A Question About Editing
So, I have a serious question here, and forgive me if you’ve addressed it in a blog or something somewhere. Why do you think that there are so many badly- or un- proofread e-books? It seems to me that writers have so many more editing avenues these days. I’m reading this great, imaginative story right now, full of adventure and great characters, and I keep getting sucked out of the moment by spelling, homophone, and syntax errors. Lord knows, I’m no grammar police, but it makes me a little crazy! What do you think?
Good question, Regina. The reason for so many poorly edited books these days is the same reason so many bands you go see at small gigs have an instrument out of tune, an amplifier that doesn’t sound great, or a singer who is off-key. Respectively, each of these is a matter of professionalism, cost, and ability (amount of practice).
Reviews certainly help highlight books with and without problems so readers know ahead of time. Be sure to notice the books that are well edited, and reward the author by highlighting this fact for other readers. Or do what my editor did and email the author with suggestions. Or reach out and offer editing services. Freelancers are popping up everywhere, and they are both sorely needed and greatly appreciated. Many of us just don’t know any better as we set out. We’re all still learning.
This might not seem obvious at first, but some of the fault lies with our expectations as readers. Shakespeare couldn’t spell a word the same way twice in a single sentence. Back in the day, words were there to communicate ideas, not to align to some golden standard. There was no standard. It was left up to the writer. Punctuation didn’t even always exist. At one point, all the letters ran together. No spaces, no periods, no nothing! It was up to the reader to do the work and piece together the meaning.
So writers have indeed gotten lazy these days, but so have readers. We expect perfection. Not a hiss or pop of static or a missed note. Maybe we should train ourselves to read how people used to read: with a little effort. Not getting hung up on discrepancies of spelling and punctuation (which used to abound), but allowing the words, in all their variability, to form pictures in our heads.
This takes practice. It takes a different approach to grammar and spelling. You have to learn to see words the way we hear voices: with accents and drawls and occasional mispronunciations. I go back and forth between books written by US authors and UK authors, and the variability doesn’t bother me at all. It’s part of the voice. I see authors all the time who use semi-colons between dependent and independent clauses, which is technically correct, but I take their meaning, gather a deeper breath, and read on.
They are the ones leading me. It’s their dance. I can choose to fall in with a slightly different step and enjoy the diversity of experience, or I can approach reading the way we perform the electric shuffle, crying “That’s not perfectly right!” and wishing everyone felt the same.
But the primary onus is certainly on the writer. They should have respect for what they’re doing. But if I had to pick between a great storyteller who lacked precision of language and a perfect writer with no story to tell, I’d take the former every single time. We teach too much prose to writers and not enough plot. Plot is king. Prose is pawn.