If you’ve been following my writing updates, you would have read that I hit ‘The End’ on my last major project a while ago. Now I’m going to start editing it for the third, maybe the fourth time, in the beginning of May, but after that I’m going to find a professional editor.
I’m not going to put it up on Kindle or publish it on my own in print until another pair of experienced eyes have seen it and given me feedback. I imagine you already know where I’m going with this and you are either interested or rolling your eyes. Well, what can I say?
In 2012, the blog The American Editor posted a piece called, “On Language: The Professional Editor and the Hyphen“, which I will be quoting from throughout this post. The author asked readers to consider two simple phrases that all their millennial colleagues saw no problems with. I shall not tell a lie. I gave it a pass too.
But I will say, that something didn’t sit right with me about the phrases. I did what most readers do. I assumed the meaning as the phrases were clearly disjointed and lacked further context. However, because I felt that I could understand them, or convinced myself that I did, I labeled them ‘grammatically correct’ because I couldn’t say why they weren’t.
This assumption of the meaning is what you risk when you let your work out into the world with just your personal editing.
Now, I’m sure that somewhere out there is someone who knows how to perfectly edit their own work. They have never received any negative feedback because their discrepancies are non-existent. I BOW to you!
Now for the rest of us mortals.
What is clear to you, the writer, may not always be clear to others. Of course you’ll think that it made sense. You wrote it! And there is no way that you can see this when you, and the voice in your head who is telling the story, speak the same language. I am more objective and logical than most. I criticise the hell out of my work from multiple viewpoints and I still don’t trust myself to have that kind of clarity where I can say it is devoid of errors.
Doing multiple edits, reading it aloud, passing it onto a friend for critique, are all very good points to consider when self-editing. Honestly, if you don’t have the money for it, I throw you no shade. Do the best that you can.
But I can’t do that. I will deny myself all the pleasures of a fancy life and save like a maniac to pay for good editing because I understand the value. I literally cannot let my book become one for the shelf of ‘it had potential, but there were so many errors.‘ Especially when it is something that is within my grasp to fix!
I find myself thinking about this more and more as I read books every month to review. There are so many good books and promising stories out there, damned to get a 3-star Amazon rating because the editing is absolutely atrocious. Or worse yet a bad Goodreads review because we all know they corner the market on ‘what not to read’. And maybe some might think that I sound like a bigot obsessing over syntax, but I just hate that your clout as an author will all come down to that in the end.
But just to be clear…
I’m not talking about formatting and copy only, even though there are many books with spelling, syntax, and other grammar mistakes, and huge gaps between paragraphs on every page. I’m also concerned about structural errors like glaring plot holes, repetitions, and pacing issues that confuse the reader. These are things that make the story, as riveting as it is, hard to read.
And it’s hard for me as a reviewer to recommend a book that is hard to read!
EVEN IF the story IS GOOD.
I want to support the author’s work! But I feel as if I am screwing the reader by telling them, “yeah, go ahead and buy this, pay your money for this book, the story is really great“, and then they get something that is not entirely worth their purchase because they can’t get through the reading. Not everyone is as patient or forgiving and I fear I’m just setting up the author to get another low rating.
Authors, is it worth it though? Worth having your book be possibly down-graded, or not taken seriously? Was it worth getting bad reviews and low sales because you either didn’t get it properly edited or paid a fraction of the cost to someone who does not know how to properly edit? Or maybe they did know, and just gave you your money’s worth.
A professional editor’s primary function is to ensure that clear, consistent communication occurs between author and reader.
It is not enough for an editor to know that compound adjectives are hyphenated; the editor must also know that by hyphenating the compound phrase, the phrase is now crystal clear and not as muddy (or muddier) as before.
This is why an author needs a professional editor. The author already knows the intended meaning and thus reads a phrase as crystal clear. Few authors can distance themselves far enough from their work so as to question the subtleties of language and grammar choices. – The American Editor
Now I am absolutely sure that there are errors in this post. I can’t see them, but I KNOW that they are there. Because trust me, three months from now I’ll come back to this, read it over and find them. That’s why stepping away is a good suggestion. But this is just a blog post for me. It’s just random thoughts and I don’t mind a few errors. However, I won’t take my books so likely.
Because good editing does mean something, even if people in the writing community who can benefit from it don’t think so.
I think about all the books that I read as a child. These were just a few of my favourites off the top of my head.
What would have happened to my command of the English language if these books weren’t edited properly? Half of what I know is just through consistency. Seeing the same principles being applied over and over I knew what was right usage and what wasn’t. And even when I don’t know the specific rule, I can still tell when it’s off because it doesn’t ‘sound’ right.
I even wonder sometimes when reading the newspaper who the ‘letters to the editor’ section is handled by because I cannot believe that there really is an editor anymore. They can’t exist with all the errors on every other page. And soon they probably won’t. Because it seems nobody thinks an editor’s job is important anymore. I once read an article where it was suggested that there was so much bad grammar in the media anyway that people would soon get used to it and not care if a book was poorly edited or not.
That article was from 10 years ago. And although online platforms have made it easier to publish a book without a publishing house, readers still expect good work, but proper editing is still being sidelined. So newspapers, magazines, headlines, books, all written material are now doomed to the scrutiny of the self-professed grammar nazi, the new authority in all things grammatically correct.
I reiterate that I was top in my class in English because I read a lot. I saw real applications of what my teachers were trying to teach me. When I see the state of grammar and spelling in books now I feel so sorry that this is the context children today have to rely on.
No wonder they keep rotating the same classics in schools over and over again because – usage! How else will they get it with some of the materials being produced today? And again, these are things that can be fixed. I could never understand the aversion to editing. It’s my favourite part!
Most writers I know almost seem to fear it. And I understand, red marks all over your hard work can bring on a flush of emotions. But what’s the alternative? Look, you never know where your book will end up, and who will read it, so make it your best work the first time. Or as close as you can get to it anyway. Because nothing really disappears on the internet. And THAT is even more scary, my friend.
Back in 2012, many in the writing community predicted that editing would become a dying skill. I don’t think it has completely lost all merit. The community did find that they couldn’t do without editing because publications were either lynched by readers for poorly edited content or had to suffice with second-rate work for the meager price they thought good editing was worth.
Either way, as always, technology came to the rescue and since then a host of editing software has come out of the woodwork like Grammarly, AutoCrit, etc, etc, etc. The truth is that the mere existence of these programs has proven that editing is needed, and after using them many have found that nothing can beat a human editor. And here’s why.
The professional editor doesn’t simply ramble through a manuscript and add a hyphen here, delete a hyphen there. The professional editor considers what that addition or deletion does to the clarity of the message, and what subtle meaning changes occur as a result of that addition or deletion. – The American Editor
While an application might be able to follow and apply the rules of grammar programmed into its system, it is unable to properly weigh context. Every editor worth their salt knows that just because something is grammatically correct doesn’t make it logical or sensical.
First case in point!
Second case in point.
I didn’t care for Grammarly for a long time, but I got it last year cause, why not? I’m getting old. But while I was editing this post look at this ‘correction’ it suggested be applied in the last paragraph of this article.
Thank you Grammarly for catching corrections my tired, sleepy eyes may have missed, but I think you’re off on this on. Keep working on that context.
But I suppose that I can only speak for myself and decide what I will do. Do I think editors are expensive? Hell yes! Is it possible that I can pay real money and not be satisfied with the end result? Absolutely. However, it is also more likely that you can get a really good editor who can improve your book in ways that will increase your reviews and subsequently increase your sales, and I am all here for that!
So! Find some editors, vette them, work with a budget if you have to, but don’t deny the necessity for it. Who knows, writers might be next.
This information wasn’t available in 2012, but did you know that there are programs that can write books now? Do you think that they can do a writer’s job better?
– Written By Travesaou
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