The Four Common Editing Mistakes Found in Self-Published Books

I have been trusted by a lot of clients with the charge of editing their heartfelt books. They understand the absolute necessity for tailored editing services and how this one essential step can make the difference from coming across as an authority in the field, or coming across as an amateur. With that said, some mistakes are more common than others. This post will reveal some of the more common editing mistakes that I tend to find during the editorial process.

#1 It’s versus Its

There must be a magical force unknown to writers that zaps them with some kind of curse, forcing them to mess up this simple rule. This is probably the easiest rule in the writing world; yet, it’s the most common mistake that I find when editing a book.

Here’s the rule:

It’s is a shortened form of “it is.” It never means anything except “it is.”


“It is hot today” can be transformed into “it’s hot today”.

The word “its” is used in the same manner as “his” or “her”.


The cat licked its paw.

Watch how you can replace “its” with “his” or “her”.

The cat licked his paw.

The cat licked her paw.

This is the only instance where you use the word “its”. There is no other time.

#2 Who’s versus Whose

This works in almost the same manner as the above rule. The only time you would use “who’s” is for a shortened version of “who is”.


Can you guess who is getting hired tomorrow?

Can you guess who’s getting hired tomorrow?

On the other hand, the word “whose” is a possessive form of “who”. It is only used to find out “whose” stuff is “whose”.


Whose line is it anyway?

Whose plate is that on the counter?

#3 “Which” versus “That”

This is another mistake that I find in almost every book that I edit. In fact, this mistake is commonly repeated so it’s safe to say that I come across it more than any other issue. There is an easy rule to follow that makes it pretty easy to catch this error:

“That” is used without a comma while “which” must always be proceeded by a comma. Plus a sentence using “that “ holds a different meaning than one using “which”. Let me show you an example.


I visited a coffee shop earlier, which was very unusual for me.

I visited a coffee shop earlier that was very unusual for me.

Both sentences have an entirely different meaning. “Which” suggests that the act of visiting the coffee shop was unusual whereas “that” suggests that the coffee shop itself was unusual.

#4 Semicolons and Commas and Bears, Oh My!

This rule seems to confuse the most people, although it’s not really that complicated once you break it down. Let’s take a closer look at the dreaded semicolon first.

What is the purpose of a semicolon?

Semicolons are used to separate two independent clauses. Let’s take a close look at an example.

My father stopped by my house today. He was wearing a blue shirt.

So if you were reading this statement, it would go something like this:

My father stopped by my house today. (take a deep breath) He was wearing a blue shirt.

If you used a semicolon to combine those sentences, then you would read it without taking a breath.

My father stopped by my house today; he was wearing a blue shirt.

That pause is eliminated to it reads more smoothly without having to use words like and, but, or yet to combine them.

How to correctly use a semicolon.

A semicolon is only used to separate two independent clauses. In other words, each side of the semicolon must be able to stand alone as its own sentence. For example:

“My father stopped by my house today.”

This is a full sentence by itself.

“He was wearing a blue shirt.”

This is also a full sentence by itself.

Never use a semicolon with a conjunction. A conjunction is a word like and, but, so, etc. If you want to use a conjunction, then you would include a comma.

My father stopped by my house today, but he was wearing a blue shirt.

When should a semicolon be used?

Only use a semicolon if you need to form a bond between two sentences. They are typically related to one another so that it makes sense to remove the pause between the two independent clauses.

Why did this section have bears in the title? What do bears have to do with semicolons? The answer is obvious; they both have pause. Don’t worry if you did not laugh at that joke. It was not very funny. Anyway, here are the pauses that are incorporated by specific punctuations:

Comma = A brief pause

Semicolon = A moderate pause

Period = A complete stop.

The Super Comma

Now it gets tricky because we start releasing a semicolon’s superpowers. If you need to join a list of items together that must use a comma, then you will need to unleash this superpower.


Atlanta, Georgia; Seattle, Washington; and New York, New York.

Whew! That’s a lot of rules to remember. Thank goodness there are editors who remember all of this stuff so we don’t have to – wait, I’m an editor. No wonder I can’t remember where I put my car keys! My memory is filled with all of the ways to correctly use a semicolon.

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