Don’t Shoot the Editor

angry author anger-18658_640We all love to complain, especially when those complaints are generic. It fills a certain need, I think. Perhaps it gives a sense of belonging, of oneness or agreement with others. Among writers some of those darts are aimed at editors.

Those who do not write, I think, mostly read for pleasure and tend to be more forgiving of a certain number of editing errors in what they read. As long as the book flows, holds their attention, and entertains them, they are willing to overlook some weaknesses.

That changes when readers become writers. I know, because it happened to me. Other writers tell me it is the same for them. We notice every spelling error, every bit of missing or incorrect punctuation, every overused word. While we disagree on what we enjoy reading, the one thing we do tend to agree on is that books must be well (read perfectly) edited before being offered to the public – to readers, including us.

We shake our heads sagely when decrying the issues in the latest books we’ve read, rating them according to the quality of editing and number of errors we find. Now there is nothing wrong with that. I am the first to agree that a poorly edited book, especially a poorly edited Indie book, lends credence to the myth that Indie authors put out sub-standard material, and that these errors detract from our reading enjoyment.

Lately, though, I have begun to think about another way of looking at editing in books. This comes in part from my own experience, both as an author who has had her books edited professionally, and most recently, as a first-time editor.

Let me declare, for the record, that I love my editor. We have become fast friends since she began editing my work. And I think she’s good – really good. But there lies the rub. She’s not absolutely perfect. And that’s what brings me to my new point of view. Perfection is so rare as to be almost unheard of.

Added to that problem are the disputes arising from constant changes in what is considered correct spelling and punctuation. Does this sentence really need that comma? Should this be a semi-colon or a comma? Does this sentence need to be broken into two? Is that a cliché and ought it be removed? Are there too many justs or thats? To top it off, there are many versions of “correct” English, depending on which country the writer is from.

Often there is no hard and fast rule to follow. Yet, writers, editors, and even readers have strong opinions about what is correct. They complain when they read something that does not conform to their personal opinion.  Also, errors can creep in during formatting, or even uploading and publishing.

But for me, the biggest issue in rating the editing of a book is that authors do not agree with or accept every suggestion an editor makes. I know I don’t. Many of them, yes, but not all of them. The relationship between editor and author is, or ought to be, a partnership. There must be give and take. Some things must be negotiated. Sometimes that results in an author insisting on keeping things an editor may have pointed out as incorrect. The result? A book with errors that are not the fault of the editor. They may be the fault of the author, or even a computer.

Where does this leave me?  On the fence.  And it’s not a comfortable place.  Those pickets have points on top.

But I, and I know a few others, have made a painful decision. We do not allow our name to be listed as the editor of the books we work on. It can lead to erroneous criticism of our work and even destroy our reputation and our business. The errors for which we get the blame may not even be ours. And even if they are, no one is perfect. So, when you read an otherwise good book and find a few errors, or things that you question, don’t shoot the editor.  It may not be her fault.

Author: Yvonne Hertzberger

Yvonne Hertzberger is a native of the Netherlands who immigrated to Canada in 1950. She is an alumna of The University of Waterloo, with degrees in psychology and Sociology. Her Fantasy trilogy, ‘Earth’s Pendulum’ has been well received. Learn more about Yvonne at her blog and her Amazon author page.

46 thoughts on “Don’t Shoot the Editor”

  1. Congratulations on branching out into editing, Yvonne. And yes, an editor can only do so much. I imagine there are enjoyable projects and… not so enjoyable ones. Good luck!

  2. I’ve certainly noticed more errors in my ‘reading for pleasure’ over the last few years. I didn’t think to ‘blame’ it on my becoming an author. Nope I went straight to ‘get off of my lawn’ territory – that’s right I figured I’d just lost perspective as I sailed past life’s mid-point. I think I like your theory better. The next time I find a a from/form error, note a missing word, or some such I’ll resist the temptation to mutter in disgust, but pardon me if I continue to disdainfully shake my head at they’re/there/their…..

  3. I also notice errors now. I don’t know if it’s that books aren’t as carefully proofed as they used to be (meaning trad-pubbed), or if I just notice them more. One thing I’ve learned with my own books is that one edit will rarely find all the mistakes. My books go through 2-3 beta-readers as well as 1-2 editors, and still I’ll find mistakes.

    1. Same here, Melinda. It’s frustrating but I try to remember nothing is perfect. That’s not easy for us perfectionists. Or should that be we perfectionists?

  4. I have noticed more editing errors in trad-pub renowned authors in the last couple of years. Maybe it is because I write as well and find myself flinching at my own mistakes. I think it boils down to we are all human, and can’t be perfect all of the time. Unless it is screeching I just read on and enjoy the story. Good luck with your additional talent Yvonne.

  5. Spot on – I’ve become a terribly critical reader for pleasure since turning my hand to writing. It’s sometimes difficult to be forgiving of others when your unforgiving of yourself.

    Interesting that you don’t advertise your editorial work How do you collect new clients?


  6. Congrats, Yvonne!

    The work of one of my favorite authors, Harry Harrison, has so many comma splices that I found them distracting when I first started to read his stories. Now I skip over the splices and enjoy his imagination. I think we all need a SPAG switch that we turn off when we’re reading.

  7. You make an excellent point, Yvonne. As an editor, I am not going to strongarm my clients to do what I say; I offer suggestions (and reason for them) and it’s then up to the authors to accept them or reject them. The author has final authority. S/He reads and approves the final version. I hadn’t thought too much about it before, but we often hear the ballohooed cry, “Why didn’t the editor catch that??” Either both the author and editor missed it, or else the editor did catch it and the author used it anyway. It puts things in a very different perspective to think about it this way. Thanks for a great post–very thoughtful.

  8. Excellent points, Yvonne, and well said. Like Melissa, I also don’t expect my editing clients to accept EVERY suggestion I make. I explain why I made the suggestion, and my concerns if the suggestion is not addressed, and writers accept and reject as they see fit. I don’t always agree, but ultimately, it’s not my book.

  9. The word “perfect” rears its ugly head again…

    You nailed it, Yvonne: No book is perfect–professionally edited, traditionally published, or self-published. I read for enjoyment. I don’t look for perfection in a book, but I do like to see that an author has tried to do his or her best. I also take writing style and genre into consideration as well as geographical differences and country of origin.

    1. Thanks, Linda. I agree to a point. If English is not the author’s first language it needs to be edited by someone who can make it flow. That said, I do think we, as readers need to accept that there is more than one ‘correct’ version of English, depending on country of origin. Or is that what you were saying?

  10. Having actually worked professionally as an editor, I can vouch for the lack of perfection even in traditional books. Even with acquisitions editors, development editors, copy editors, and proofreaders involved, typos will still slip by. (And wrestling with authors over content is an inevitable part of the job for the acq ed, at least. I also noticed an inverse relationship when it came to acknowledgments — the authors who needed the least help were most likely to thank us, and the ones whose books required major work almost never did. I guess they were too stressed out, but so we were we by that point!)

  11. An interesting article, thanks,Yvonne. The trouble is there should be an unbiased list of really good editors. It’s so darn expensive and really hard to find good ones. 🙂

    1. I hear you, Dale. It’s hard to know who’s good. Often it has nothing to do with training or accreditation, either. You want to put your hard earned cash where it is the best fit.

  12. I believe that editing can take may forms and quite a few of them are mentioned here, if not in your article then prompted responses from it. Whether a given author needs a lot of editing or merely a tidy-up they need an empathetic editor, an editor who understands what the author is trying to convey (typos and mistakes aside).

    Excellent article, Yvonne.

  13. Good post. Editors and authors don’t always agree, so blaming the editor isn’t really fair. It’s a joint effort, and sometimes both can miss something, or sometimes one is more at fault than the other. Either way, I think most authors go out of their way to put out a good product, and if you let an author know there’s a problem, he or she will appreciate the heads up.

  14. Great post. I’ve noticed many readers who don’t write tend to notice “errors”–that is, not actual errors, but editorial and authorial choices that conflict with what Mrs. Biddy taught them in seventh-grade English class lo these many years ago. Then they leave negative reviews over “grammer” errors like “Me and Bob went…” even though the usage in question appears in dialogue or first-person narrative.

    As authors/editors, we tend to notice different types of errors: faulty parallelism, showing versus telling, and other stuff that average readers don’t register beyond “it was boring/hard to follow.”

    As an editor myself, I shudder a bit whenever an author disregards my advice (or opts only for copyediting when developmental editing is needed, or skips final proofreading) and the book gets criticized as a direct result. The fact is, most authors don’t take all of their editors’ advice; many don’t seek as much editing as they could benefit from (“need” being a relative term); and then many skip professional proofreading after copyediting (or perhaps another round of copyediting after the author has added or changed sections).

    For that matter, a lot of indie authors, perhaps emboldened by advice about preserving their “voice,” seem to self-select for editors who don’t give them advice they don’t like, even though it’s the advice they need. (Nothing wrong with looking for an editor who gets your voice, but “your voice” isn’t the same as “butchering every grammatical/mechanical/usage convention from here to Timbuktu and confusing readers in the process.”)

    For myself, I still find the publicity I get from authors mentioning using my services is more a boon than a detriment, but I may decide otherwise at some point in the future.

      1. We’re bombarded with incorrect grammar usage in the media and on TV shows–especially in regard to “lie” and “lay,” where most everything and everyone is “laying” all over. Then when an author chooses the correct verb tense, the reader thinks she’s wrong! I’ve also been dinged on “between you and me,” which readers think should be “between you and I.” I’m sure there are many other examples, but those two stand out for me. 🙂

        1. I stumble sometimes on the “between you and me”. The one that really gets me is “There’s a lot of…” They use the singular almost every time when it ought to be the plural. Grrr. Another is “bored of” instead of “bored with”.

          1. The “there” issue could be fixed if writers realized that “there” is an adverb and never the subject of a sentence! I’ll have to keep an eye out for “bored of.”

  15. What I try to remember is that there has NEVER been a perfect book published. Perfection does not exist! This helps me to forgive occasional errors in my own and other works.

    Of course, if something’s riddled with errors, then it’s a different story (literally!).

  16. For me, bad grammar is acceptable in dialogue, (and maybe even in first person), but not in narration.

    Just my rules though. 🙂

  17. Yes, I pick up on errors while reading more than I did before. When I read for pleasure, before becoming a serious writer, I’d fly over those rare errors, no thought about them.

    We’re not perfect, only human. Do your best, it is all that can be asked, even editors slip occasionally.

  18. Looking down this thread of commentary, I’m relieved to see that almost all the issues I’ve addressed as an editor are mentioned here.

    I think you’re right that the authors who need it the least are the ones who are most appreciative of thorough editing, and the ones who need it most aren’t. I recently edited a novel, and just before I finished the author told the publisher that they wanted it just proofread. There were serious structural problems with the novel and the book was released with all of them. I was very relieved that when the book was pushed through without my edits, that I also wasn’t listed as an editor. My time was wasted, but my reputation is intact. I may not be perfect, but I’m not sloppy.

    I’ve always believed that it’s a writer and editor’s job to make the story a pleasure for the reader to absorb. Every err takes the reader out of the story; it’s as simple as that. No one wants knots in their dental floss.

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