When Editing Really Matters

So recently there was a self-published book that someone reviewed and said was fabulous.  And just the type of book I like to read, too.  Now, ironically, even though I’m self-published I tend to stick with trade published books for my personal reading because I don’t have a lot of reading time and I don’t get some special thrill from discovering hidden gems.  I just want to use my limited free time to read really good books.

And not saying that there aren’t some really good self-pubbed books, but I do think there’s more variation in the self-pub world and it’s easier to find a dud.  As someone who gets stuck reading a book even if I don’t particularly like it, this can be a big annoyance.

Anyway.  I don’t usually read self-pubbed books.  But the review on this one was so over the top wonderful that I thought, okay, I’ll try it.

So I bought a copy.  A paperback copy.  (Which I think actually made this issue even worse…)

And, well…

Editing issues.  (And formatting issues.)

The writer is a good writer.  I can see that.

But they need a copy editor.  Someone to fix when they type “they” instead of “the” or end a sentence with two periods instead of just the one it needed or simply leave out a word.  It’s friction that doesn’t need to be there.

Interestingly enough, the writer has 250+ reviews and none that I found mention the editing.  But I think there were at least five or six errors in the first chapter of the paperback.

I, as a reader, will not read another book by this person.  I may not even finish this book.  It’s a close call.  The story is just engaging enough that I’m sticking with it, but not so engaging that I’m not noticing all the issues.  And the story isn’t so overwhelmingly fantastic that I want to overlook the issues.

(Another argument her for the idea that your basic everyday reader is far less particular than most writers.)

The fact that I’m reading this in paperback is worse.  Because this person made no effort to do any sort of special formatting for paperback.  There are paragraphs that end with just the ” on a line by itself and each paragraph is indented so far it looks almost comical at times.  And inconsistent section breaks–some have a symbol, some just have two lines.  And the paragraphs aren’t justified which can be a choice but is exacerbated by the lack of any print-specific formatting so large words fall on the next line and leave a huge gap in the middle of a paragraph.  And, and, and, and.

Once you notice one issue, you start to notice them all.  (By the way, I’m not claiming here that my print books are formatted perfectly (you don’t know what you don’t know and I’m sure there are tricks I’ve yet to learn), but I like to think that they’re at least not poorly formatted and that it’s obvious I at least put some effort into things.

As a writer, this is a good reminder to me that you only get one chance to snag that reader.  Maybe, maybe if you’re lucky, you get two chances.

And you never know when your moment is going to come–in this case, that review led a number of readers to this writer.  After all the attention is on you is not the time to be fixing things.  You want things to be buttoned up as much as you can get them right from the start so you can capture every reader who turns your way.

(Says the person who self-edits and self-formats…)

Now I’m off to sit in a corner and stare at my books while chewing my fingernails to the quick wondering if my books have just as many errors in them…(You know that’s how these things work, right?  Pot, kettle, etc.)

Anyway.  Edit.  And if you have a print version, it needs formatting.

About M. H. Lee

M.H. Lee is a speculative fiction writer currently residing in Colorado whose stories are sometimes dark, sometimes funny, sometimes darkly funny, but hopefully always thought-provoking and entertaining.
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6 Responses to When Editing Really Matters

  1. A lot of authors treat self publishing like a business, and when running a business, sometimes one has to make decisions such as, “What’s a better use of my time and resources – fine tuning the copy and proofreading mistakes in this book or working on the next one?”

    Truthfully, there’s a lot of evidence that suggests that most readers simply don’t care all that much about the kinds of issues that you mentioned. So if the percentage of readers impacted really is that small, it’s probably not a wise business decision to go to extraordinary lengths to correct those kinds of issues.

    Note that writer-readers and editor-readers are wholly different creatures than “most” readers.

    • M. H. Lee says:

      I’ve definitely heard that argument made. And I by no means argue that a book has to be 100% error free-I think that’s a waste of effort and likely impossible. But..anytime a reader has to stop and go back because the word was the wrong word and it doesn’t make sense, you risk losing them. At some point paying $300 for a line edit is worth it for the 500 readers you don’t lose to bad editing.

    • Dave Higgins says:

      There is also evidence that readers unconsciously assign value to an author’s work based on the effort it took to read a book by them. So, while a great story/characters can be enough to stop technical niggles irritating a reader, readers are less likely to start a new book by that author.

  2. The way I interpreted the original post was that it advised indie authors to pay more attention to copy editing and typos.

    I think that this advice is wrong headed.

    First of all, since we’ve studied the “right” way to write, authors and editors have definitive stances on things that most readers don’t even notice. For example, I abhor it when authors use ridiculous speech tags liked “replied” and “growled.” I don’t even like “asked.” And don’t get me started on the practice if using italics to add emphasis.

    I absolutely will not read your book if you do either of those things.

    So should I write a blog post advising writers not to do those things?

    No. The percentage of readers who care about those two things is so small that it’s insignificant.

    If you want to be a successful business person, you need to concentrate on getting the important things and stop spending time worrying about things that don’t matter.

    I guarantee you that an author who can write a clear, engaging story that evokes an emotional response from the reader but who has major issues with typos will be much more financially successful than the author with a perfectly presented and formatted book that is emotionally flat with no tension.

    If you really want to write blog posts that help your fellow authors, post about things that matter instead of posting about your pet peeves.

    • M. H. Lee says:

      This is my blog. I get to choose what I write. And you, as a reader, get to choose not to read it ever again. I will say, however, that having a personal distaste for saidisms (like growled) is not the same thing as when a writer objectively uses the wrong word due to a lack of copy editing.

      However, it’s clear to me we don’t need to go back and forth on this, so please move on.

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