Wednesday, June 5, 2013

E-Books and Editing

With the increased use of e-readers more and more of the books I review come to me electronically instead of as paper books.  I love to read and I'm not too fussy about which way I  read a book.  I've always loved the look and feel of a real book in my hands and because I've always depended on a partially photographic memory, paper books hold some definite advantages for me as a reviewer.  I can easily turn to a page or section I wish to quote or paraphrase without making copious notes.  Unfortunately my poor brain thinks all pages look the same on the e-reader.  Still I like the convenience and the portability of the e-reader.

I'm fairly tolerant of the occasional error in the books I read for possible reviews.  Usually I'm more concerned with content, story structure, character development, and overall appeal than with typos.  Even paper books from really good publishing houses often have a few errors, but in recent years I've seen an increase in the number of typos, misspelled words, and even grammar errors in books from even the top publishers, but this is a drop in the bucket compared to what I find in the novels I read on my e-reader. Sometimes I shake my head and wonder if the author even went to school.  I've grown accustomed to seeing this problem on Face Book, but it seems to me that books someone pays money to obtain on their e-readers should be proofread better.  

Too many e-books are self-edited.  Being your own editor is a lot like being your own attorney; you have a fool for a client.  That's not to say a writer shouldn't go through his/her manuscripts and at each stage of the editing process with extreme care, but going it alone isn't wise.  Another set of eyes is needed to produce a quality product. At this point many writers hire the cheapest freelance editor they can find.  Some freelance editors do a great job, but some don't.  I've read books edited by one well known freelance editor who repeats the same word usage mistakes in multiple books by different authors.  As soon as I see pour for pore, tenant for tenet, or muscle for mussel, I can guess who the author used for an independent editor.

I just finished reading a book which had a great story, sympathetic characters, and in a genre I enjoy, but on the second page was and were were interchanged.  As I got further into the story I found other grammar errors, several instances where a main character's name was changed, messy formatting, and an instance where a word was used that is similar sounding to the one meant but entirely different in meaning. 

I thoroughly recommend that writers go with a reputable publisher with real editors, but with the shortage of qualified copy editors these days smart writers need to go back to Grammar 101 and learn to proofread.  Those who decide to self publish in the e-reader market, keep in mind that you need two kinds of editors; one that analyzes content and knows how to help you produce the best story possible and one who understands the grammar, spelling, and typos maze.  Errors tend to stop the action and spoil otherwise perfectly good stories. 

Twenty years ago a writer told me her editor at a national publishing house went through her manuscripts with a purple pen, marking every misspelled word or grammar error, then a set amount was deducted from her royalties for each purple mark. I was careful to never submit anything to her publisher, but with some of the error riddled and badly formatted e-books I've read in the past two years since I got an e-reader, I've developed a great deal of sympathy for the publishing house.  Sadly I don't see the situation improving until we insist our schools do a better job of teaching grammar and spelling, until writers take the initiative to clean up their own work, and until readers refuse to pay for shoddy work.


Julie Coulter Bellon said...

Excellent advice, but I have to say it made me run to my novel's second page just to check. :)

Unknown said...

I admit that as a reader, if there are too many errors, I get turned off and can't finish the book, regardless of the story line. Yes, it bugs me THAT MUCH, lol!