Editing – The Never Finished Job

By Suzanne Quill

You’ve written a book. You’ve reread it how many times? Five, ten, fifteen? You’ve done Spell Check and Grammar Check. You’ve sent it off to your editor. You’ve received and completed second and maybe third round edits. Off the manuscript goes for more editor corrections, this time maybe a different editor. Final edits are done the book is published. It’s perfect, right?

NO! Reviews come in and one of the comments is about poor spelling or improper words.

Are you as devastated as I am?

I confess. When I read another author’s books I edit in my head. How did he/she say that? Would I say it the same way? What did I like about it? What didn’t I like? I’ll even write a quote down that touches me so I can give credit to the author when necessary.

Yes, I’ll register spelling or grammar errors but I forgive a few faux-pas, especially if the storyline is engrossing. I am not perfect, either. Too many, though, and they start to pull me out of the flow of the plot.

Here is my question to writers and readers alike. What should an author do when the editing is criticized? Do we reread our book again hoping to locate errors to correct that none of us found in earlier passes? Do we ask for a different editor’s review in hopes that less familiar eyes will unearth the spelling and grammar errors? Do we ask the reviewer for details? Would this show him/her that we really do try to put forth the best book possible?

Sometime ago I read that a good way to uncover errors is to read the information backwards. Who wants to read 70,000 words or more backwards? Or even 50,000 words?

So I am at a loss. What should I do? What should any author do when their editing is challenged?

Your comments and experiences are welcome here. In the meantime, I’m going back to editing my next book, THE CRUSHED ROSE. I hope that this book will be even closer to perfect with all of my rereading and those of my editors. It’s a process and it’s ongoing.

Keep Writing! Keep Reading!


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7 Responses to Editing – The Never Finished Job

  1. aliceakemp says:

    Good post. I can feel your frustration. One piece of advice I’ve seen is to read the book out loud to yourself. I’ve not done it myself. Bought a text to voice program, but I can’t get it to work yet. I do think, however, that you can edit a story to death. Let the story live, and good luck with your next one.

    • suzannequill says:

      Thank you for your comments! Always good to get other points of view. I have read some of all my books out loud. Maybe I need to be more vigilant about that particular process!

  2. Jaye Garland says:

    Very good questions, Suzanne! I’ll take a stab at this, but since I’m also an editor with SMP, my perspective may be a bit biased. This is long, so bear with me, please.

    1) I’d worked on my debut novel a couple years before engaging with some really great, educated, and savvy critique partners. All four ladies found things I’d overlooked. We just don’t see our own mistakes because our minds read what’s supposed to be on the page rather than the actual data. After each revision, the manuscript glowed with perfection–or, so I thought. My editor found a few things the five of us missed. Was I surprised? No. Did I expect edits? Yes, but to my CP’s credit, there really wasn’t all that much to clean up. So, if you’re not working with some really great, talented, critique partners then I’d advise to shop around in partnerships and groups until you feel comfortable and confident in that relationship. It worth the time and effort!

    2) Let’s investigate the actual editing process. Other editors may work differently, but this is my process. During first round edits, I tend to ignore most spelling and grammatical errors because a lot of those issues will get corrected during the Developmental Edits. (I send the author a separate page noting issues that pop up so they can watch for them as they write and revise.) D.E.’s concentrate on the deeper issues like characters behaving in a manner that’s not justified, plot holes, intensifying the layers of tension and conflict, etc. Once the characters and the storyline is flowing, then we delve into the lighter stuff that’s been missed. By the time we’ve completed the second (or third) round of edits, the spelling, grammar, and punctuation issues get fixed along the way. Finally, I give the whole ms one more intense read-through, and yes, I still find a few things to fix. Then, I send it off for the formatters and proofreaders. It’s out of my hands from that point on. I never see the manuscript again until it’s in eBook form.

    Here’s the conundrum: depending on which formatters and proofreaders do the final editing, the manuscripts can change, sometimes drastically, from the book I’ve turned in. And, of course, that’s when the reviewers hit with comments like you just listed. It’s inevitable. No two editors will work the exact same way. The proofreader will fix things I’ve missed [Gah!], and sometimes they’ll change things that have me scratching my head. We’re all supposed to use the Chicago Manual of Style. I call it the Editor’s Bible, but even those explanations can be interpreted in more than one way depending on how the line is written. It’s almost a no-win situation, but every manuscript gets my full attention. Still, there’s no guarantee the work will turn out flawless. And, sometimes those reviewers are simply wrong. That’s where you sit back, grab some chocolate, sip some wine/beer/cola…or go shoe and handbag shopping. Been there!

    Janet Clementz
    w/a: Jaye Garland

  3. I’ve also seen such comments on reviews for books I’ve read, and they’re COMPLETELY WRONG. Work can go through five sets of eyes and still have a few small things go overlooked (or have errors accidentally introduced late in the process). But a vigorous system like this one is not going to allow enough of those to slip through to be worth commenting on. So I think a lot of these reviews are either ridiculous hyperbole or people trying to sound smart or superior or something.

    When the book is already published, there’s not much you can do. You can buy a copy and read it and see if there are errors, I suppose, and see if there are enough to justify asking the publisher to fix them and upload a new copy. Otherwise, just forget it and move on! 🙂

  4. Karen Rossi says:

    Oh, tell me about it! I consider myself to be really knowledgeable about grammar issues and not a bad speller, either. It’s those typos that get me every time! :Luckily I have two great proofreaders/friends/critique partners who both are eagle-eyed. If something gets past one, it won’t get past the other for sure! Unless it does. I agree, something always does! GRRR!

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