Make no mistake: we all need editors

Last week I read a guest post by author Jean Grainger on Catherine Ryan Howard’s blog, Catherine Caffeinated. I suggest that anyone who is planning on self-publishing, no matter how masterful they believe their command of language and the art of story-telling to be, should read it. Not right now, of course – after you’ve finished reading mine. Ta.

In a nutshell, Jean makes the case for having both a structural and copy-edit done on any book you plan to publish, something that I strongly agree with and wish everyone would do ­– and not only because I work as a copy-editor. Jean is an English teacher, and although at first she thought that self-editing would be enough, the process of having fresh, professional eyes look at her manuscript actually proved to be liberating. Not only would her work be as error-free as humanly possible, but when it came to her next project, knowing that the editing process would be repeated gave her the freedom to write without fear of making mistakes.

By coincidence, the point about errors was rammed home to me a couple of days after reading the article. I had sent the first three chapters of my novel – currently being copy-edited by another professional, please note – to a friend of mine. He said he enjoyed it, but, knowing that I’m a stickler for accuracy, pointed out something that I had overlooked even though my manuscript is on its third draft, and I have read it so many times I could feasibly re-enact every scene if anyone’s birthday party needed perking up.

In the first chapter, two men get onto the Tube in Deptford, south east London, in order to get home. All well and good. No problem there.

Wrong. As was pointed out to me, there is no Tube in Deptford. It’s the Docklands Light Railway, but I had made the mistake of ASSUMING it was on the Tube line. I was so focused on having those two characters make the journey together that I hadn’t made sure that how they did it was correct.

Everything must be checked. Everything. I am confident that, as far as grammar is concerned, my manuscript is pretty clean, but I also know it will come back from the copy-editor in an even more sparkly state than it was before. Yes, it’s another cost to add to the list, but as I’ve no doubt mentioned elsewhere, once the arty bit is done your book is a product and you’re in business. Editing services – from an examination of the structure, through to apostrophes, verb conjugation and consistency, through to a final proofread – are absolutely, totally and utterly worth paying for. I cannot stress this enough.

You won’t spot all of your own mistakes. Fact. This is not because you might lack the necessary skills, but because when you read what you’ve written your brain knows what’s coming next, so rather than coldly scrutinising for errors it will often skim parts of the text, making the subconscious assumption that what you’ve written is correct. (If I knew the terminology I could possibly make that point in a more scientific way, but you get the drift.)

Just prior to handing over my manuscript for editing I gave it yet another read. And of course, I spotted a few more typos and repetition of a noun in one particular sentence that stuck out like a sore, throbbing thumb. Plus one sentence that contradicted something that took place in the story about eighty pages before. These things happen. That’s what editing is for. Even if I read this particular blog post a few more times, which I will, there is still a chance that something will slip through, and won’t I look stupid. But that, unfortunately, is just the way it is.

Your book is a reflection of you, and no one wants to look bad in front of their peers, or, indeed, a global book-buying audience. You are human, you will make mistakes. Just be sure that regret isn’t one of them.


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  1. #1 by Book Club Mom on February 17, 2014 - 12:36 am

    This is sound advice. You make a great point that it’s hard to spot your own mistakes because you know what’s coming next.

    • #2 by David Powning on February 17, 2014 - 8:32 am

      Thanks. A useful tip – although I’ve never tried it – is to read your work backwards. That way your brain doesn’t “know” what’s coming next, so you end up focusing solely on spelling and punctuation. Time-consuming I imagine, but if it’s effective it’s another tool in the box.

      All the best.

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