I want to make a point perfectly clear at the outset: I’m not being self-righteous here, okay? Okay.
Having said that, I have to ask: where are the editors these days?
I’m reading a book at the moment—I won’t give title, author, or publisher, since I’m gonna be nitpicking it—that has a good overall story. But there are details that should have been corrected. For instance, take a look at this sentence: The horses back and whinny, as [he] swears and tries to control the frightened horses. Now, to me, this looks like the typical first draft mistake all authors make, and if I were reading the first draft, I’d have no problem with it. I’d mark it for the author and move on.
But this is a final, published book. I picked it up at my library. Has a great cover. The overall story editing is great. I haven’t spotted a plot hole yet, so I can’t fault that. But when you have a sentence like the one above—and it’s not the only example in this novel—you have to wonder where the editor was when he read that particular passage.
Now, to be fair, the novel isn’t exactly rife with things like this. Again, it reads smoothly, for the most part, and I can’t point out anything huge and say, “Look at this crap!” It’s more the little things, like unnecessary dialogue tags, as if the writer is afraid we’ll forget who’s talking, and the occasional sentence like my example, that pop up.
Again, I’m not being self-righteous. I’m sure I’ve missed things—in fact I know I’ve missed things—that make me want to face-desk. Hard. I’m not a perfect editor by any means, as anyone who’s read any of my texts and infrequent Facebook posts can tell you. Autocorrect messes me up so many times it’s not funny, and for some reason I can’t get it through my thick head to go over what I’ve typed before sending or posting it. And then, of course, there’s the old phenomenon that every writer is familiar with, which is it’s far easier to edit someone else’s writing than it is your own. Even in online posts and texts, we’re too close to our writing to do it justice (though some of the horrible things autocorrect does should stand out like a sore thumb).
At the small company where I work, I have to wear all the hats. I’m general editor, line editor, technical editor, and copy editor. I have to keep my phone handy to research things that I wonder about, so I can help the author get details right. I keep the Dictionary.com app on my phone to look up dubious spellings, and Google gets a good workout when I need to reacquaint myself with writing rules. I’m not having a pity party here, but it’s not always an easy job—I’m always thankful for those writers who write so well that I’m mostly looking for typos—and I can understand how things like this can get by an editor.
The sad fact is, I’m not the only editor having to wear multiple hats these days. Thanks to the Great Recession, publishing companies have downsized editorial departments (which to me is the equivalent to shooting yourself in the foot) in an effort to save money. The result is overworked editors who miss things they shouldn’t. Oghma has some thirty authors under contract (last I checked), and I don’t have to edit all of those (thank God!), but as I’m the only full-time editor, I do the lion’s share of them. I can’t imagine what some editors are going through on a daily basis at the major publishers.
The good thing is, at Oghma, we have beta readers, which lightens the load a little in that I know I don’t have to rely only on myself to catch everything. And knowing that, I’m able to relax a bit and, as a result, actually catch more than I probably would if there were more pressure. Having beta readers doesn’t mean I can slack off, but it does mean I don’t have to sit at my computer wiping sweat off my forehead and stressing because I may have missed something. I’m especially worried about plot holes, and having other readers who see things differently is a blessing. I don’t know if any of those people read my blog, but I still want to give a hearty thanks to them. They have no idea how much easier it makes my job knowing they’re there to catch my screw ups.
I’m seeing articles on a fairly regular basis these days talking about how book sales are up—both physical and electronic—so I’m hoping the other publishing companies will put something in place to help catch more of these mistakes and stop working their editors into the ground and early burnout. Sure, as an employee at Oghma, I want us to have anything we can to give us an advantage in this field. But as a reader, I want to see quality books out there because, in the long run, it helps all us authors and publishers more.
So let’s bring all those editors back, whatever the cost. We’re not the author’s enemies—despite popular belief that says otherwise—and if we could spread the load out more, all of us would benefit from a better product, and a better product would mean better sales. And better sales means we’re fulfilling the dreams of some very worthy authors.
Nothing wrong with that, is there?