Craft

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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Books Are Signposts Along the Way

By Steve Laube

The novel One Hundred Years of Solitude, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, is a series of stories linked together in the small town of Macondo in South America. It is surrounded by a swamp and thus is known for its isolation.

One day the town was infected by a plague which causes insomnia. The people of the town were not unhappy at first because it meant there was more time to get things done. But there was more to this plague. In addition to insomnia they began to lose their memory. Marquez called it the loss of “the name and notion of things.”

They countered these symptoms by writing names on things or pinning signs to them. You would walk around the town and see the words “clock,” “chair,” “dog,” “wall,” and so on. But they were afraid they would forget the purpose of the items. So they would write longer and more elaborate signs with instructions.

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The Dreaded Blank Page

by Steve Laube

A clean slate. An empty canvas. A fresh start. A new beginning.
Or a potential nightmare of guilt, failure, and shame.

Thus begins the process of each writing project. This blog post began with a blank page. I wondered why I ever agreed to write a blog. I procrastinated with enough excuses to be described as legion. I told myself that no one cares what I think on any subject.

Once my episode of complaining was done I began to write. Each of my posts begins in a Moleskine notebook written by hand. The pages are littered with half-started ideas and incomplete thoughts. And this was no exception. Today’s post is the fourth one that received some scratches.

The blank page is the universal place where every writer begins. And in that moment and in that place all things are equal.

A place where the artist begins creating verba ex nihilo.*

A place of immeasurable potential and endless possibilities.

A place upon which a treasure map is drawn leading a reader to riches unimagined.

A place where worlds are spun into existence.

A place of creation, inspiration, and wonder.

Remember this as you fill today’s blank page:

The world will be a little different tomorrow because of what you write today.

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The Story We Bring to the Story

by Steve Laube

With all the discussion about the craft of fiction and the need to write a great story there is one thing missing in the equation. The one thing that is the secret to great fiction. And it is the one thing the writer cannot control.

That one thing is the story the reader brings with them to their reading experience. As a reader I have the life I have lived, the people I’ve met, the books I’ve read, and the places I’ve been that I bring with me into the world your novel has created. This makes the reading of every story unique. No two people can read the same story the same way. This is why one person’s favorite book is another’s thrift store giveaway.

In the new memoir The End of Your Life Book Club author Will Schwable writes about the books he read with his Mom during the last years of her life. In his introduction he wrote something profound:

We all have  a lot more to read than we can read and a lot more to do than we can do. Still, one of the things I learned from Mom is this: Reading isn’t the opposite of doing; it’s the opposite of dying. I will never be able to read my mother’s favorite books without thinking of her—and when I pass them on and recommend them, I’ll know that some of what made her goes with them; that some of my mother will live on in those readers, readers who may be inspired to love the way she loved and do their own version of what she did in the world.

This is the secret to the greatest novels of all time. They were written in such a way that my story, the essence of who I am, merged with that story and it became something new. Something unique. Something inexplicable. A new story. And then became a part of who I am…and a part what I bring to the next story I read.

That’s the story I want to read. Can you write it? I can’t wait to read it.

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A Literary Agent’s Wish List

People often ask me, “What are you looking for?” It’s a natural question to ask a literary agent, even when the questioner knows that the agent has offered a detailed answer on the agency website (here, for example). After all, something could’ve changed. I may, since updating my interests, have …

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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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Your Words Can Be More Powerful Than Technology

Today’s guest post is by Laura L. Smith. She is a best-selling author and speaker who lives in the picturesque college town of Oxford, Ohio, where you’ll find her running the wooded trails, strolling the brick streets, teaching Bible study at her local church, shopping at the Saturday morning farmer’s …

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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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