Animation by Kayelle Allen at The Author's Secret

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Edit Me Pretty

"Hmm, so is 'a week nod' one that takes seven days?"
As an English teacher, I was all-too-often handed stories and essays so badly written that they were difficult to decipher and impossible to read with any sense of enjoyment.  When I pointed this out to students they invariably said: “I didn't worry about mistakes because I was concentrating on my ideas.”  What they were really saying was that they couldn’t be bothered!  And the problem with that is that when a reader has to work her socks off just to understand what is being said on the very first page, many of those excellent ideas will fail to shine out beyond the first paragraph.

Literary agents and editors don’t have to be kind in their rejections, of course.  They have polite but firm standard rejection letters, which none of us want to receive.  To avoid them, therefore, we need to feel confident that when we release our literary babies, we are giving them the best possible chance of delivery onto the bookshelves of the world.

Editing is the co-parent in the literary process and cannot be denied access to the progeny.  Readers are unforgiving and, quite rightly, consider themselves as experts - they know what spoils their reading enjoyment and are generally quite willing to advertise that to the world.  Agents and publishers are no different – but they don’t have to resort to negative reviews – they just give the thumbs down. 

Every writer knows how difficult it is to edit one’s own work, but getting it right – especially those early pages – could well pave the way for the child of our creation into the big wide world.  We owe it to ourselves and to everyone we want to take us seriously as writers, to do our best to get it right so it shows off our skills to their best advantage.

Badly edited work is a sure way to alienate your readers.  I've done a lot of reading recently for review purposes and whilst I've read many truly delightful stories, there were some that left my teeth jangling in my head in amazement.  They were worse than the first drafts of some of my less accomplished students and left me baffled that the writers seriously expected readers to tolerate such gibberish, much less pay them for the insult!

I read about engaged couples practising their marital vowels, about someone who had sweat dripping from every auriferous and about another who repapered (when he should have reappeared).  I’ve been faced with novels in which every single paragraph is dense with mistakes and these are not just from self-published authors, sadly.  It seems a number of online publishers are letting their authors down when they promise an editing service which they can’t deliver.

Whenever I read badly presented work from authors who expect their readers to pay for the privilege of reading their stories, my hackles begin to rise.  I don my teacher’s hat and wag my index finger severely – but sadly in vain.  Badly edited novels continue to be churned out and foisted upon the trusting (but no longer unsuspecting) public.  It really isn’t fair to expect readers to flip backwards and forward between pages to ensure they’ve understood what is being said or read a sentence three times to work out its meaning.  Enjoyment interruptus is a definite no-no!

I edit work for a small group of clients and am currently unable to take on any more.  However I would urge all writers to shop around to find a reliable editor before unleashing their masterpieces onto the paying public.  Edit and edit and edit again. The most useful and comprehensive resource I've found in recent years is Writer's Companion by Carlos J Cortes & Renee Miller. This guide covers just about every editing question imaginable and will allow you to self-edit with confidence.

I’d love to know what editing blunders spoiled your reading experiences.


Paula Martin said...

Great post, Lynette - I've had a lot of hackle-rising moments too. I try not to be too nit-picky but some errors scream out at me. A novel I read recently was full of phrases like 'he was stood' or 'she was sat' which definitely interupted my reading. I've also seen 'presents' which should have been 'presence', and heal instead of heel. I won't even start on your and you're!

Paula Martin said...

P.S. Sorry about my spelling error - I do know interrupted has double r. All goes to show the need for an editor, as we miss our own typos all too often.

Jenny Twist said...

Every writer should read this blog. I also read a great many novels for review and am utterly appalled by the number of spelling mistakes, typos, bad grammar and misuse of words. Not to mention a prevalent belief that a similar but longer word is more erudite. Just for the record - 'secretive' is not another way of saying 'secret', 'simplistic' is not the same as 'simple' and 'enormity' is not the noun corresponding to 'enormous'. I also cringe when I see the past participle used instead of the present, as in 'was sat' (it should be 'was sitting'). If you have been told not to use adverbs (which one editor described to me as '-ly' words, making me think she didn't even KNOW the proper grammatical term), don't try to replace them with adjectives. 'She did it slow and careful' is NOT an improvement. I know they don't teach grammar in school anymore, but professional authors should know their grammar. It is their trade. If I buy a house, I expect the builder to be trained in his trade and to use the right tools for the job. Poorly constructed books should not be offered for sale. It seems to me that a vast number, perhaps the majority, of authors and editors need to take lessons.

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