Is there anything worse . . .? Or should that be worst . . .?

1 Feb

Actually, I’ve seen it both ways, but the second version there, has on more than one occasion, prompted me to throw the book across the room.

Why does this happen? (Not throwing the book across the room. We know why that happens!) But how does a mistake of that nature make it into a finished, published book. Even in a self-published book, there’s no excuse for this gross mis-use of the English language. The very best and most elegant writing in the world (or the greatest story-telling) can easily be derailed by sloppy grammar, bad spelling and punctuation that is either missing or over-used.

A traditional, commercial publisher should have editors in-house to make sure this type of mistake doesn’t see print. Notice I said ‘should have’. Some publishers pay more attention to editing than others do. The best ones will submit every manuscript to at least three editors: line, copy and final.

Line editors look for continuity throughout the book. In case you suddenly develop temporary amnesia, a line editor will remember that at the beginning of the book, the hero had blue eyes. Therefore, near the end of the book, his eyes will still be blue, and not brown. The heroines long curly locks will not have changed to a short brunet bob, unless there’s a darned good reason for that change. Maybe she’s gone undercover in her job as a policewoman. In that case, the line editor will merely be sure of the facts before singling it out for the author’s attention. The best line editors make a chart of such pertinent details for each character, etc. They don’t exactly trust their memories, let alone yours!

When did the War of 1812 come to a conclusion?  (Hint: it wasn’t 1812! It wasn’t even 1814, but closer to 1816 when the last battle occured.  Or is that occurred?)  Indeed it should be. However, this is by way of a trick question. First you have to know the battle was fought both in Europe and in the US. (England being the common denominator in both instances. Napoleon was defeated in 1815, but in the US and Canada, battles continued until closer to 1818. Communication wasn’t nearly as good (or as quick) as it is these days. (P. S. You get bonus points if you detected my errors in this paragraph. I need an editor!) Just joking.

Copy editors are geared more toward the flow of the story (even in a non-fiction book). They somehow intuit what you really meant to write, rather than what you did actually write. They check everything to be sure you’re not liable to put anyone in line for a libel lawsuit, for instance, or any kind of copyright infringement. They also check facts, always keeping an eye on spelling, grammar and punctuation.

At this point, the author will usually get back the edited copy of his or her manuscript, with possibly hundreds of little yellow tags hanging out the right edge of the pages, from top to bottom. If the author seriously disagrees with any of these tags, a mildly worded letter of protest might be sent back to the editor. The tone should always (ALWAYS) remain civil, however.

Once the manuscript is back at the publisher’s domain, it goes off to be typeset. (Note: with the preponderance of computers, etc., some of this is done on-line.) Personally, I prefer to do a paper version, but I cheerfully admit to being a Luddite. (Look it up.)

After being put into type, looking just as it should appear in the finished book, a proof-reader will be the next one to read it, along with the author, and the Final Editor. It is greatly to be hoped that errors are at a real minimum, as changes can prove to be expensive, even in these days of computers, when most changes are easier to make than in the old lead type tradition.

But what if you’re going to self-publish? Then what? It’s really rather simple. You look for an editor, and you will pay that person to do this job for you. Sad truth here – the days of traditional, commercial publishing with advances paid against royalties and large staffs of wordsmiths in-house, just waiting to burnish your book into gold, are winding down. There are still some of these publishers in existence, but not so many, and sadly, e-books don’t seem to get the attention that the print one does, or did.

Of course, you, as author, do know what you mean to write, but all too frequently, we’re distracted by outside influences: radio, TV, the computer, movies, games, whatnots. It’s all too easy to let your fingers type what they want rather than what your brain tells them to type. Spellcheck will help, to be sure, but it is NOT reliable. Trust me.

A good editor is worth his or her weight in gold. Truly. Of course, they don’t get paid on that same scale, but without an editor, most books are not worth reading. Anyone who says differently really needs to get a grip. On a good editor!

If you have questions or comments, please write to me: bookmechanic@gmail.com  If you’d like to know more about my editing services, same thing. Please write, and I’ll respond.  Thanks!

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2 Responses to “Is there anything worse . . .? Or should that be worst . . .?”

  1. Judy February 1, 2012 at 3:18 am #

    I thought this was very interesting. I had no idea about the various editing jobs. I do wonder how an editor refrains from using their words or phrases rather than the authors. I know that whenever I have been asked to read something, I often think that I have a better way of saying what ever it is. I even find proofreading to be a exercise in self restraint.

  2. gloria hanson February 1, 2012 at 11:05 pm #

    I don’t know what I would have done without my editor, Kelly Ferjutz. One can read, re-read a manuscript one thousand times and still miss grammatical errors or illogical thoughts. Good editors also offer suggestions to improve the narrative in addition to giving support and encouragement to authors. They are worth every “penny.”

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