The Ban on Adverbs

DandelionsWhen I first got involved in the writing side of the publishing industry, in 2012, I soon heard a mantra of sorts: Never Use Adverbs. Having been an editor for a dozen years before that, it struck me as one of the most arbitrary and useless rules I’d heard. Today, I at least understand how the ban on adverbs got started, even if I don’t agree with it.

What’s interesting to me is that many of the so-called rules that some novelists live by are not the same rules as those their editors profess. In fact, they are often at odds with each other. A writer might say, “Never start a sentence with a conjunction.” An editor will say, “That rule has gone by the wayside, and thank goodness. Clarity is more important.”

The uncompromising ban on adverbs is another such rule that editors are unlikely to support. It is famously summed up in a quote from the author of On Writing:

The road to hell is paved with adverbs. —Stephen King

He goes on to liken adverbs to dandelions, saying one is pretty but soon your lawn is taken over by them, so you must get rid of all of them.

And that right there is the problem. We cannot rid our writing of an entire category of words. We can use them sparingly, because one is pretty but a hundred are not; however, there is no reason to give them up entirely. It isn’t even possible to achieve. (Full disclosure: I once gave my mother a bouquet of dandelions. She loved it.)

Now that I have edited more new writers and seen just what a field of dandelions an author is able to grow, I understand the temptation to throw them all out and just say no, don’t use adverbs. Some writers sprinkle every sentence with two or three adverbs when the sentence would be stronger without even one.

Quickly rounding the bend and hurriedly entering the dining room, I found the decorator busily arranging the centerpiece on the beautifully laid table.

It’s easier to live by an all-or-nothing rule and cut all adverbs always. But easier isn’t always better. I have seen several manuscripts in which the author bent over backward to avoid an adverb and it left me scratching my head.

I rounded the bend at a fast pace and entered the dining room in a hurry to find the decorator arranging the centerpiece at a fast clip on the table laid with beautiful decorations.

To me, moderation is key to all things in life — even adverbs. Adverbs help writers to express how someone is feeling or the manner in which an action was done. They intensify adjectives and tell readers when and where an event took place. Yes, weak adverbs abound, but they aren’t all weak. Some are tantalizing. And even the weak ones can be useful at times.

I sped around the bend and entered the dining room to find the decorator hastily arranging the centerpieces. The decorations were lovely. Beautiful in fact.

So cut your adverbs freely, make sure that each one has earned its place in your writing, but please, do not weed them all out. Writing benefits from diversity and decoration. A ban on adverbs eliminates that.

PerfectBound by Katherine PickettLike this blog? Find more advice and insights in the award-winning book Perfect Bound: How to Navigate the Book Publishing Process Like a Pro, available through Hop On Publishing,, Barnes and Noble, Left Bank Books, and other fine retailers


Beta Readers Aren’t Editors; Editors Aren’t Beta Readers

If you have spent any time in the writing community over the past five to ten years, you’ve probably heard about beta readers. These are unpaid people who read your manuscript and give you feedback. The type, quality, and extent of feedback you receive depends on the readers you have enlisted to help you. Editors, of course, are professionally trained and educated to correct a wide range of problems in a manuscript to get it ready for publication. Although beta readers can greatly enhance the revision process, they do not replace editors. Similarly, an editor should not be thought of as a paid beta reader.

Beta Readers Are Not Beta BitsEditors

The feedback you get from your beta readers can be hugely helpful for identifying and resolving problems with plot, characterization, pacing, or a weak argument. These readers give you the opportunity to share your work and find out how it strikes the average reader. They do not usually make the corrections the way an editor will, but rather offer suggestions for you to implement. When you choose your readers, I recommend finding a range of people with differing skills and backgrounds so that you get a well-rounded view of your manuscript.

There are a number of sources for finding beta readers — critique groups, colleagues, writing partners, people you connect with via Goodreads or a Facebook group, among other places. Each will have something different to offer, and you will need to assess and evaluate their critiques individually to determine what feedback to accept and what to reject. These people are not professionals; they are simply giving you their opinions as to how you can improve your writing.

Some authors think that if they get enough beta readers, they can skip editing. This is generally not true. In the case of really good readers and a talented writer, the beta-reading stage can lessen or eliminate the need for a developmental editor. As mentioned, beta readers may uncover big-picture issues such as an inconsistent timeline, poor pacing, poor organization, or unrelateable characters, and the author may be able to address and resolve these problems on their own.

However, unless one of your readers is a professional editor who has done a complete line edit on your manuscript, you will still need a copyeditor at some point. If you find a publisher, the publisher may take care of the copyediting; if you self-publish, you will need to arrange the editing yourself. (For guidance on how to do this without getting taken, see my series of posts How to Hire a Freelance Editor in 5 Easy Steps.)

Employing beta readers in your writing journey is an excellent idea that can save you time and money. It is essential, however, that you know the limits of what such readers can do for your manuscript.

red penEditors Are Not Beta Readers

One major benefit beta readers do offer is a fresh set of eyes when a  writer feels she has taken the manuscript as far as she can on her own. Perhaps this is why some authors seem to think of their editor as a paid beta reader. Again, that is incorrect and may lead to problems.

In most cases, an editor should not be the first person you share your work with. You can go that route, but you can likely save yourself some money — potentially, a lot of money — if you get the outside, free opinion of beta readers first. Find out what average readers think and get the manuscript nailed down as much as possible on your own before investing in editing. Editing is expensive, and the more refinement you do on your own, the less you will have to pay someone else to do. (Read this article for more thoughts on this topic.)

Beyond that, working with an editor is different from working with beta readers. For instance, editors need a certain level of understanding about what it is you are trying to achieve with your book so that they can help you achieve it. Whereas you may want your beta readers to approach the manuscript with no preconceived notions, editing is more efficient — and better — when there aren’t a lot of surprises. So if your book has a twist at the end and you aren’t sure it’s working, you will get to the solution faster if you tell your editor what you suspect. It means revealing the twist, but that’s OK. If you aren’t sure it’s working, your editor can keep that in mind while she reads. If she agrees, she can then let you know why it isn’t working and how to improve it.

In addition, the corrections and suggested changes you receive from your editor deserve more weight than those of a traditional beta reader.  With both editors and beta readers, you as the author have to decide whether the changes further your vision for the book. However, professional editors have years of experience and training in their field, and if they see a problem, it’s likely other readers will too. If they have changed your grammar, punctuation, and syntax, it likely was incorrect. If they have suggested ways to strengthen your argument, you likely need to address that problem.

That does not mean you need to take every suggested change from your editor, but you should make an educated decision. If you don’t know why a change was made, ask for an explanation before overriding your editor. Assuming you have vetted your editor (see step 2 of How to Hire a Freelance Editor in 5 Easy Steps), you know you have chosen someone with the credentials to help you make your book the best it can be. Avoid negating that expertise by ignoring your editor’s feedback.

Beta readers aren’t editors. They don’t have the training, the experience, or the expertise. And editors aren’t beta readers. They want to get to the solution as fast as possible, and that means revealing aspects of the manuscript you may be hesitant to reveal to a general reader. Beta readers offer opinions; editors offer a professional’s perspective. Each of these roles has something to offer writers on their journey. For best results, do not confuse the two.


Like this blog? Find more advice and insights in Perfect Bound: How to Navigate the Book Publishing Process Like a Pro, available through Hop On Publishing,, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Left Bank Books, and other retailers.

Road to Publication: Page Proofs

What do you do when you get page proofs for your book from your designer? Quite a bit, actually. Here’s the rundown on all that happens when you have page proofs in hand, as I experienced it:

  • I received first page proofs for Perfect Bound: How to Navigate the Book Publishing Process Like a Pro April 15 via e-mail. I immediately printed four sets. My husband and I each had a copy, and two copies  were sent out for advance reviews. I e-mailed the PDF to three more people, one of them being the proofreader and the other two being more reviewers.

    The page proofs have arrived!
  • While the proofreader was working away, my husband and I were each reviewing our sets of the pages. I read the book from beginning to end, then looked at some specific problem areas, such as the table of contents, the running heads, and page breaks. I followed my own advice, as set out in a previous blog post.
  • Two and a half weeks passed while the pages were being proofread and reviewed. Then, a few days before the proofreading due date, the proofreader scanned and e-mailed to me the pages with her corrections. I then compiled her edits as well as my husband’s onto my master set. I looked through everything once again, resolved the discrepancies that crept up among the three of us, and sent the entire set of pages back to the designer.

Because my copyeditor and I had done so much work early on to get the manuscript in shape, the proofreader had limited changes and was therefore able to (1) finish faster and (2) avoid shipping the complete set of page proofs, saving me time and money on both counts.

  • The designer had ten days to input the changes and get second proofs to me. While that was happening, even more exciting developments came my way, namely, I received reviews back from three of the five people I had approached. Two reviewers declined to review the pages, stating that the book was not appropriate for their audience. But that was OK. The three reviews I received were terrific, and I promptly added them to the front and back covers.

    The final front cover with endorsement
    The final front cover with endorsement
  • The second round of page proofs arrived a day early, which was great because that gave the indexer an extra day to complete the index. Time was getting short and I was anxious to make sure something as routine as an index didn’t cause us to miss our desired pub date. The indexer had asked for a week to complete the index, and that gave us only a few days for final revisions. If any major problems arose, we would miss the files-to-printer date. Turned out my worry was for naught: the indexer completed the index in three days!
  • While the index was being created, I checked corrections from first pages to second pages and then checked the table of contents and running heads again. I also spot-checked a few areas, reading all of the chapter-opening and -closing boxes and rereading the introduction and epilogue. As always, some small errors had slipped through. Good thing I took the time to review the pages again.

If you are self-publishing, be prepared to go through at least three rounds of page proofs. For whatever reason, it often takes until the third or fourth set of proofs for a person to notice an error in display text.

  • Corrections to the revised proofs and the edited index were e-mailed back to the designer (yes, you have to edit an index), and, lickety-split, we had third pages. We were getting close now. One more round of corrections and, as of yesterday, the interior has been finalized!

The pace of book production, once you receive those first page proofs, is mind-boggling. Just when it looks like you will never finish on time, the stars align, designers and indexers beat their deadlines, and you start to wonder why you ever doubted the outcome.

Final files go to the printer on Monday. Next up will be printer proofs. The end is in sight! The end of production, anyway. As the author, you’re never really done with a book, are you?

Also in this series

MS2BK: The Road to Publication

MS2BK: Manuscript Development

MS2BK: How I Chose My Path to Publication

MS2BK: Copyediting

MS2BK: The Design Process

Like this blog? Check out Perfect Bound: How to Navigate the Book Publishing Process Like a Pro, available through Hop On Publishing,, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Left Bank Books, and other retailers.

Save Your Reputation: Edit Your Writing and Hire Pros When Needed

It might not be clear to all aspiring authors that their reputation is at stake with everything they put out into the world. A typo in a cover letter, a small factual error in a novel, a few misspelled words in a short story — who will notice? Who will care?

The truth is, although many people won’t be bothered by little errors here and there, enough people will be, and it is often these people who are the most vocal or are in a position of power.

The repercussions can include having your query to an agent dismissed, your short story rejected from a literary mag, or your novel blasted on Amazon and Goodreads. Unfortunately, you won’t get a second chance with an agent, and those online reviews never go away. Furthermore, once your reputation is tainted, it can be a major feat to get it back.

The ease with which a writer can become published via an e-book has magnified this problem. With an e-book, you can bypass every other kind of publishing professional, upload your first draft to Smashwords, KDP, or any number of other e-book sites, and — voila — in 24 hours you have an e-book. There are no gatekeepers and no one to save you from yourself. You can put out a low-quality product and ruin your reputation as a writer with the click of a button.

Don’t let this happen to you. Take matters into your own hands and shore up your reputation by producing the highest-quality writing you can. Here’s how:

  1. Perform thorough self-editing. There are lots of tricks to this. You can read my take on it here.
  2. Work with beta readers. Belinda Pollard has a nice article cleverly titled “How to Find a Beta Reader” with some helpful tips.
  3. Hire a professional editor. Editors abound. Find a good one to help you with whatever kind of writing you do.
  4. If you are self-publishing, hire a professional designer to help with layout or, at the very least, buy a template from Joel Friedlander.

While the professional design won’t help with textual errors, it will help your reputation. When you are self-publishing, anything you can do  to improve the appearance of your book will also improve your perceived professionalism and, therefore, your reputation.

Given how difficult it is to get noticed as a writer, the one thing you have to rely on is your reputation. Respect, integrity, professionalism, follow-through — no kidding, good editing can help you demonstrate all of these important characteristics through your writing. Mind your reputation from the beginning so that you do not have to fight to get it back.

Like this blog? Check out Perfect Bound: How to Navigate the Book Publishing Process Like a Pro, available through Hop On Publishing,, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Left Bank Books, and other retailers.

Road to Publication: Copyediting

Oh my! So much has happened in the life of Perfect Bound: How to Navigate the Book Publishing Process Like a Pro in just the last four weeks.

For one thing, we have chosen the final title (see above). Phew! I’m happy to have that figured out.

More important, however, the manuscript has gone through the copyediting and design processes. I’ll tell you all about design in the next post. Continue reading below to find out what it’s like to have your manuscript professionally edited.

Everyone Needs an Editor

If you have good writing and editing skills, it’s tempting to think you don’t need a copyeditor. If you already know the rules, why not just do it yourself? I’ll tell you why: you are too close to your work to see all of the errors. As an editor with 15 years of experience, I have been around long enough to know everyone needs an editor, even editors.

I asked a former colleague of mine to do the editing for Perfect Bound, and she happily agreed. I was nervous to send the manuscript out into the world, even to someone I know and trust, so I did my best to clean up as many errors as I could. I gave myself a week to read the manuscript one last time, from beginning to end, then sent it off. My husband took photos to commemorate the momentous occasion.

I was nervous to send my manuscript to the copyeditor.
I was nervous to send my manuscript to the copyeditor.
But I knew it was what my book needed.
But I knew it was what my book needed.
And off it went!

Although we are friends, I knew from my time working with her that this copyeditor would pull no punches, and I was right. She did a terrific job, uncovering errors I would have sworn I had fixed, questioning places that didn’t make sense or were incomplete, and prompting me to revisit some sections. I laughed to see that she found every instance where I had rushed my writing or thought, “Oh, that’s good enough.”

In the end I was surprised that after all of my time with the manuscript, combing through it and making changes, I had left so much for her to catch. But she earned her paycheck and saved me loads of embarrassment and grief. I cannot imagine having moved forward with the project without the help of a professional.

Reviewing the Editing

My copyeditor asked for an extra week to complete the project, since she is not a full-time freelancer. To help keep the project moving forward, she returned the chapters in two batches. That way I could begin my review of the early portion of the book while she finished editing the later chapters. It worked out great.

The manuscript (as is industry standard now) was edited electronically in Microsoft Word using the Track Changes function. Queries were embedded in the text, which makes them easy to find and delete. I went through each chapter, reviewed all of the changes, and answered the queries. Sometimes my answer was a simple “yes, edits are correct” and I could delete the query. Other times I needed to add a few sentences or rewrite a paragraph to resolve the problem. I made my changes directly in the file, tracking them so that I could easily see my corrections and preserve a record of the changes the copyeditor had suggested.

It took me about ten days  to review the editing and answer all of the queries in the full 240-page manuscript.  With my husband’s help, I also fact-checked the manuscript one more time to ensure it was as accurate as it could be. Once those steps were completed, I commenced my final revision.

One More Pass Through the Manuscript

By this point it was difficult to begin reading the manuscript again. I lamented having to read pages of text that I had read and revised ten times already, but I knew it had to be done. The copyeditor, my husband, and I had made significant changes that I needed to review. And so I dove in.

As always, I found plenty I wanted to change. Now, at least, the changes were smaller and easier to implement. I did rearrange a paragraph or two, but most of the revising consisted of adjusting word choice, finessing a transition, or catching spelling errors that spell-check had missed. This was my last chance to make major changes before the book went into layout, and I took the opportunity to fix all of the needling problem areas I found.

When I had done as much as I could do, I ran spell-check one more time, removed any inadvertent double spaces between words, and sent it off to the designer for layout. That was Monday. Now I have a short break before page proofs come in and I have to read the book all over again.

Copyediting was a fun and stressful time. I am happy to have the safety net of a professional edit, and I know the book just keeps getting better. And I am one step closer to having my book.

Also in this series

MS2BK: The Road to Publication

MS2BK: Manuscript Development

MS2BK: How I Chose My Path to Publication


Like this blog? Check out Perfect Bound: How to Navigate the Book Publishing Process Like a Pro, available from Hop On Publishing,, Barnes and Noble, Left Bank Books, and other retailers

Cutting Ties with a Publisher

Courtesy of douceurs d’etre.

Because nonfiction books are often acquired before the manuscript is complete, sometimes it happens that the manuscript turned in to the publisher is not fit for publication.

Although it is rare, I have twice copyedited projects that were later canceled because the manuscript was submitted in such a state that it was deemed unacceptable.

In one case, the sentences simply did not make sense when put together in a paragraph. There’s no other way to describe it. I alerted the publisher of the problem, the managing editor reviewed the manuscript, and when it was determined that the book was not salvageable, it was canceled outright.

In another case, I was tasked with cutting 30,000 words—a quarter of the manuscript—in order to weed out the tangents and uncover the true narrative of the book. This author was then faced with an ultimatum: accept these changes or cut ties. The author chose the latter.

Under these circumstances, the publishing house has the right to recoup the first portion of the advance. The author has the right to find another publisher. Both are examples of times when working with an agent may save an author considerable heartache and legal trouble. From an editor’s perspective, working with a critique group and employing some heavy self-editing may also have been in order.

If you are seeking a traditional publisher, be sure you know exactly what is expected of you before you sign. Open lines of communication with the acquisitions editor regarding how you are shaping your manuscript will also help head off problems. Enlisting the help of beta readers will further aid you in crafting a manuscript that is ready for production.

Like this blog? Look for Perfect Bound: How to Navigate the Book Publishing Process Like a Pro, coming Fall 2014.

Why Does Editing Cost So Much? (Part 2)

It’s the rare book that doesn’t require a good stiff edit.

–Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry, The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published

The Breakdown

With the importance of editing well established, it’s time to find out how editors figure their fees. It may seem mysterious, but it’s really quite a simple formula:

amount of work × rate of pay = the cost of editing

Different editors may charge by the hour, by the word, by the page, or a flat fee. However, all of these metrics translate into an estimate of how much work will be required of them. The other variable in the equation, rate of pay, is based on the service requested.

Here’s a breakdown of how the two variables are determined.

Amount of work

Length, complexity, schedule, and level of edit are the main factors in determining how much work a particular manuscript will demand. Very long manuscripts, even the well-written ones, take a lot of time to read and edit. Very complex manuscripts, such as those with a significant number of references or large amounts of artwork, take a lot of time and even more brain power to keep the details straight. Short deadlines mean the editor may have to put other projects aside and work nights and weekends to finish on time. A stiff developmental edit, which covers high-level issues such as arrangement of individual chapters, transitions from chapter to chapter and paragraph to paragraph, and organization of the book as a whole, requires vision, attention to detail, and an impeccable ability to work with authors at their most vulnerable.

An editor evaluates these factors and balances them against her experience as to the amount of effort it will take to complete the project on time and with the highest possible quality. Cost estimates based on word count, page count, or a flat fee all attempt to capture this amount of work. Pay by the hour is easiest for most people to understand, and often these other metrics come down to how much of the editor’s time a project will take.

Rate of pay

Different services are charged at different rates. Often the rate is commensurate with the amount of work required, so developmental editing is more than copyediting, and copyediting is more than proofreading.  Why is this? As I mentioned in part 1 of this post, the cost of editing tends to be a question of value added. If your book is in terrible shape, the value your editor brings to the project increases significantly. At times it would seem the editor deserves coauthorship. In place of that, the editor is paid up front for her work.

For standard rates you can expect to pay, see the Editorial Freelancers Association rate chart. These rates are based on a national survey of what publishing professionals charge. If they seem high to you — “$45 an hour? I wish!” — remember that the self-employed pay higher taxes and are responsible for their own health insurance, a significant burden for some.

When looking at rates, particularly per page or per hour, it’s important to note that your editor does not skim through your work. I recall one author saying to me, “Four dollars a page? I can read a page like that!” as she snapped her fingers. That may be true if you’re simply reading for pleasure. Editors, conversely, who question every word and every sentence as they read, are generally able to edit between 5 and 10 pages an hour. This takes into account the two or three passes through the manuscript needed to ensure as many errors as possible have been corrected.

How You Can Save on Editing Costs

Look at what the variables are that drive cost. Which of these can you control? For example, is the length of your book on target? Does it pass the bikini test — short enough to be interesting but long enough to cover the subject? Is your art program (photographs, drawings, charts, and graphs) appropriate for your genre? Have you set aside a reasonable amount of time for the editing to take place? Have you done everything you can to achieve a manuscript in tip-top shape?

Some of the more expensive aspects of your manuscript may not be up for debate. If you are writing an exhaustive history book, for instance, you probably need a long manuscript with lots of artwork and plenty of reference material. In that case, to save money you need to have a flexible schedule and to prepare a manuscript that is as clean as your ability allows. If you opt not to perform a thorough revision of your own work yet want a high-quality product, you are essentially choosing to pay someone else to do those revisions for you. If you are concerned about costs, do your part to alleviate some of your editor’s work.

As with all services, you are encouraged to request bids from multiple editors until you find the one who can both meet your needs and meet your budget. Part of finding the right editor is finding someone you trust is earning what you are paying her.

(Read Part 1 of this post here.)

Like this blog? Look for Perfect Bound: How to Navigate the Book Publishing Process Like a Pro, coming Fall 2014.

Proofreading Equals Questioning: Tips for Self-Editing

Tricks and techniques for good self-editing range from reading your manuscript aloud to reading it from end to beginning. These tactics can help you spot errors that otherwise may go unnoticed. They are particularly good for detecting missing words or confusing constructions. But much of self-editing is simpler than that.

The essence of good editing is knowing what to question. If you’re new to editing, the answer is, question everything. If you don’t know if something is correct, look it up. As you become more practiced, you will question less because you will have learned the rules. Even when you know the rules, however, some areas should always be questioned. The following five points are common problem areas that spell-check will not reliably catch.

  • Every time you see “your,” ask if that is the correct choice. If you mean “you are” then you know you want the contraction, “you’re,” instead.
  • Every time you see “it’s,” ask if you mean “it is.” If that’s not what you mean, then you want the possessive, “its.”
  • Every time you come across a pronoun, particularly “they” or “it,” ask what noun it refers to. If you can’t find the noun or it is very far away from the pronoun, replace the pronoun with the noun or rewrite the sentence.
  • Every time you come across a list, ask if each item in the list is in the same form — sentence, phrase, or single word, for example. Make all of the list items match.
  • Every time you see two words that form a common phrase, look them up in the dictionary to find out if they should be one word, two words, or hyphenated. Do this even if spell-check has not highlighted them.

This last point warrants further explanation. Certain word pairs are so often used together that we think of them as one unit. Some of them really are one unit. Others have been joined by a hyphen, and still others remain two words.

These days, word pairs are rarely hyphenated. While words used to evolve from two words to hyphenated to one word, today we often skip the hyphenation phase. For example, the evolution of “to morrow” to “to-morrow” to “tomorrow” took a few hundred years. The evolution from “Web site” to “website” is ongoing, but most of us never even bothered with “Web-site.”

With that bit of etymology in mind, consider these word pairs, some of my personal favorites:

time line
story line
cell mate
soul mate
full time
long-term (as an adjective)
on edge
post-traumatic stress disorder

As you can see, there isn’t a lot of rhyme or reason behind what is hyphenated and what isn’t, what’s one word and what’s two words. There are some rules set out by various style guides, but even those have exceptions. And that is why you simply have to look them up.

Editing your own work is difficult. It’s why we hire professionals. But before you get to that step, take some time to read your work with the thought to take nothing for granted. Take your time, and question everything.

Wikipedia: An Author’s Friend or Foe?

Here’s the deal: Wikipedia is an encyclopedia to which anyone can contribute. That means it does not always have correct information. (It’s a lot like going up to the guy in the next cubicle who says he knows everything there is to know about Lady Gaga and asking him how much her meat dress cost. You might get the right answer, but you might not.) The site works hard to keep everything legit, but for authors who want to be taken seriously, that’s not enough.

All of the major publishers for whom I work, which number 8 or 10 these days, tell authors straight away that Wikipedia is not an acceptable source. Wikipedia is huge. It has information on seemingly every topic and can give a nice overview of a subject. It can also lead you to other, more reputable sources — just scroll to the bottom of the page and follow the links. But for major publishers, it cannot be used as a primary source, and you should adhere to this standard as well.

My husband insists that the number of errors found in Wikipedia articles is comparable to that found in Encyclopedia Britannica. Presumably he has a source for this claim — although he has never disclosed it. The problem, however, is as much about appearances as it is about facts. Wikipedia is not trusted, nor is it respected. If you want readers to take your work seriously, it is essential that you put in the time to use sources that are respected in your field.

What seems to go hand in hand with citing Wikipedia is excerpting Wikipedia at will. It is indeed a free encyclopedia. However, it is not free for the taking. That is, you cannot pull material from Wikipedia and pass it off as your own. You cannot pull huge amounts of text that someone else has written and provide only “Wikipedia” as the source. At some point this will be noticed and it will get you in trouble. I do believe many authors do not know they are infringing on copyright, but ignorance is not an excuse. Educate yourself and when you find out you’ve done it all wrong, do it again.

Now, research can be really, really boring. Keeping proper notations can be extremely tedious. And even when the topic is a passion, vetting online sources to ensure they are estimable is more work than many writers would choose to do, unless they were subjected to an outside force — e.g., a publisher, editor, or book coach, or perhaps an understanding of the market, that lets them know they are wasting their time if they take a shortcut to proper source notation. It comes down to this: With thorough research you look like an expert. With poor research you look like an amateur.

So be conscientious about your references. Investigate respected sources, and when you use someone else’s ideas, cite that person. Do this from the get-go. Do this thoroughly and without exception. Do not give in to the temptation to type your search term into Google, click on the first entry to appear (which usually is Wikipedia), and then copy and paste the material into your document. This is lazy, this is unprofessional, and this is plagiarism. And if that’s not enough, you will be hard pressed to sell a book that’s been prepared this way.

Wikipedia: friend or foe? It all depends on how you use it.