Monday, 9 February 2015

I Wanted to Sigh

Last month, I wrote a post about vanity publishing, "I Wanted to Cry". Today's post is kind of related, but also links to another subject which has been on my heart over recent months, and one that makes me sigh in frustration.

Authors who are unintentionally deceived about their writing.

I recently came across this post in one of the Facebook author groups I’m a member of:
Today, i want to quit! I feel so discouraged right now that i am ready to throw in the towel. 
I have someone who i know who bought my ebook and had informed me that she had found so many grammatical errors she had to put it down. Yes,i had an editor go over it, 4x’s, i have read it over twice since releasing it and i have had several people read it without a word. Either she doesn’t like my writing style or i know a lot of people who have no clue. Tips?
Let me say that it doesn’t bode well when an author with this many errors in a post is claiming her book has no errors. Even my phone autocorrects “i” to “I”. I checked out the Look Inside on Amazon, and soon found my fears were well-founded. The critical reviewer was right. There were numerous issues, even in the first five paragraphs, which leads me to suspect this authors friends—and editors—have deceived her regarding the quality of her writing, albeit unintentionally.

First, there are some technical issues with the book. The line spacing isn’t even, there are some over-wide spaces between sentences, the first-line indents aren’t even, and the first line of the Prologue is indented (“real” books don’t indent the first line of a chapter or scene). These issues are easily fixable and should be addressed because they give the overall book a less-than-professional appearance.

Then there are proofreading issues, like ensuring the punctuation is correct and consistent. For example, the comma at the end of a passage of dialogue should be before the closing quotation mark, not after. It certainly shouldn’t be after the quotation marks in paragraph three but before in paragraph five (this indicates a lack of attention to detail on the part of the editor/s. If you are going to be wrong, at least be consistently wrong).

Copyediting

There are also a lot of copyediting issues, like:

  • Missing punctuation (“Tickle me daddy” should have a comma and a capital D).
  • Incorrect hyphenation (laid-back, not laid back).
  • Use of numbers (three, not 3)
  • Using a spaced hyphen when an unspaced em-dash should have been used (so—not - ).
  • Dialogue tags the wrong way around (“he said”, not “said he”).
  • Incorrect words (“nine and a half years”, not “nine in a half years”).

Line Editing

Next come the line editing issues. The line editor edits on a line-by-line basis (surprise!), picking up things like the fact that eight sentences in the first two paragraphs begin with the word “He”, creative dialogue tags (stated Aaron), and noting that dialogue can have a tag or an action beat, but doesn’t need both.

Developmental Editing

Finally, there are developmental issues. The general advice is not to begin with a Prologue, to show not tell, and not to kill off point of view characters (the challenge is life, not death). This book begins with a Prologue that is mostly reminiscing about the past (telling), from the point of view of a character who dies at the end of the Prologue. On the plus side, the author maintains a consistent point of view, although it could be improved with the use of a deeper perspective.

Note that I’ve actually addressed these issues in the reverse order they should be addressed: the developmental edit should come first, as there is no point in ensuring the spelling and punctuation is perfect in a manuscript that requires extensive revision and rewriting.

Was this book even edited?

Either way, it concerns me that this author claims she had an editor go over her book four times. It concerns me less that the author also claims to have read it over twice herself since it was published: no one ever sees their own mistakes, which is why we all need editors (and note that beta-readers are not the same as editors).

This is what bothers me: her editors clearly haven’t explained the writing rules she has broken, to enable the author to learn from her mistakes, and improve her self-editing skills. This explanation should be in more detail than I have given above, and should be referenced, so the author understands these are real rules, not just some annoying personal preference of the editor.

I have serious reservations about the competence of the previous editor/s, who have allowed this author to unknowingly publish substandard work, and have inadvertently hurt the author by not telling her the book needs at least one more round of editing, possibly more, before she can justify offering it for sale.

It's a form of deception.

It’s a difficult issue, partly because the authors who most need editorial assistance are least able to afford top-level editor, and (it seems) are least able to recognise whether an editor is competent. The best advice I can give is:

  • Pray.
  • Read widely in your genre, especially good books, so you learn what good writing (and good editing) looks like.
  • Read craft books, including books on revision and self-editing for fiction writer. James Scott Bell, and Renni Browne/Dave King are good authors to start with.
  • Join a writers group.
  • Ask trusted writer friends for editor recommendations.
  • Ask for sample edits from several editors before making a decision (hint: the editor who gives you the most feedback is almost certainly more competent than the editor who complements your writing a lot but doesn’t give many concrete suggestions around how you could improve).
  • Pray some more, specifically that you won't be deceived.

I'll be back next week, talking more about deception in our writing. Have you come across similar examples?

About Iola Goulton

I am a freelance editor specialising in Christian fiction, and you can find out more about my services at my website, or follow me on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest ... or Tsu.

I love reading, and read and review around 150 Christian books each year on my blog. I'm a Top 25 Reviewer at Christian Book, in the Top 1% of reviewers at Goodreads, and have an Amazon Reviewer Rank that floats around 2000.

16 comments:

  1. I'm an English teacher, and I require an editor (that my publisher provides). Self-publishing, as you indicated, often means hiring one--a competent/experienced editor. Not friends who did well in high school English or in college.

    Self-publishing means the author has to either do or hire to be done, all of the things a publisher should do.

    With all of the competition out there, putting the best product in front of readers, the first time is very important. No novel is going to be error free. But it should be free from as many errors (typo/grammar and content) as can be accomplished.

    Good post with solid suggestions.

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    1. Yes, everyone needs an editor (I even noticed a misspelled word as I reread this post this morning, despite reading it several times before posting it). We simply don't see our own mistakes, and if we don't know the "rules", we'll make the same mistakes over and over out of ignorance.

      Thanks for visiting!

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  2. Are these books on writing available in libraries in case people can't afford them? I have also heard some will use editors who edit newspaper or magazine articles which is also totally different from fiction.

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    1. Jenny, it will depend on your library. Mine has a small selection, and I'm sure authors in larger cities will be able to find more.

      However, I would say that it's worth authors investing in some books on writing and editing. It's better to spend $20 on a book like Revision and Self Editing by Browne and King than have your editor take hours correcting an elementary error that recurs hundreds of times throughout a manuscript (like an author who uses "said Peter" instead of "Peter said"). Another good book is Rayne Hall's Word Loss Diet, which is only about $3 on Kindle.

      And you've heard right: editing short magazine or newspaper articles is different from editing a full-length novel.

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    2. Thanks for that info. Im not a writer but to spend a small amount which is tax deductable makes sense. I also realise having a book in the library isn't always the best as I know with my chronic pain I did request some books from the library which I fine but I found having the one my dr suggested on kindle I can look at I when ever I need to and not have to go and request it again and then wait sometimes weeks or months.

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  3. Thanks Iola
    As one whose punctuation especially needed attention I appreciate your words. Also, I'm thankful for those who edited my Devotional books and helped my 'good thoughts' to be set out properly and enjoyable to read. As writers in any genre we need to be teachable and not defensive about our work. Thanks again.

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    1. The trouble with punctuation is that we are taught the "rules" in school, then find they have changed! It took me months to get out of the habit of using two spaces after a full stop - which is something I should have been told to stop as soon as I moved from a manual typewriter to a PC.

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    2. I still struggle with the two spaces after a full stop. Also had major issues with the past pastor over the date being 2 Feb not 2nd Feb.

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  4. Wow. Just wow. My eyes hurt reading some of your excerpts and I'm a writer who definitely needs remedial help when it comes to things like punctuation! If an editor went through that once, let alone four times, they are a complete charlatan!

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    1. There is always the chance an editor will miss one problem (like a misplaced comma) while fixing another (like a point of view violation). I think it's Randy Ingermanson who said that a 100,000-word manuscript that's 99.99% correct still contains ten errors. However, those ten errors should be spread throughout the manuscript, not be in the first four pages ...

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  5. Iola, great post! I think one of the obstacles we face when we first start writing is we don't know what we don't know. I loved receiving writing contest feedback because I knew my story wasn't working but I couldn't see what was wrong. My critique partners were also very helpful and I learned so much from critiquing their stories.

    Another issue is anyone can put up a shingle and call themselves an editor. Writers need to exercise discernment when hiring freelance editors. Do they have qualifications? Can they provide references from authors who are happy with their services? Have they previously worked in the publishing industry? If yes, in what capacity?

    Ultimately, you get what you pay for and you can't expect top notch editing if you aren't prepared to pay a reasonable amount of money for editing services.

    I've purchased a number of writing craft print books from the RWAustralia writing conference book stores, The Book Depository and Fishpond.com.au. Self Editing for Fiction Writers is only AUD17.30 on Fishpond with free shipping in Australia. A small price to pay for a very helpful book.

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    1. It's true that we don't know what we don't know, and that's why I believe it's important for authors to read. A lot. Read books in their genre, read craft books, and read blog posts. Because that will help them learn.

      For those who don't learn through reading, listen. Buy or borrow audiobooks (my library loans them free) and listen to podcasts. The internet means we have huge amounts of information available, so there's no excuse.

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  6. Excellent post once again, Iola. I only realised how spoilt I'd been by my publishers' editors when I did not have them for my last three books. A warning to anyone buying "How To..." books or taking them from libraries: Always check the copyright date in them. My first books were published by Harlequin and Barbour Publishing back in 1993. Even since then there have been quite a lot of changes and there were many more in the decades before that. This may also be something to remember when reading older books.

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    1. That's excellent advice, Mary. This is also applicable for dictionaries, especially when you want to check the spelling or hyphenation of new words (e book, e-book or ebook?).

      You also need to be aware of the date a book was first published if you are reading novels to study how successful writers have done it. Jane Austen and Charles Dickens are great writers, but not if you copy their use of point of view or their excess of description.

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    2. Ah, now you've hit another of my own problems, Iola. Which dictionary should we Aussies use? We have the World book and Webster (out of date!) one for America, Oxford for UK and Macquarie for Australia. And this e-book, ebook, e-Book is one I've been trying to find an answer to myself.

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  7. Great post, Iola. I've learnt so much from having you as a editor. I think Narelle is right, 'we don't know what we don't know,' when we first begin.

    The other biggest issue is that we don't see our own mistakes.

    I've had 20 people come to me for advice in the last eighteen months and some of them have asked me to edit their work.

    I tell people I'm not an editor. That I need an editor. I will give feedback, and usually, the feedback includes, 'I'd recommend getting your manuscript professionally edited.'

    One took my global comments on her book and changed some structural aspects and then credited me as her 'editor'. Thankfully, it was well-written, but wasn't professionally edited by me or anyone else!

    Another one recently took my advice and sent their work to The Write Flourish for editing. Yay! Someone listened!

    Another one took on board some changes I suggested and edited their manuscript and proposal, but did not seek professional help. Again, it was a strong manuscript and they actually go to the next stage of having a major publisher asking them to seek an agent for their work as they were interested—but no professional editing!

    All of the others were so impatient to 'get their work out there' that they self-published or are still stuck with a stalled manuscript.

    All these people have valid ideas, are solid writers with a valid idea for a novel or non-fiction book, but they are not willing to pay the price or take the time to give their work to an editor.

    I can understand the frustration. My first book Perfect Mercy was critiqued by Annie Hamilton and I sat for six hours listening to why it wasn't ready to publish. I worked on it for eight months. I took it to an agent and she told me it wasn't ready.

    I reworked it and self-published after it had a proofreader look at it.

    Oh how I wish I had used a professional editor.

    My big takeaway—invest in an editor. If you think it's worth publishing, it's worth a great editor.

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