On Editing

The book in question is an urban fantasy paperback, traditionally published by Harper Collins, under their Eos imprint. It has close to 400 pages and I’ve read 125, getting more and more annoyed as I read further.

Is the story not that great then? Not at all. It’s an OK concept, decent characters, written in the 1st person – which I don’t usually enjoy, unless it’s Robin Hobb, she does 1st person very very well. But it’s OK. It’s not the best book I’ve ever read, but it should be a good story. It has fights, vampires, lycanthropes, other monsters, a decent plot and some interesting side plots and diversions and plenty going for it – and it’s part of a nice long series. I love a good long series, they can keep me reading for book after book and I’ll read every single book in a series if I can get my hands on them.

But there’s something wrong, and that has me annoyed.

Here’s why.

Within those 125 pages I keep finding things that jolt me from the narrative. Let me share a few examples, and this is literally just a few examples from the many I found within that first 125 pages.

Page 7:

…. [she] gapped at the knife sticking out of her chest.

Excuse me? “GAPPED”? Did you mean “gaped”? As in, stared in bewilderment, disbelieving? Or possibly, GASPED? A knife in her chest is going to hurt, probably be fatal, and gasping would work, but that would mean a slight rewording, wouldn’t it? Either way, GAPPED is wrong.

Page 10:

That explained the sudden slice of pain when I’d crashed into Amanda. I impaled myself on the knife she’d been holding.

The change of tense there threw me. Is there a word missing? Should it be “I had impaled myself”, or “I’d impaled myself…”? The whole section is describing an event after it happened, not as it’s happening and the whole book is written that way. It just doesn’t read right.

Page 17:

Main character speaking, addressing other characters.

“If you are part of my family, your actions are the same as what my actions would be.”

That one gave me a headache. Granted, that could simply be the way the character speaks, and she’s not the most eloquent. But that sentence there feels so clumsy. Forgiveable if the character always talks like that, but she doesn’t, and it still jolted me from the narrative and made me stop reading, again. Wouldn’t you say, “…your actions are my actions.” or, “…your actions will be seen as mine.” or something along those lines.

Page 18:

….half my hours of the day…..

Again, clumsy. Half of each day, or half my hours, or half of my life, or something. But, “…half my hours of the day…”? Does that even make sense?

Page 18:

“You’re offering us…. [deal offered by main character]?”

“Yes, I do.”

I do? This could simply be speech patterns for where the novel is set but it doesn’t sound right and I found myself reading it aloud to check. Surely it should have been , “I am.”? Are you/you are? is answered with, I am. Will you? = I do.

The book so far has been littered with stuff like this and it makes reading it so hard for me.

Another one.

Background – the main characters are vampires and therefore are only out at night. The author has spent the previous couple of pages building the tension that the main character has things she needs to get done before dawn, and she needs to leave enough time to get home, to safety (the vamps are the good guys here!) before the sun comes up.

But then…

Page 80:

Around me, I could feel the night waning. I was growing weaker. It was less than two hours until the sun finally set.

I had to reread that a few times.

… until the sun finally SET…? What? It was dawn approaching, right? You made sure we knew that? And the sun SETS at dawn? Doesn’t the sun RISE at dawn? I gave up making notes after that.

So, why has this book got me so annoyed?

As you may have noticed, I am a great fan of independent writers and Indies come in for a substantial amount of stick for the quality of their books. They’re full of typos, mistakes, badly written and so on. Sure, some could well be. I’ve read some books I didn’t enjoy, and some were riddled with issues that a good editor would fix. But the majority aren’t, they’re polished and such great writing that you get so lost in the weave of the words that you really can’t see any errors that might be there. You get swept away, and that’s how a good book should be.

I hear all the time how Indies are rubbish, just writers who can’t get a traditional publishing deal and yet here is a “NYT Bestseller” with a “proper” publishing deal, and in my opinion the book is unreadable because of the sheer volume of mistakes that a good editor should have picked up and clearly didn’t. Some errors get missed, even editors are human, or so I’m told. But that many? The ones I quoted here are just the ones I could be bothered to make a note of before I gave up.

As a reader this drives me nuts, as a writer even more so.

Independent writers work hard to make their work the best it can be. Most of us have been professionally edited, and most are also usually open to feedback. Of course there are exceptions, but please don’t judge us all until you’ve tried our books?

Will you now judge all Harper Collins, Eos books by the one I read? Or all traditionally published books? Or, as I got this one from my local library, all library books? Maybe it’s a fantasy thing, and you should be judging all fantasy books as rubbish and not worth picking up?

No?

Are you seeing my point here? That book might well put me off trying any more by that author, but I’ll still read any book that catches my fancy.

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6 thoughts on “On Editing

  1. Karyn Pearson

    The fact that a traditionally published best-seller has that many errors is upsetting to say in the least. I’m actually feeling a bit of secondhand embarrassment for the author of the novel in question here. But it just goes to show that just because something has been published by one of the big publishing houses, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the work is quality (just look at Fifty Shades of Grey).

    Editing is crucial to producing a quality novel and when it falls short, it’ll make or break your reading experience. The editing needs to be solid before a book goes to print, whether it be traditionally or digitally. The final polish to a novel should be done before it’s published, hence the term “finalization,” because it’s y’know, final.

    A professionally published book should have professional-level quality. That’s what readers expect from those publishing houses. And sure, traditional pub and others may scoff and turn up their noses at indie pub and say we’re not good enough to get a book deal, but so what? We’re still professionals ourselves. The sheer amount of work that a lot of indie authors and the respective independent publishing houses put in to make these books look and feel like a novel produced by traditional publishing should be more than enough to show that we’re not amateurs.

    We’re not “traditional pub rejects.” We’re professionals of a different kind. And just because we don’t have Harper Collins, Simon & Schuster, Little, Brown, or Random House attached to our names doesn’t mean we’re any less deserving of respect or consideration. Our work deserves to have as much a chance at success as any other traditionally-published novel.

  2. Ashley Bazer

    I’m finding more and more that story trumps writing. As an author, it’s frustrating because I’ve put in the time to learn the craft. But what can you do other than not purchase or support that author/publishing house?

  3. Kristina Stutts

    Oh, wow, that gave me a headache. I completely agree with Sarah. This comes off as a clumsy first time author, not what I would expect from a publishing house like this. And this also falls on the shoulders of the editor, too. Granted, I’m still a new author and I’m sure my first draft was far from good but that’s why it’s a first draft. That was back when I didn’t know what I was doing.

    Authors, find a good editor. He/she will be your best friend during the writing process.

  4. Stuart Nager

    I, too, marvel at the MANY mistakes I find in books nowadays. I can’t understand how any publishing house would allow shoddy work to get through. I’m not even talking about the bad writing that is published.

    I have read a few books, or tried to, and just had to stop reading. Is it the quality of the editors, or lack of, that allows certain things to happen? Does it get to the point that the editor becomes “friends” with the author, which then throws the idea of being honest out the window?

    1. Sarah Post author

      I think it really depends on the author and the editor. It’s possible to maintain that honesty while being friends, but it’s not easy.

      I agree that the responsibility is shared. The author should be picking up a chunk of this type of error, and a good editor should pick up others – between them a book should be technically sound. If it’s a good book in the first place that’s going to help. But in the end it’s the person who is responsible for releasing a book who has the final responsibility.

      The book I was referring to here is a traditionally published paperback with a large publisher behind it and I would expect some sort of quality control to be applied prior to release. Indie writers are playing by a different set of rules with a very different organisational ethic but we should still expect high standards.

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