Editing

When Editorial Errors Matter

Writers make mistakes. It happens. Often an editor’s job is to be the safety net and catch those tidbits that find their way into an early draft of a manuscript for any number of reasons.

  • The simplicity of “cut and paste” has created more opportunity for error than ever before. I’ve seen half sentences left in their original places because the writer failed to cut and paste accurately.
  • Many books evolve over time with additional research or new thoughts. Errors can creep in this way. I’ve seen an author actually contradict himself between chapters.
  • There are too many details to keep straight, so the writer overlooks the inconsequential, trusting the editor to fix things. I remember talking to a Bethany House editor who revealed that an author accidentally brought a character back to life, forgetting that the character had died earlier in the story.

None of the above examples ever found their way into the final edition of the book, and the public never knew the error was made. An editor caught it and fixed it. That is why errors found in a finished and published book are so jarring.

There is much talk about the ease of self-publishing and that traditional publishing is going to die the slow death of the dinosaur. But at the same time, we read of complaints about poor editing in the plethora of self-published books.

Recently, someone showed me a minor mistake in a recently self-published book by a well-known author who was diving into the indie world of publishing in addition to their traditional publishing efforts.

It is a simple error, not an egregious one. Early in the book a character has possession of a piece of jewelry that was apparently purchased at Target. Less than fifty pages later, the same piece of jewelry is described as being purchased from Walmart.

“Who cares? Really, Steve, you shouldn’t be pointing out something so trivial.” That was the conversation in my head. But I bring it up anyway as a reminder to all writers and editors. We make mistakes. (And I would not like it if all my editorial and writing errors were exposed. It hurts enough to have my grammar corrected in the comment section below!) But when we do make mistakes, the reader is pulled out of the story; and the nature of the reading experience has been changed. The reader who found the above inconsistency did not come to me extolling the virtues of the story or its fine packaging or its literary style. Instead, the conversation was about editorial errors and author errors.

The author missed it. The substantive editor missed it. I hope there was a copy editor who missed it. And I hope there was at least one, if not more, proofreaders who missed it. If so? Okay. It happens and we fix the file, so future editions will be corrected; and we move on. Most publishers have a correction file on every book, so when it comes up for reprint the errors can be fixed. In today’s digital world the ebook file can be corrected rapidly and uploaded with relative ease. (It is not “easy” due to all the various outlets and file formats, but it is relatively easy.)

But if this self-published author did not run it past multiple editors with a variety of skill sets (substantive, copyedit, and proofreading), then we may have a problem. And one that is showing up with more frequency as we cut editorial corners, both in the indie community and the traditional publishing houses.

Am I making a mountain out of a molehill? Yes, and I apologize for the poke in the ribs. It is done to make a point about the need for excellence in all things. Our readers demand it. They are a relentless group of people who deserve our best. They find typos and are annoyed. They find errors like the example above and make that a topic of conversation. And after a while they stop trusting us to provide them with information and entertainment that exhibits the finest we can produce. Yes, we all make errors; and it isn’t always a big deal. Let’s just make sure we have worked our very best to ensure that it doesn’t happen again.

Your Turn:
What errors have you found in a book recently that made you sigh with exasperation?

[A version of this post ran in early 2013, and I’ve left all the comments intact as readers provided a robust conversation. Please chime in to add your thoughts to this discussion! By the way, you’ll note that people found typos in my original post! Because I tend to have too many mistakes in my blog writing, I hire a proofreader to look them over before they post. Now I can blame someone else! HAH!]

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Ancient Wisdom from an Ancient Editor

by Steve Laube

I came across a remarkable section in a book written around 124 B.C. The editor of the book wrote the following preface to help the reader understand his methodology and purpose. It shows the concern a good editor has for the ultimate reader. His job was to abridge a massive five volume work into an abbreviated 16,00 word document. Can anyone tell me where this comes from and the name of the editor? (Without googling the text!) I’ll reveal the answer in the comments later in the day.

The number of details and the bulk of material can be overwhelming for anyone who wants to read an account of the events. But I have attempted to simplify it for all readers; those who read for sheer pleasure will find enjoyment and those who want to memorize the facts will not find it difficult.

Writing such a summary is a difficult task, demanding hard work and sleepless nights. It is as difficult as preparing a banquet that people of different tastes will enjoy. But I am happy to undergo this hardship in order to please my readers. I will leave the matter of details to the original author and attempt to give only a summary of the events.

I am not the builder of a new house who is concerned with every detail of the structure, but simply a painter whose only concern is to make the house look attractive. The historian must master his subject, examine every detail, and then explain it carefully, but whoever is merely writing a summary should be permitted to give a brief account without going into a detailed discussion. So then, without any further comment, I will begin my story. It would be foolish to write such a long introduction that the story itself would have to be cut short.

Note a few pearls of eternal wisdom from this ancient editor:

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Will the Editor Catch My Error?

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Proofreading: Tips and Tricks

[Since today, March 8th, is National Proofreading Day I thought I would re-post this article from a few years ago, with some revisions. I’ve left the comments attached below since so many were illustrative. Please add new thoughts as well.] I have regularly displayed my lack of proofreading skills in …

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Talk Less, Write More

The hit musical Hamilton has many memorable moments. One of my favorites is the moment when the title character first meets his colleague (and later, nemesis), Aaron Burr, who says, “Let me offer you some free advice.” “Talk less,” Burr says. “Smile more.”  It’s a great character moment for the …

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A Writer’s “Voice”

A couple months ago I asked some of my clients if there are terms they hear in writing and publishing that they wish someone would clearly and conclusively define. One said this: “Professionals say, ‘Find your voice,’ ‘Trust your voice,’ ‘Embrace your voice.’ I can recognize another writer’s voice, but …

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A Self-Editing Checklist

The “Your Questions Answered” Series __________ How about more tips on some of the pitfalls of writing? What are things to look for when you are self-editing? Here is a short list: Grammar. Most people seem to have fallen asleep during the class on plural possessives, for example. Its and …

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Learn the Lingo, Part 2

Did you know that a question mark and exclamation point together (like so?!) is called an interrobang?! Did you also know it’s probably not a good idea to use an interrobang in your article or book? Now you do. You’re welcome. Last week I tried to answer some of the …

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