Editing as a second language

editingI mentioned recently that I had joined a review group to help drum up greater awareness for my books.  This is different from a writers group, a place where writers read and critique work within the group in order to improve the writing and the writer.  The purpose of the review group is strictly to read and review members’ works publicly.

A number of these authors use Amazon’s self-publishing service and have direct pricing control over their works, so they can offer the books at a discount or free for a limited time (I produce print books so I work through a distributor, giving up that pricing control for wider access).  In other cases, the authors offer to exchange e-books for mutual reviews.

I faithfully downloaded/asked for around two dozen books and began to fulfill my commitment to review them.  Of the first seven books I started, I could only finish two.  Of the five I couldn’t finish, four of them were because the editing was so bad it created a roadblock to effective reading.  Note, I say the “editing” was bad.  Some of the tales were well written, with interesting plots and characters, but the flow was like watching a streaming download that keeps freezing…frustrating and annoying.

Editing is a tingly subject for self-published authors.  Most aren’t capable or comfortable enough to pay an outside source to edit their book.  For some, it’s simply the cost; for others it’s the thought that the editor will make story changes they don’t want.  The latter is a misconception.  In a self-published work, you have the option of disregarding the editors changes.  Regardless, many self-published authors try to self-edit as well;  I am one of them.  Here are my reasons for self-editing and my results:

First, I am a journalism major who has been writing and editing for thirty years.  Second, I read through my books, cover to cover, multiple times before release.  Third, I send my books out to “pre-readers” prior to submitting the final manuscript.  Fourth, I re-read the book cover to cover another couple of times before release.  And still there was one error missed in Book One, one error missed in Book Two and (horrors) two errors missed in Book Three (oddly, the errors in Book Two and Book Three occurred in the “Previously” section and not in the main book.  A lesson for me, no doubt).

What that says, clearly, is that even with vast experience, errors slip through.  Now, when I said the books I was trying to review had bad editing, I wasn’t talking about errors like I cited for my books.  In some of the books I was reading I would often find two or three editing mistakes on a single page!  And it’s not as if I was looking for them…I really wanted to review some books!  Those errors were as diverse as bad spelling to bad grammar to changed character names to wrongly attributed dialog.

When I was first learning about self-publishing and I chose the company I currently work with, I read a lot of their material talking about the vast amount of poor submissions from writers and the charges that they would have to pay to fix their already published work.  When I started investigating book bloggers to solicit book reviews, I noticed many of them refused to accept self-published work and/or specifically stated how many submissions were poorly edited.  I thought that was just arrogance or elitism on their part, but now I see some of what they were probably referring to.

I cannot fathom why anyone would want to publish such rough work.  There is a direct reflection on the author and their professionalism when the work in question is poorly edited.  The effect is to be viewed as poorly written, meaning even the greatest idea may be headed for the circular file rather than the bestseller list.  Take the extra month or two and make sure the grammar is right, the spelling is correct and the story flows properly.  With millions of books on the market, those extra months can’t possibly cost a market opportunity, but those editing errors surely will.

Writing may rule, but editing better be your second language.

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