Thursday, May 19, 2016

A reader asks: Where have all the editors gone?

I have a theory, although I think I may have to give my wife the credit for it. Writers don’t make great editors, and vice versa.

In my family, I’m the writer, and my wife’s the editor. She’s a stickler for detail: I’m not. She’s a better proofreader. She catches non sequiturs and jumbled contexts, too.

In this era of eBooks and widespread self-publishing, I receive requests for reviews. If you post book reviews on Amazon, you will get requests for reviews. For that matter, if you post book reviews on Amazon, you will requests for reviews of everything imaginable – pantyhose, bicycle lights, infant formula, software, curling irons – the list is endless.

For the record, I don’t review pantyhose. I review books, and an occasional movie on Amazon Prime. But the requests keep coming, up to 20 a day, and it’s because of how Amazon positions and promotes what it sells. The more reviews, the more likely your product will be promoted.

Here’s one thing I’ve learned about reviewing books. Most self-published books are not edited.

I understand why. Hiring an editor can be expensive. Many self-published authors apparently think they can edit their own manuscripts.

They can’t. Every book needs an editor. You forgo the expense of an editor at your book’s peril. I can’t count the number of times I’ve started reading a book to find myself bogged down in an editing nightmare by the third page.

I stop reading a book like that. I just stop. If an author doesn’t care enough about a reader to have a properly edited manuscript, or at least to have someone checking grammar and punctuation, then a reader should feel obligated to read the work in question.

I associated this with self-published authors. But times change.

Recently I started reading a novel published by a major Christian publisher. I bought this one, as I buy almost all of the books I review. I knew the writer by reputation. The story line intrigued me, and it promised to be Christian fiction that wasn’t devoted exclusively to a female audience. Most Christina fiction is aimed at women readers, because that’s who buys most Christian fiction. And if you don’t read suspense thrillers, you’re largely left out of the Christian fiction market.

I understand – you don’t find much serious or literary fiction published by Christian publishers.
So I was hopeful with this novel.

By the second page, I had found three examples of clunky, overwritten sentences that could have – should have – been fixed by the editor assigned by the publisher. I’m not an editor, and I could see easy, obvious improvements that could have been made. I plowed on for a few more pages to see if the narrative improved. It didn’t get worse, but it didn’t get better, either.

 I set the book aside.

I’d like to say this is the first time this has happened.

Unfortunately, it is not.

And I wonder, do Christian publishers employ real editors anymore? Is it only the big names – Karen Kingsbury, Jan Karon, Ted Dekker – who get editors? Do some editors not know the difference between a well-written sentence and a badly written sentence? Do they care, or are they so busy with other books, duties, activities, and everything else that they simply don’t give a book (and an author) what is deserved?

To raise a question like this is to invite the ire of publishers, editors and authors alike.

But before I buy a book now, I check to see who the publisher is, because it tells me something about the likely quality of the book.

Until something changes, general fiction will be seen as superior to Christian fiction.

And it should.

Top photograph by George Hodan, and middle photograph by Circe Denyer, both via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.


Martha Jane Orlando said...

Editing is crucial!!! My publisher was/is very good with it; still, there can be the occasional error, which I detest, of course. I'm with you in this, Glynn: If a book is poorly edited, I can't read it.

Mary Harwell Sayler said...

Sad but true, Glynn. I've also wondered if writers ever read books in their genre! May God help us to take our work and calling with prayer and study, so we might bring honor to "Christian publishing" in Jesus' Name.

Steven Hutson said...

Oh, don't get me started.

Sandra Heska King said...

"Writers don’t make great editors, and vice versa." I used to think having an editor was akin to saying I couldn't write. So this makes me feel better. Besides, anything I've written that's tasted an editor's pen has been way more flavorful.

L.L. Barkat said...

I believe that there are a group of publishers who have decided what they can get by with, and they leave it at that. There are even famous books you would recognize if I named them, that I was quite frustrated about in terms of the lack of editing. Did the books get by? You bet they did. To the tune of major bestseller. I don't know if it's a financial thing, a busy thing, or a just-publish-they'll-buy-it thing. But there you have it.

Oh, and I loved the line about pantyhose. You make me laugh :)