Dawn Colclasure's Blog

Author and poet Dawn Colclasure

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Editing mistakes

One thing I have learned to live with as a book reviewer is that, sometimes, editing mistakes happen in books. There is nothing I can do about it. The missing period or the dialogue missing an ending quote mark are little things I have no trouble overlooking, but some mistakes just seem to stand out.

Recently, Saga Books has contracted to publish the haunted houses book I have co-authored with Martha Jette. We have been performing surgery on this manuscript before it goes to print. Martha noted to me that, as she has worked on this manuscript, she has found mistakes we missed when we took it through the editing rounds with the last publisher we had this book with.

That is disheartening, but not surprising.

When I edited the BURNING THE MIDNIGHT OIL manuscript, I read it several times. I read it until my eyes started to bleed. Yet even after it was published, I caught a few mistakes that slipped through. This probably would not have happened had an extra pair of eyes given it a read, so I’m grateful that, this time around, this book has been edited by more than one person. I’m especially confident about this since Martha is also a professional editor.

All the same, editing mistakes tend to slip through. The occasional mistake is forgivable. It’s the mistakes that happen over and over again, however, that drive me batty.

This is something Martha can relate to. “I review many books that are basically good reads but all the errors just drive me crazy.”

Errors that keep showing up in a manuscript are the ones that I have gripes about. For example, one book I am currently reviewing has characters noting whether it's a.m. or p.m. when they give the time. This is a bad idea because, first of all, people don’t say “it’s 5 p.m. “ if you ask them the time. They just say “it’s 5” or “it’s 5:00.” The first time this happened, I rolled my eyes. The bazillionth time it happened, I was ready to tear my hair out. It was especially annoying when a character said that it was “10:30 a.m.” and, in the same paragraph, noted that a particular character was still in school.

Well…duh. Of course it’s “a.m.” if someone is still in school. Teenagers don’t normally attend school in the evening.

What’s worse is that this book is NOT an ARC. It is not a manuscript. It is a final release.

I mentioned this to an editor I know and it seemed to touch on a nerve. She complained about “lazy editing” in so many books.

This also reminded me of something I have heard a lot. A lot of publishers and editors won’t exactly take it upon themselves to “edit” an entire manuscript they are going to publish. These days, that responsibility rests on the author. An author must have their manuscript as print-ready as possible in order to pass the scrutinizing eyes of an agent or acquisitions editor. It must be as complete, revised and edited as it can be. One editor at a publishing house I know mentioned to me that she can tell when a manuscript is a first draft. Sadly, it’s manuscripts like these she normally rejects.

In my Revisions book series, I encourage writers to get their manuscripts edited by a professional editor. Or at least have a fellow writer look it over. Yes, editors are expensive, but trust me, they are so worth every penny they charge. Of all the editors I have worked with, I thank my lucky stars for all the mistakes they have caught in my manuscripts. As it is, one editor pointed out a glaring POV mistake I made on the very first page of a novel. After I saw that, I slapped my forehead and wondered how on earth I missed that. (A short story I recently had published also had a POV mistake which I didn't catch until after it was published. Whoops.)

This is how those mistakes happen. Sometimes, we miss things. But if we have a professional editor help us with our manuscripts, chances are good the amount of things we miss during our own edits will be smaller.

This is something that Martha likewise encourages. “I keep reminding authors that they MUST review their work many times and/or get a professional editor to do it for them because most publishers today simply do not do it.”

At least this book is in the hands of two different professional editors. You can't accuse us of "lazy editing" here! Still, mistakes tend to slip through. And that might happen even still, with this book. That's just the way it is. The most we can do is give our manuscripts the best editing work we can.

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  • At 1:12 PM , Blogger Lillie Ammann said...


    As an editor myself, I definitely agree everyone needs an editor. Authors often don't recognize the value of having another pair of eyes—trained eyes—on the manuscript. As you say, even with the best editing possible, occasional errors will slip through. All of us, even editors, are fallible humans. But we need to strive for a manuscript that is as close to perfect as possible.

    Lillie Ammann
    A Writer's Words, An Editor's Eye

  • At 1:39 PM , Blogger Martha Jette said...

    Amen, Dawn.
    I just wrote a review that contained many, many errors in not only spelling but also sentence structure, capitalization, misplaced or missing quotes, syntax, noun/verb agreement, etc., etc. When I posted the review, this fellow was most upset. It appeared to me as if he had not even reviewed it himself before it was published, let alone had anyone else more experienced do this for him.
    Now yesterday, I had a request for a book review but the person is reluctant, since he does not know if I will write a favorable one. Of course, I cannot promise that!

  • At 3:41 PM , Blogger Dawn Wilson said...

    Lillie: I'm glad you mentioned "trained eyes." That is so very true! An author is just too close to their story to see the editing mistakes editors catch, or see how something doesn't work right. At least by hiring an editor, or getting editorial input on a manuscript, an author or aspiring author will have at least put in that effort to make their manuscript the best it can be. Thank you for commenting. :)

    Martha: Ordinarily, with many book review sites, the guidelines state that reviewers should NOT mention any editing or stylistic mistakes in books they review, but I always thought such a thing could be helpful to an author. I commend you for doing this in your reviews. At least you are being COMPLETELY honest as a reviewer, and that means a lot. True, you can't promise a favorable review with every book, but that is a risk authors must be willing to take. Not everyone will fall in love with every single book they review. Thank you for commenting. :)


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