Here we go again…indies and their editing (or not)

thumb-440352_1280There are many, many topics to talk about in the writing world. There’s lots of advice to be asked and given. Some issues just keep on turning up like bad pennies. For example, authors behaving badly has turned up more than once in IU posts. A few authors behave badly, it seems. But another topic that keeps rearing its ugly head is…*lowers voice and mouths exaggeratedly*…e-d-i-t-i-n-g. Just when you thought you’d said your bit on the subject, along comes another shambles of an unedited book, so off we go again…

Why, why, oh why, don’t (some) authors place any importance on editing? Laziness? Arrogance?  Lack of funds?  Over-confidence?

If I select a book to read or accept a book to review, it’s because either the author is known to and liked by me, or I’ve been attracted by the blurb. That’s a good start. The book starts off with five stars already. I’m not an author. I have no interest in being an author. I have no imagination and no interesting or noteworthy achievements or experiences. But I am interested in reading, so I’m indebted to those who take the time and trouble for me to indulge my hobby. So for that, authors will start off with those coveted stars. That’s the easy bit. What they have to then do is hold on to those stars, and the battle begins the minute I dive into the book. The author has got to grab my attention, write well, keep my interest, make me want to read more. Ninety-eight (that may be a bit generous) percent of the time this goes according to plan. So the author has held on to his/her four or five stars.

So where does it all go wrong? At what point do I start ripping stars off? Yep, with insufficient or complete absence of editing. Yes, yes, I know that a poorly constructed plot, bad dialogue, bad structure can’t be hidden by perfect technical editing. But it may be the saving grace. It might just be the difference between ‘I hope this author hasn’t given up his day job because he (let’s make the author male for simplicity) will never earn a living writing’ and ‘promising and with a little mentoring and advice, this author may have a future’. By the same token, a brilliantly written book with a spell-binding plot won’t make up for glaring spelling mistakes,  poor punctuation and grammatical blunders. The latter is more tragic, in my opinion. The window of success for a new author is tiny, tiny, tiny. Overlooking the necessity for good editing could end a career before it starts as easily as blowing down a house of cards.

Why is it so important? Because we learn from books. We learn new words (well, I do). We learn about history, geography, sports, science. The knowledge isn’t encyclopaedic, of course, but if you’ve learnt the name of the currency of a country or that the capital of Latvia is Riga (nope, I did not know that) after reading a book, or what the off-side rule in football is all about, be it fiction or nonfiction, you’ve learnt something, right? For that reason, the author has a duty to ensure s/he knows there is a difference between it’s and its or your and you’re or sight and site or how to spell receive. Because a reader who may not know these things, may, subliminally, learn. And the duty still lies with that author if he’s aware he’s hopeless at spelling and isn’t too hot on the rules of when to use a comma or em dash; it’s his responsibility to find a good editor who will address these issues.

It’s also important because it shows the author cares about his reader: he cares enough to submit the highest-possible quality of work. The reader will show his appreciation by giving a good review, recommending the work and buying novels two, three, four and five.

Unfortunately, I’ve read one badly edited book too many. The straw to break my back has found me. My patience and tolerance are now exhausted. A good book is no longer enough for me. I want it edited. And edited again. And again.

Let me be clear on one thing: I do know, of course, that the pristinely edited book does not exist. My exasperation has never been about a couple of dozen errors in a book, as long as they’re minor (getting the main character’s name wrong is pretty major in my book). I know and appreciate how easy it is to overlook or miss errors; there are always going to be a few. My gripe is at the many dozens of errors: stumbling across them in nearly every paragraph. Don’t tell me you haven’t read books like that. I know you have.

What’s even more depressing is that this level of unprofessionalism isn’t just confined to indie authors. The last traditionally published (which indie critics would have us believe are spot-on perfect) book I read was disappointingly littered with errors. Actually, I wasn’t just disappointed, I was disgusted. As far as I’m concerned, both the author and the publisher just had pound signs in their eyes. They both know that, as a best-selling author, the fan base won’t diminish just because of the odd spelling error. Loyalty can blind a fan. I’m also going to put it out there that I have, actually, read better-edited indie books. Despite my little moan, I am going to give credit where credit’s due.

What I would like to see is ‘better-edited’ applied to the majority of indie books (let’s include trad-pubbed, too), not just the minority. Something to make those critics eat their hats. But…somehow, I don’t think this is going to happen for a long, long time.


Author: Cathy Speight

Reviewer Cathy Speight is British and lives in England. The Kindle revived her passion for reading and after stumbling on a Facebook group of independent authors, she now does her best to encourage and assist indies as much as possible. Books by indie author form the majority of her collection. Cathy shares her views on the books she has read on her blog.

37 thoughts on “Here we go again…indies and their editing (or not)”

  1. Editing seems to be the Achilles heel for so many authors. I can’t tell you how many books I start and toss by the third page for just that reason. After my eye has hung up on misspellings and incorrect punctuation half a dozen times, I’m done. Many authors may think readers won’t notice, but don’t kid yourself. We do.

  2. I am far from the “perfect grammarian,” but I’m always trying to improve. I made it a point to learn the technical aspects of my craft. From the outset, I knew I had to brush up on grammar and punctuation. I have at least thirty sites bookmarked; Grammar Girl is my favorite. If I’m unsure about something, I look it up. The process becomes easier once you’ve learned the parts of speech and how to construct sentences. Speaking of sentences, syntax is often neglected as well.

    The comma has all but vanished, as has the distinction between its and it’s and a lot of other disturbing trends. We can’t fail to mention the negative impact that “texting” has had on the English language. That’s okay on one’s cell phone, but not in a book an author is writing. The saddest part, Cathy, is that a lot of readers don’t know the difference anyway…

  3. I had both my books professionally edited, twice. And I can’t count the number of times I’ve read them. I still I find things. It makes me nuts! I generated my ebooks on LiberWriter so I have instant access to the file and can make corrections, download a new file and upload to Amazon in a matter of minutes. I agree that traditionally published books are slipping in both technical editing, and development editing, but they still seem to do a good job. How do they do that? Is it because they are presented with more professional manuscripts to start with? I have found in my own writing that as it improves, so does my eye for mistakes.

    Unfortunately, I’m not sure sloppy writers can’t succeed. I know one. She cranks out 4-5 books a year filled with sentences to limbo, misfiring words, clunky dialogue, and preachy exposition. She does very very well.

    On a somewhat different editing note, what is going on with dropping quotation marks and filling up on colons in traditionally published books? I’ve read three books in the last few weeks that seem to be in a new format. I immediately thought that the traditional publishers have instituted new rules for their books to set them apart from indies. Crazy, I know. But could it be dog whistle editing, so people know they’re reading ‘real’ books? My reading/wayfinding mind is struggling to navigate the new format.

    1. I have a sneaky suspicion that when indies start to take over the world…which they will…or rather, the writing world, the anti-indies will regret setting themselves apart!

  4. I think we have people who simply refuse to pay or enlist someone with good skills to edit for them. Maybe they think they see everything. They don’t. Even if they have perfect grammar, they can’t see it all. It’s their own stuff, which they’ve already read once. Their minds skip a lot of it. I teach college English and worked for years in publishing, but I always miss things in my own work that my beta readers find. I still learn things, too — most recently, the difference between “a while” and “awhile” and that there’s a difference between a mantel and a mantle. It’s painful, sometimes, to fix these things (especially if you are paying for each change), but anyone who wants to be taken seriously really must do it. And this really can’t be said enough, so thank you!

    1. I paid an editor, ran it page for page through my writer’s group and I still have problems. But one good thing about being self published is that you can fix them. I suggest, before judging the author of limited resources, that you wait six months after initial release. If he or she isn’t doing due diligence, fixing the errors that only appear with retrospection, then you can call them a hack. That said, I would also like to suggest you walk a mile in our shoes. Try putting yourself out on the line, otherwise I might be justified in turning around and calling you a hack, or maybe something worse.

      1. Mark, I have two contradictory thoughts to this. 🙂

        First, you’re right that it hard to eradicate all the errors. It’s hard to shake out all the issues in a 1,000 word blog post and I’m sure doing the same in an 80,000 word novel is much more than 80 times as hard.

        Which leads me to my second thought. I can’t speak for others, but in my case I’m going to be forgiving of two or three typos in a blog post. I’m going to be extremely hard on a book with the same 2 or 3 errors every thousand words. I’d guess my attitude isn’t uncommon. What’s the difference? One is that the production schedule for a blog post is faster, so I cut a little more slack. (For the same reason, I wouldn’t react as negatively to a few typos in a newspaper, back in the day when I read the newspaper.) But the biggest reason is that the blog post is something I’m getting for free. The book is something I and my fellow readers are being asked to pay for.A book also involves more investment of time from the reader, so a bad experience caused by an overabundance of errors that throw him or her out of a story they hoped to immerse themself in is going to be more upsetting.

        You’re correct that an advantage of self publishing is that you can easily fix those errors that sneak through. But your suggestion of waiting six months doesn’t seem practical or reasonable.

        1. If an author can’t afford an editor, he/she should at the LEAST use beta readers. (Ideally, the process should be: beta readers, editor, advanced review copy readers. This will help catch any errors the editor may miss, and would hopefully give the author some kind of recourse if the editor did not do his/her job properly.) It is unwise and unfair to expect and/or ask readers who pay for a book to catch errors for the author. Not to mention that during those six months, the first impressions of those readers will not be good. Those are burnt bridges that cannot be rebuilt. It is truly the author’s responsibility to put out the best product possible the first time, and what Al said – fixing those errors that sneak through as they arise.

      2. I’m afraid, as a reviewer, I’m not going to review the book on the basis that it might be better six months later. The author needs to wait six months before issuing it. You don’t sell a car with faulty brakes and tell the buyer, don’t worry, madam, it’ll be fixed in six months’ time.

    2. I think the answer is that those writers (and editors, it has to be said) who care look things up when there is even the the slightest hint of doubt or uncertainty. I sometimes look at a word/phrase/sentence for hours, and for some reason, there’s a little niggle at the back of my mind, forcing me to look it up. Lo and behold, I find I was wrong. But any future uses of said word/phrase/sentence will be correct. It just doesn’t occur to some writers/editors to check.

  5. *Al jumps up and down screaming like a 60s teenage girl just after the Beatles have left the stage*

    I concur 100%, Cathy. Personally, by the time a book I’m reading for review hits a couple dozen errors, its review has already fallen to 3 stars.

  6. You’re preaching to choir here, m’lady.

    Of all the things I did to publish and promote my book, hiring a highly skilled and ruthless editor was by far the most expensive and worthwhile. The book is not flawless, but it’s pretty damn close.

    There are exceptions on both sides, but poorly edited (and poorly written) books are far more common in the Indie sphere. And so the absence of “gate keepers” is both a blessing and a curse.

    I’m loathe to set barriers that would undermine the creative chaos and democracy of the Indie world, in publishing, music or any other area. However, we will never gain real parity with the traditional publishers as long as there is a significant minority of these deeply flawed works. It’s a bit of a dilemma.

    That’s where folks like you and Big Al provide such a valuable service to both readers and authors. You help separate the corn from the chaff. And those of us with ink stained fingers, (well I still use a fountain pen), we can try to lead by example.

    And I don’t think you lack imagination nor noteworthy achievements. One could begin with running a successful review site and blog…

  7. I paid $500.00 to have my book line edited and it is still full of errors. Perhaps that’s why people are hesitant.

    1. I was just having a discussion about this post off line with a couple of IU readers. I think there are a few things revolving around the editing processes and the reaction of authors, readers, and reviewers to be considered.

      I think of editing as consisting of three distinct, yet overlapping, areas.

      High level, substantive, or content editing – This looks at the overall story from the overall story arc, potentially down to the scene (is this scene needed?, does it work?, are there plot holes or does the plot even work:, is characterization adequate?)

      Copy or line editing – This is focused more on smaller units – paragraphs, sentences, and sometimes individual words. Grammar issues and such.

      Proofreading – Is the word spelled correctly? Is the punctuation correct? Historically this was done with a print proof, but in the ebook world this function fits in the overall process a bit differently.

      Although these functions may overlap each other as well as with the output of other non-editors involved in the polishing and quality control of a book (beta readers, critique partners), so, for example, a copy editor *might* catch a plot hole or a content editor might catch and fix a typo (or introduce one as well), the focus of each is different.

      I think readers often ding a book on reviews for “bad editing” when the story has no issues, but the proofing is suspect. Authors hire an editor (because they’ve read they need to), but aren’t clear on what phase the editor is performing.

      There are also plenty of people who have put out their virtual shingle as an editor who aren’t qualified and/or don’t have a good handle on this either.

      1. That’s exactly why a reviewer should separate the story (structure/development, etc.) from the technical aspects (grammar, spelling, punctuation). I do this in my reviews and have been known to include an impassioned plea in the review, to the author, to make their very good book a great one by getting it edited.

      2. Yes, that works both ways, Al, as you’ve pointed out. Not only should authors know the different types of editing, it will help them in choosing the best editor for their needs. And if an editor does not know what kind of editing he or she does, it might be best to keep looking.

      1. I definitely agree that at least three passes through is a must when editing a manuscript for someone. What really bugs me a lot are the editors I’ve seen who offer rock-bottom prices and who boast they will fix errors and read for story development at the same time. Yikes. Buyer beware and a person will get what they pay for.

    2. Five hundred dollars is a rather low figure. Anyone can hang out a shingle and call themselves an editor, but that doesn’t mean they have the requisite skills or standards.

      There are organizations which provide accreditation to professional editors. One such up here in the frozen north is the Editors’ Association of Canada. I wouldn’t hire an engineer who lacked professional credentials. The same goes for an editor.

      Caveat emptor. You get what you pay for.

  8. I agree, Cathy. When I began it was not so easy to find a good freelance editor. And I got ripped off by iUniverse – who had done three content edits, a copy-edit and a line edit – Hah! When you reviewed my first book I appreciated your feedback on the errors so much but was too inexperienced and terrified to do anything about it. That has since been corrected – on both counts.
    Things have changed since then. We have become more educated about how to find a good editor and how to avoid being ripped off. Yet, it still can happen to the newbie. That’s what makes sites like Indies Unlimited, Preditors and Editors, and Writer beware so important.
    Most writers I know who also edit for others, and do it extremely well, do not edit their own work. If they can’t do it what makes any of us who are not editors think we can. Fie on them.

  9. The issue of what kind of editing is a big one. Developmental editors aren’t necessarily good proofreaders — and in any case, proofreading is ideally done at the pages stage — which is when it costs some of us a fortune to catch errors. One thing I think I might try in the future is putting every chapter on my web site (not publicly), because there’s something about simply putting a manuscript in a new format that helps me see problems I missed before. But if someone advertises that they are proofreading and the book is full of errors, you might consider submitting a warning to preditors and editors or other sites.

      1. Changing format can be done in many ways. Format as an ebook, if you have an ereader or tablet, printing it out on paper, reading it out loud, or having your Kindle read it to you are a few possibilities that force you to “view” the writing in a different way and tend to uncover different kinds of errors as well.

        1. I already format nearly-final drafts using one of Joel Friedman’s book templates, so I am already looking at it in a different format — and I always print it out as well — but I STILL miss things (especially small missing words).

          If time were really NOT of the essence, I would do what I make my students do — read it out loud. That forces a person to slow down and hear when things are messed up. But for a novel at over 90,000 words … ouch. It’s one thing to do this week by week with a writing group, and quite another to do it with a whole novel on its fifth or sixth or whatever draft, especially on a deadline.

  10. I think there’s a major confusion between the job of editor and the job of proofreader among indies.

  11. I print out chapters, big sections, the whole thing. Edit, proof, edit, proof. But, because it’s my own, much gets by me. Today a friend sent me the link to Grammarly I put in a slug of text from my current ms, it was very interesting.

      1. Really? It seems like a word processor on steroids. I only did a little test. It caught a few stray commas that were very obvious once they were highlighted.

        I ignored it’s comment that I had ‘wordiness’ in one place. Yep. Exactly what I meant to do. A sentence fragment that wasn’t dialogue was helped by some fleshing out.

        I can think of several writers who would benefit from running their work through the program, if they understand that it’s not meant to write their book. It doesn’t take the place of human eyes, but it catches a lot of the mistakes that annoy the people who have commented.

  12. I know. I KNOW. And I DO value a great editor, and for my traditionally published books I (or rather my publisher) employs one. But here is where I falter: with my indie-published works. The truth is that putting down $1000 on a book that will take at least 5 years to make that money back is impossible. I made the mistake of paying someone $150 to copy-edit my first indie and (you will not be surprised) got what I paid for – NOTHING. Sure, you can tell me that was way too little to pay for good editing, but it was a true measure of what I could afford as a first-time author. What do you do? Beta readers aren’t enough. I am for sure not enough. So what do you do?

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