust and his face devoid of anything resembling sanity. He wielded a two-handed battle axe and was running towards me.

I snorted. When would these guys learn? I drew my bow and sent an arrow into his chest. Ordinarily, I would have gone for a kill shot into the brain, but I was tired, and he really was moving quickly. He kept running. Sixty yards. I put another arrow into his belly. Forty. If he felt any pain, he didn’t show it. One in his thigh. Twenty-five. Amazingly, he still hadn’t missed a step. I exhaled, and a fourth arrow sprouted in his throat. I re-holstered my bow. Ten yards. He was a dead orc running, even if he didn’t know it yet. Five. Four. At three, he stumbled, dropping his sword. He collapsed in front of my feet, the light going out of his eyes.

I bend to check his corpse, and that was when I heard the terrifying sound of a deep inhalation. Why hadn’t I sensed it sooner? I threw myself into a lateral dive and cursed my carelessness. I wasn’t fast enough; the wave of fire toasted the left side of my body and face. I screamed in agony and rolled to my feet. I quickly took out a healing potion—my last one, where had all the others gone?—and quaffed it through charred lips, running away as the hideous burns started to fade. I chanced a glance behind, already knowing what I would see.

A dragon stared back at me.

Damn, damn, damn. I had fought dragons before, but usually with friends. I did kill one by myself once, but I had ambushed it, and had been at full strength. Alright, this dragon looked to be a younger, weaker one. But if I didn’t think of something fast, I was dead. I heard another inhalation and dived again. The killing flame roared past me, close enough to raise blisters.

I whirled and fired my bow, knowing it was useless. As I expected, the arrow just bounced off the beast’s hide. Don’t even know if it felt it. I almost gave up at that point. I’d been lucky so far. The dragon was toying with me. If he had swooped in and used its claws, I would have been dead already. Then it hit me. No, not another jet of fire. I remembered I had been working on magically enhancing my arrows. Didn’t need it with most enemies, but it was useful against tougher creatures. Like a dragon.

I quickly drew another arrow. I concentrated; there would only be one chance. I stood still and aimed at the dragon’s eye. The dragon didn’t seem unconcerned. Even a direct hit into a dragon’s eye wouldn’t kill it; it’d be like throwing sand into a human’s eye. Annoying, painful, but not fatal. It knew I couldn’t hurt it with an arrow. I knew better.

The dragon drew in another breath as I focused my shot. I envisioned the arrow flying straight and true, punching into the beast’s eye and through the brain, killing it instantly. I exhaled and released the arrow, praying I succeeded.

I missed. The arrow hit just above its right eye, sinking slightly into its flesh. It had drawn blood, but only superficially. The dragon snorted, mocking my efforts, and prepared to exhale a final time.

I could have run. Prayed for divine intervention. Cursed my bartender for not giving me more credit. But I did none of those things. I just smiled. And then the arrow exploded.

The beast roared in pain and drew its head back. When the flames cleared, I could see the ruin of its left eye, now a pulp of fluid and blood. I stood very still and tried to radiate calm defiance. If the dragon still wished to fight despite being half-blinded, I had nothing up my sleeve, but it didn’t need to know that. Luckily, it didn’t call my bluff. Still screaming, the dragon turned and flew away. I sank to my knees in utter exhaustion. Imbuing the arrow had drained me of energy, magical or otherwise. Fortunately, I was fairly certain there would be no farther attacks. Today, the creatures of the Plains had proper respect for me.

After a few moments, I got to my feet and turned to leave. Before I had taken more than a few steps, I heard, and than felt, a swish-thunk. I looked down to see an arrow protruding from my stomach. What…? I fell to the ground in pain and confusion. A mocking voice sounded from a distance.

“Need some help their?”

I turned my head towards the voice, though the simple motion was distressingly difficult. It was Billy Blades, an old rival of mine. He held a bow in his hands. Son of a…

“I needed some gold, saw an opportunity. Nothing personal.”

He knocked another arrow into his bow and aimed it at my head. The bastard had a big grin on his face. “Goodbye, Death Walker.” He said, a vicious delight in his voice.

The arrow sank three inches into my forehead, dropping me instantly. Billy jogged over to loot my items. He reached out to turn my corpse over, but shouted in surprise when his hands passed straight through my body. He then made a gurgling sound and reflexively grabbed his throat. It wouldn’t do him any good; my dagger had pierced his jugular. I smirked as he sank to the ground just as I had done moments ago. But he wouldn’t be getting back up—I put my sword through his heart to make sure.

Come now. You didn’t think I actually died, did you? As if I would be killed by someone with a name as ridiculous as Billy Blades.

I grinned mirthlessly as his body grew limp. I raised my left hand to my lips and kissed the the invisibility ring on my finger. Worth every copper, that thing. A pity Billy hadn’t been smart enough to check for illusions; any novice mage could cast them. My stomach wound still throbbed painfully, but wasn’t fatal. I just needed to get back to town and see a healer. I suddenly stopped as I realized something. The magical items I used, plus the fee for the healing spell I would need, were almost equal in value to the treasure I had obtained

And I was still hungover.


Answer key.

Tips for finding a good editor

Note: This post is written in the context of copy editing/proofreading specifically, but some of the principles should be applicable to all types of editing.

Finding a good editor is something that many authors struggle with. There are no shortage of editors out there, but how do you find a good one? Or more accurately, how can you tell the good editors from the bad?

How do you find a good editor?

A surprisingly large portion of the books in my portfolio were previously published and “edited”. That is, the author paid someone to edit it already.

Why then, did they need to hire me? Because they were still absolutely filled with errors, to the point where reviewers would comment on the poor editing. Grammatical mistakes, spelling errors, confusing sentences, continuity/consistency errors – you name it.

In the freelance editing world, there seems to be no shortage of people who will take authors’ money but do a bad job. Typically, these are random people on Fiverr and similar sites.

How can you avoid this? One way is to hire editors that come recommended by other authors you trust.

What if you’re not friends with any authors? In that case, do you recall reading any books that were particularly clean and error-free? For instance, one of the books I’ve done had multiple reviews praise the editing, even going so far as to say:

I must congratulate the author on this being one of the best edited independent novels I have read. Nothing ruins immersion in a story than typos, grammatical errors, and sentences that don’t make sense. After two books i have not seen a single error.

If you do, contact the author and ask them who they hired to edit their book. They may not reply, but there is a good chance that they will in order to help out a fellow author and help their editor get more business.

If that still isn’t practical, and you have to hire someone that isn’t vouched for, then you should at least get the editor to do a sample edit (of 1000-2000 words). This is probably a good idea even if they are recommended by people you trust, as then you can get an idea of their editing style.

If your writing is clean enough that there may not be any errors in the sample, consider throwing in some errors on purpose. Perhaps something more subtle than a typo, like a continuity error. Say the main character meets a group of three people, and then later it says something like “the group of five people left the room”. If they don’t catch that error, then they’re not paying attention. This of course assumes that you’re hiring someone specifically to catch all kinds of errors, and not just grammatical mistakes/typos (which is usually cheaper).

If they catch the errors you added, or even ones you didn’t put in deliberately, then they’re good. If they miss one, they may still be ok. If they miss multiple, then think twice about hiring them.

What questions should a writer ask an editor they are considering hiring?

You’ll obviously want to ask about logistics: how long will it take them to edit your book, when they will be available to edit it, price, how they will edit it (most people use Microsoft Word docs, in my experience), what their editing process looks like (i.e. the things that they are looking for and are likely to flag), how they want to handle payment (PayPal is most common, and 50% up front/50% after completion is common as well).

Like a normal job interview, you should also consider how they act when you are talking to them. Are their emails professional and well-written, with proper grammar? That’s a good sign. Do their emails look like they could have been lifted from YouTube comments? Do they seem to get irritated or annoyed by you asking reasonable questions? Not a good sign.

Do they reply in a relatively prompt manner? Or do they take days to reply? If they have a poor response time when you’re still in the “interview process” (and therefore they are trying to convince you to hire them), don’t expect it to get better after you’ve already hired and paid them.

What should I do before sending my book to the editor?

Ideally, you’ll want the book to be relatively clean before sending it off. It obviously won’t be perfect or you wouldn’t need a copy editor, but cleaner is better.

This will take some work, but it’s in your best interests. Some editors may charge more if your book has tons of errors and thus takes them longer to do. Others who charge a flat rate might choose to drop you as a client, or not take on you to begin with. Or it may be more of a “carrot” situation, rather than a stick. For instance, I have one client whose work is exceptionally clean (though not error-free), and I bend over backwards to make him happy and keep his business.

What does relatively clean look like? It’s hard to codify this in explicit terms—for me, it’s more like “I know it when I see it”. At the minimum, basic grammatical rules should be adhered to. For instance, dialogue should be written properly (i.e. when to use commas, when to use periods, when to capitalize or not). The editor should mostly be catching accidental errors that slipped through, rather than fixing mistakes that you were making throughout the book because you didn’t know they were mistakes.