I wrote a post about this about six years ago, but felt it was time for a re-posting, as I see an ever-increasing number of poorly edited books on the market.
One of the saddest things I see among beginning writers is their burning need to publish before their work is ready. For many writers in the early days of their career, publication at this stage often comes at the expense of their reputation as a good author.
Writers’ groups, for all their many good deeds, are sometimes gathering places for pompous snobs. I want to be clear that I am not down on writing groups. Far from it. The writing group I belonged to for several years involved a wonderful collection of writers who brought a variety of skills and experience, and who wrote in many different genres. The majority of the members were down-to-earth and extremely helpful to new writers. However, my writing group also happened to have several authors whose agenda included basking in the prestige of “being published” rather than first concentrating on producing their best work or helping their colleagues.
Many new writers are particularly desperate to get their work out there for the public. They hear published authors going on and on about sales and book signings and reviews they’ve received, flaunting their “published” status as if they were royalty. Speaking of which, their “royalties” are often a mere pittance. Beginning writers can’t always see the truth beyond the veneer of big talk, and they become infected with the desire to publish at all costs — all costs except one; that of hiring a good copy-editor.
Why Should I Care?
Besides being a writer myself, I do a lot of freelance copy-editing and so, as I read, I often see work that is prematurely published. I believe that if you publish your writing (that is, put it out there for the world to see and read), it should be as good as you can make it with as few errors as possible.
One writer told me, “I don’t care if it has a few mistakes. I just want to get it published.” I cringed. She wanted the free copy-editing I offered her just to help her out, but she didn’t feel that she needed to make any changes or corrections. She was convinced that her writing was excellent. In fact, it was quite poor and needed a fair bit of work. This woman was an extreme case, displaying slovenly writing habits and a poor attitude. Most writers care a lot more about the quality of their work.
I understand that the cost of having work copy-edited can be onerous for some, especially when they have not yet made their millions on that bestselling novel, but an investment in a good copy-editing job will be worthwhile in the long run (and I do try to keep my prices low). The copy-editor spends many, many hours reading, correcting, and making suggestions for improvements to the author’s work. Unlike reading for pleasure, copy-editing involves careful scrutiny to find grammar, punctuation, and word usage problems. The job comes with a lot of responsibility.
In order to be good copy-editors, we have to be a bit pedantic. I try not to overlook even the smallest of errors. For me, it is precisely because I care about writing so much, that I can do a good job of copy-editing.
What Does the Reader Look for?
When I am choosing a novel to read for pleasure, like most readers, I go to the first few pages of the paperback or the e-book sample to look for certain indicators of the writing quality.
- I want to be “hooked” on the first page. I do not want to read about scenery as the character drives by in a car. Nor do I want him to wake up to an alarm clock, or look out a window at the view with the description following. I don’t want to read about the character’s dream either.
- I look for the first instances of dialogue to give me an idea of the author’s skill in writing it. If a large variety of dialogue tags are used (responded, replied, answered, retorted, inquired) rather than “said” and “asked,” I lose interest, as this indicates either a very dated writing style or an inexperienced writer.
- If I see a pattern developing where, after each bit of dialogue, the speaker is doing something (for example, “Wait for me,” John said, turning around to grab his suitcase), especially if it uses an “ing” word, for me that is often the book’s death knell.
- Incorrect usage of words makes me shudder. I cringe when I see “lay” and “lie” misused. I’m sure many readers feel the same when they see the wrong word used.
Just because your Aunt Mary has read your manuscript and told you it is perfect, doesn’t mean that it really is. It just means that she loves you. So DON’T publish that book yet! A good copy-editor can save you from yourself. Get it copy-edited properly and then you don’t have to worry about mistakes in your book, and tarnish your reputation as an author forever.
If you are in the market for a good copy-editor, please contact me. I will do three pages of copy-editing for you for free and you can decide whether this is what you need for your novel, or article, or whatever form your writing takes.
P.S. I am older (and wiser) now, than I was when this picture was taken. Just wanted to be honest.
To find out more about me, please visit my website at: http://anneli-purchase.com