7 Deadly Myths and 3 Inspired Truths About Book Editing

by Joel Friedlander on February 15, 2013 · 84 comments

Post image for 7 Deadly Myths and 3 Inspired Truths About Book Editing

by David Kudler (@StillpointDigPr)

I met David at the meetings of the Bay Area Independent Publishers Association, (BAIPA) and I was impressed with his passion for editing and helping authors get their books done properly. I asked him if he would write an article about the misunderstandings authors have about editors and the editing process, and here’s his response.

I’ve made my living for the past couple of decades almost exclusively from swimming in various parts of the pool that is the publishing world. I’ve been a publisher, a developmental editor, a line (or substantive) editor, a copy editor, a proofreader, a fact checker, a print layout and ebook designer, a rights-and-permissions researcher, a cover designer, an audiobook producer… and even an author.

I’ve edited lots of books — children’s books, fantasy, memoirs, self-help, textbooks, and especially books about myths. Myths? I like myths. Heck, I love myths — if we’re talking about myths as “great poems, [that] point infallibly through things and events to the ubiquity of a presence or eternity that is whole and entire in each.”*

If we’re talking about myths in the more negative sense of “untruths,” however, I like them less — especially if they’re myths about my profession and vocation.

Myths and Misinformation about the Editing of Books

There’s a lot of misinformation and misunderstanding about editors and what they do. Here are seven of those myths that I’d like to clean up:

Myth #1: A good writer doesn’t need an editor.

In these days of self-publication and “service” publishers — who take a percentage of sales for letting the author do all of the work — you hear this a lot. “I’ve slaved over this manuscript for years. I checked it through a hundred times. Microsoft Word’s Spelling and Grammar comes up clean. It’s ready for publication.”

Want an example of a professional book from a world-class author who convinced her publishers to put out the book as-is, without a deep developmental edit (see #3 below)? Look at J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Pretty good book, and it’s sold millions of copies, absolutely — but it’s at least a hundred pages longer than it needs to be. There’s needless repetition, uneven pacing, and side-plots that go nowhere. You’ll notice that the previous and subsequent books in the bestselling series were much shorter and much tighter. Rowling worked more closely with her editors.

Here’s the fact: if you want your book to be strong, clean, professional, and appealing, for it to affect the readers as you want it to affect them, you need to have it professionally edited. There’s never been a text written that didn’t need editing. By the time you’ve spent weeks, months, or years on a project, you can’t see the words any more. You can see the ideas — the concepts, arguments, plot, and characters — but not every word that’s on the page, or that isn’t, or where there are gaping holes in logic or jumps in style. An editor will. It’s what they’re paid to do.

Myth #2: I don’t need the expense of paying an editor. I had my wife/dad/neighbor/high-school English teacher read it through, and they didn’t find anything.

There’s no doubt that the more eyes you run your manuscript past the better. Those readers know you and love you; that’s a wonderful thing, but it’s a disadvantage as well.

A professional editor’s primary connection to the book is the manuscript itself. Your friends are all going to give you wonderful support and advice (especially that English teacher, for whom I hope you made cookies), but they’re not going to approach the text with the kind of eye for detail that an editor brings.

Myth #3: All editors are the same.

No. There are a variety of editing tasks that need to be addressed as a book goes through the publishing process, each of which requires a different set of skills:

  • Developmental editors work with the author to craft the manuscript, looking at structure and argument in non-fiction or plot and character in fiction. (In traditional publishing, these are usually the acquiring editors.)
  • Line or substantive editors also look at the manuscript as a whole, but generally don’t work as closely with the author and aren’t expected to edit as deeply. (This and the previous category are sometimes lumped together as substantive editing.)
  • Copy editors concentrate on the language or copy. They focus on trying to make the style of the manuscript clean and consistent.
  • Proofreaders are usually the last folks who look at a book, in galley or proof form, as it’s about to go off to be printed (or, in the case of ebooks, as it’s about to enter distribution). They’re looking purely for misspellings or errors in style, such as improper punctuation, grammar or formatting .

That’s not even to mention the army of other professionals who will probably be needed in order to craft a book out of a manuscript, from layout and cover designers to fact checkers, permissions researchers and the rest.

One editor might provide many of those functions, but not all at once. (See #6 below).

Myth #4: An editor is an editor — so I should just find the cheapest one I can.

It’s your work and your money; you should budget what you can afford in order to create the book that has the impact you’re looking for. As I mentioned above there are different kinds of editors who have different skills, and different kinds of editing demand different commitments of time and energy, so cheap isn’t necessarily better. I’m going to charge a lot more do a long-term, deep, developmental edit (where I am working with the author to improve the manuscript at the fundamental level) than I will for a simple just-before-publication proofread (where I’m just looking carefully for punctuation, grammar, and style issues).

In addition to marking it up, a good substantive or developmental editor will make lots of queries (questions for the author) on the manuscript, where a copy editor will mostly clean up the language as-is, and a proofreader is usually purely focused on correcting any errors of usage or formatting. These are different approaches to your work.

As with any other service, you get what you pay for.

Myth #5: Okay, fine. I’ll hire an editor. It’s like calling a taxi; take the first one you flag down.

The best way to hire the right editor is probably to talk to any other writers you know and ask for recommendations. You could also look for a local freelance board or service or an online service such as Elance.com. I’d encourage you to look locally first; you don’t need to be able to meet the editor face-to-face, but it doesn’t hurt, especially if it’s a longer-term project.

Get some candidates, tell them exactly how long the manuscript is and what kind of edit you are looking for (see #3 above), and give them a short sample — five to ten pages should do. Ask them to edit it and give you a quote for the whole project, as well as an idea of how long it would take them. You might also ask them if there’s a particular style manual they like to use.

Most likely, no two will edit it exactly the same way, or give you the same quote or time frame. Choose the one you feel did the best job with your prose, asked the most insightful questions, and is within your time and financial limits.

Myth #6: I hired an editor who worked with me for months to rewrite the manuscript. Now it’s ready for publication!

Well… maybe. What I said above about fresh eyes? That holds for editors too. If I’ve been working with an author on a manuscript for a long time, there comes a point where I too become blind to the details.

So if you’ve hired me to do a developmental edit, I may strongly suggest that you work with a copy editor before the book gets laid out — and then, perhaps, once your magnum opus is in its final format, a proofreader as well.

Myth #7: The editor marked up my manuscript, but I have no idea what the notes are about. Diction? Series commas? The editor is making it up!

Honestly, truly, no. We all cringe instinctively at the sight of our words marked in red, a habit instilled during our school days. But those marks the editor made aren’t criticism. An editor’s first job is to create the best book possible out of your manuscript. You’re paying for the editor’s professional judgment. Welcome it — but if you honestly disagree with a change, let the editor know and ask for the rationale.

The editor should be able to tell you that rationale. If the changes or suggestions have to do he or she was most likely trying to make the prose in your manuscript consistent with a standard. They almost certainly are working with a specific style manual whether it’s The Chicago Manual of Style, The New York Times Manual of Style, The MLA Manual, or even just Strunk and White’s Elements of Style. There should be a dictionary that you can agree on. (I had a problem with an English proofer once who inserted Us into words like color, flavor, etc. even though she’d agreed to proof the book against the US Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary.)

Most of all, the editor will have been trying to make the manuscript consistent — to the standard, but especially to itself.

So, no. Your editor is not making it up.

But There Are Truths, Too, Not Just Myths

And here, just to round things out, are three truths about editors:

Truth #1: Editors love books.

Really. They do. Trust me — we don’t get into the business for the money or the fame. We become editors because we love words and we love books: books as objects, books as art, books as treasure boxes of the human mind and spirit.

We’re editing your book because that’s our job, and because we care about it.

Truth #2: Editors (mostly) love authors.

Most editors are — or wish they could be — authors. There isn’t an editor alive who hasn’t at least tried to walk the creative path you are treading. We have enormous sympathy for the challenges of expressing yourself in words. So if we occasionally ask too much, it isn’t because we don’t care; it’s because we care too much.

Truth #3: Editors can help you to create the book you dream of creating.

You are writing a book because there is something you have to say, some knowledge or wisdom to impart, some experience to which you want to lead the reader.

An editor is your partner in making that happen, helping you to say precisely what you want to say in the most effective, affecting way possible.

book editingDavid Kudler is a writer and editor living just north of the Golden Gate Bridge with his wife and daughters. And cat. And many guppies. He serves as publisher for Stillpoint Digital Press, producing ebooks, audiobooks, and print editions. Since 1999, he has overseen the publications program of the Joseph Campbell Foundation, managing the publication of over fifty print, ebook, audio, and video titles, including the third edition of the seminal Hero with a Thousand Faces.

Amazon links include my affiliate code.
*Joseph Campbell, Myths to Live By, ebook edition, (Mill Valley, California: Joseph Campbell Foundation & Stillpoint Digital Press, 2010).

Be Sociable, Share!

    { 66 comments… read them below or add one }

    Arlene Prunkl August 28, 2013 at 10:15 am

    Heh. That should have been “whom the editor you’re considering has worked with.” Clearly, I don’t self-edit enough!


    Lexi Revellian August 28, 2013 at 10:21 am

    Or indeed, “with whom the editor you’re considering has worked.” But I prefer the way you first had it.


    Arlene Prunkl August 28, 2013 at 10:57 am

    Thanks, Lexi. Many of my colleagues think “whom” is going the way of the dodo bird. However, if even one person out there might misinterpret it for poor grammar in my writing, then I feel the need to correct it, especially on blogs like this one where I want my professionalism to be evident.

    And it’s been long known that there’s nothing wrong with sentence-ending prepositions. That’s just an ancient Latinate construction that has little to do with English.

    Okay, grammar lesson over for the day!


    David Kudler August 29, 2013 at 2:46 pm

    Arlene, it’s one of the corollaries to Murphy’s Law: any online comment that points out a mistake in grammar, style, or spelling will itself contain at least one error.



    David Kudler August 29, 2013 at 2:47 pm

    Oh — and I’m rather fond of whom. But yeah, I don’t use it much either. And prepositions are one of my favorite parts of speech to end sentences on. ;-)


    Arlene Prunkl August 28, 2013 at 10:13 am

    As an author, it is so important to do your homework when seeking an editor. Not all editors have the same level of skills. Editing is like any other profession; talent and skill ranges from incompetent to brilliant. As an editor myself, recently I tested a group of editors who’d applied for a fiction-editing job I posted. I was appalled at some of the basic fiction-editing skills that were lacking. And all these people felt they were qualified!

    Sometimes it isn’t even enough to get references from other authors who’ve used the editor you’re considering. After all, how does an author, who doesn’t have editing skills, know what constitutes good editing? Besides getting author references, I suggest also getting references, if possible, from other editors who the editor you’re considering has worked with.

    Do your homework, authors! There are wonderful editors out there, but there are also, unfortunately, some incompetent and/or unskilled ones.


    Sharla Rae August 28, 2013 at 9:40 am

    Now that we know the types of editors and what they do perhaps we need to know what questions to ask in the “right” editor search. Most of us can afford only one editor so it’s best we know if they are capable of handling all aspects of editing.


    David Kudler August 29, 2013 at 2:42 pm

    Understood — so long as you understand that paying one editor more more (rather than dividing the pay up among multiple editors) probably won’t you a better book.

    I’ve just had an experience that drove this point home. I got the galley proofs back on a book where I’d served first as developmental editor, working with the author on the guts of the manuscript for months, and then as an emergency copyeditor. (The copyeditor that the author had hired didn’t have any sensitivity to the style the author was going for.)

    Looking at those heavily marked proofs was more than a bit humbling.

    Proofreaders are special people, and will find errors in style and layout that no one else would see — certainly not the person who slept, ate, and drank the prose for months at a time — but it’s still no fun to see that you let errors slip through that you could have spotted when you were in sixth grade.

    I suppose what I was saying, both here and above, is that you should try to budget them separately — and allocate what you can afford to each and no more. But asking one person to do three people’s jobs might be less cost-effective than you think.

    Here’s a post I made a few months back on this kind of budgeting: Spreadsheets to Galleys: How to Budget Your Self-Published Book


    Graham Clayton February 25, 2013 at 6:28 pm

    A really good article – the point of the author seeing only ideas instead of words is so true.

    As an indexer by profession, most of these points also relate to an author who wants to create an index for a non-fiction book, instead of hiring a professional indexer.


    David Kudler February 25, 2013 at 7:55 pm

    Thank you, Graham; I realized that I’d totally left indexers out of the mix, which was unfortunate. A good indexer is truly an artist when it comes to making sense out of a complex piece of non-fiction.


    Lincoln February 19, 2013 at 6:25 am

    I have been an editor and writer for thirty years. I would no sooner self-publish without an editor than I would operate on myself. Ars longa, vita brevis.


    David Kudler February 19, 2013 at 10:50 am

    I would no sooner self-publish without an editor than I would operate on myself.

    That’s a very memorable way of putting it!


    Mary DeEditor February 18, 2013 at 3:44 pm

    A wonderful post on a perennial topic in the self-publishing world. I also read any number of J.K. Rowling’s novels and thought, “This woman needs an editor… apparently no one dares.”

    Elance is not the only place to find an editor. Actually, it may not be the best place, as the best editors don’t hang out there. It’s like trying to find your soulmate in an online dating emporium filled with poseurs. May I suggest some places to look for highly qualified editors of all varieties:

    Bay Area Editors’ Forum: http://www.editorsforum.org

    CE-L Directory: http://www.copyediting-l.info/

    Editorial Freelancers Association
    EFA also has a very useful rates survey for all the different kinds of editing, helpful for anyone shopping around:

    Your odds are now much better for finding a true match. Good luck!


    david Kudler February 19, 2013 at 10:49 am

    Thanks so much for sharing those; I didn’t get into that whole angle but those links are incredibly helpful.

    For folks in the Bay Area, another place to find publishing freelancers — from editors to designers — is the Bay Area Independent Publishers Association: http://baipa.org


    vyiha February 18, 2013 at 12:39 pm

    Really interesting post, thanks for sharing.

    In particular, I found the categorization among editors quite interesting and useful for better understanding the idea that editing is indeed an iterative process and that at each round, we (either editors or authors) may need different skills than the previous one.

    If I may, I would also stress on the fact that when possible, authors should pick their editors (developmental and substantive) looking at their area of specialty. In fact, I’m not sure if it’s advisable to have a person who have always edited fiction novels looking into your next book on wellbeing :)


    David Kudler February 19, 2013 at 7:32 am

    An excellent point — since obviously an editor who is knowledgeable in the kind of book the author has written can add incredible expertise.

    I will also say that there are times — when the author is already an expert in a particular area and is trying to communicate with a lay reader, for example — when having an intelligent non-expert edit your work can also be incredibly helpful.


    Nan February 17, 2013 at 10:17 am

    And to prove my point–I left out the word “it” in my previous post…just a test, really. “…but isn’t IT a noble goal…” Yes, yes it is. <>


    David Kudler February 17, 2013 at 10:42 am

    It’s a little-known corollary of Murphy’s Law: any post or comment that mentions editing or that suggests an edit will have at least one typo in it.



    Nan February 17, 2013 at 11:15 am

    That makes me feel slightly less of an idiot…thanks, David. You’re a peach. ;)


    Nan Reinhardt February 17, 2013 at 10:15 am

    Great article–thank you! I’m a copy editor and author, as well as a member of Romance Writers of America, where writers are furiously putting up their own work or pubbing with small presses that don’t use CEs.

    Nothing is ever perfect and little errors will always be found in every book ever published, but isn’t a noble goal to want yours to be as close to perfect as it can be? Hire an editor, preferably a good editor. It’s worth the time and expense because a good editor will make you sound as smart as you probably really are.


    Dave Bricker February 16, 2013 at 4:37 am

    Great article. I’d like to add one more myth that prevents authors from seeking an editor. That’s the fear that “the editor will change the writing and it won’t sound like my voice any more.” The truth is that editors make suggestions; they rarely change anything unless it’s a blatantly misspelled word. Additionally, editors generally rely heavily on the annotation and editing tools in MS Word. Any changes made can be approved or denied by the author, and those suggestions are usually accompanied by explanatory notes in the sidelines.

    The idea that you send a manuscript to an editor and it comes back “edited” is an unfortunate fiction. Editing is a collaborative process that involves much conversation (and sometimes a bit of constructive conflict) around producing the best possible book. The editor defends the story and the writer defends his voice. When it’s done, they celebrate a book that could never have been written by one person.

    Joel and David, thanks for sharing. I’ll post a link to this one on my blog.


    David Kudler February 16, 2013 at 10:21 am

    Great point, Dave. I think that writers — especially writers who haven’t written much since school — are still operating under the teacher-student model. An editor isn’t a teacher; the editor is there, as you say, to collaborate with the author to make sure that the author’s words communicate his or her intention as effectively as possible.

    For an example of that, I find it helpful to look at the facsimiles we have of the rough drafts of Eliot’s Waste Land and Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake. The editors there weren’t trying to correct the language — but they sure helped to make the language sing!


    Glenski February 16, 2013 at 1:03 am

    I teach English courses at university in Japan. My background is in the hard sciences, though. I’m utterly flabbergasted at the pitiful writing (and proofreading) ability of so many fellow teachers here who ***have*** degrees in English or Linguistics or something related. I edit an English teachers’ journal, and it is ***very*** hard to find good proofreaders. I do final proofing after the proofreaders and always find a lot of things they missed. I wonder why that is?
    I also copyedit/proofread a scientific journal twice a year. International authors, all scientists who are experts in their fields. Sadly, and to no surprise, many of them cannot write. The biggest frustration, though, is in the engineering style of writing, where they constantly end a fact with a long phrase beginning with V-ing. I’ve learned to roll with the punches and stop correcting their style.


    David Kudler February 16, 2013 at 10:14 am

    Bless you.

    As I said above, I’ve worked as a tech writer, and in my experience there was no correlation between the brilliance of an engineer’s design and his (the ones I worked with were all male) ability to communicate that design.


    Arlene Prunkl February 15, 2013 at 9:21 pm

    Just reading the NY Times best-seller, Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn. Several copy editing errors leaped out at me, including ripe tomatoes being picked in late May in Missouri and “patchy end-of-summer grass” on July 14.

    In Canada, famous author Alice Munro’s 2009 book Too Much Happiness (McCelland and Stewart), was bursting with eye-popping copy editing errors.

    My point? Even Random House and McClelland and Stewart, with their (presumably) huge stables of editors, make errors and miss things. Editors are human, after all. But that doesn’t negate all the arguments made in favour of editors in this article. A professional editor should be engaged for at least a single pass of editing if you are a self-publishing author.


    David Kudler February 16, 2013 at 10:11 am

    Of course, you’re absolutely right. It’s a truism in editing circles that no book goes out without at least one error. The idea is to make sure that there are as few as possible and none of them are the kinds of doozies you mentioned.

    But as you say, that doesn’t change the need for editors. If I ever feel like we’re becoming obsolete, I can always go over to Smashwords and remind myself just what an unedited book looks like. (Not that there aren’t plenty of excellently edited books there, mind.)


    Thom Reece February 15, 2013 at 7:28 pm

    Thank you to Mr. Kudler for a very informative and insightful article. It is very worthwhile reading and I appreciate your input.


    David Kudler February 16, 2013 at 10:02 am

    You’re very welcome! Thank you.


    J S February 15, 2013 at 1:10 pm

    David, great post.

    Besides writing, I have a background in Engineering and have a professional focus on Lean Manufacturing – which classifies editing as rework and rework is essentially “Waste” in a production system.

    How can writers approach a project and ensure most common problems never get introduced and so never have to be edited back out?

    Outlining the plot ahead of time, error proofing tools like in-line auto-correct, checklists for an individual’s specific or a typical authors’ foibles to search through a completed chapter, books like Strunk & White, and so on? Could the popular manuals of style (written large to cover all forms of writing) be compressed to a one-pager of “how to write a fiction novel without errors” that if followed would eliminate 99% of the usual editing problems? Difficult. Impossible. But what if we could?


    Linda M Au February 15, 2013 at 4:17 pm

    Bite your tongue, young man! Then people like David and I would be out of a job!

    As long as there are writers, there will be mistakes to catch. ;)


    David Kudler February 16, 2013 at 10:01 am

    J S — I interned as a tech writer at IBM once upon a time, and so I hope you’ll take in the best possible way when I say that that is the engineer in you talking. :-)

    Human communication is not yet reducible to algorithms, no matter how fractal. And when you start getting into fiction… Well, plot and character development are fluid, no matter how well planned, and as for usage, if MS Word’s spelling and grammar checker are any indication, I think we’re millenia away from your vision.


    Autumn Macarthur February 19, 2013 at 3:48 am

    Great in theory! But this sort of system could easily introduce just as many errors as it solves.

    I find the errors most likely to sneak through multiple reads in my writing are the places Word’s autocorrect changed my mispelled word to a correctly spelled word that wasn’t the one I wanted. This then gets missed by the spellchecker and by me and often by my beta readers too.

    I know I’m going to have to stump up for an editor or two to get my first book as good as it can be, despite wanting to get it out there and available for readers at minimal expense.


    Cheryl Molin February 22, 2013 at 11:41 am

    Editing is far more than looking for grammar errors and the sorts of things that a good computer program might theoretically catch. (We’re a long, long way from any program that can even catch all of those. I look at the word “public” every time it appears in any book I edit, for example; you’d be amazed at how many times I’ve found the thinnest letter left out, and spell check won’t catch the difference between “pubic school” and “public school.”)

    Good editing also catches plot errors (for example, a Civil War story I edited in which a boy ended up sick in someone’s house for two weeks, and then left on foot . . . he had a horse when he got to their house, so what happened to it?), point of view errors, contradictions, redundancies, factual errors, and even issues that the publisher won’t like (attacking a book they published, taking a viewpoint contrary to their purpose for existence).

    An editor can also tell you when an element just doesn’t work–a story you’ve used for an illustration doesn’t make the point you’re trying to make, or another example will be offensive to women who read it, etc. Writing is a task that requires the human element, and so is reading. Editing must be, as well.


    Lexi Revellian February 22, 2013 at 12:16 pm

    Then there’s a paucity of good editors, as I notice these types of errors in trad published books quite frequently.


    Linda M Au February 15, 2013 at 10:03 am

    Great post! I’d like to stress the proofreaders in the chain of work. I’ve been a proofreader for more than a quarter-century, and keeping up with the trends in spelling and punctuation alone can give me nightmares.

    I also think that the best proofreaders take a stance of, “Question everything.” So, most of us check a lot more than simply grammar and punctuation. If I’m proofing a manuscript, it’s more about those things, yes. But if I’m proofing a layout, I also must check formatting (font changes, including size and type), headers, footers, page numbers and locations, and everything in between.

    And, we also become last-stage fact-checkers. When proofing the last stage of a famous author’s novel, for instance, I caught that he had a character walk into a travel trailer in the ’70s and find a CD player. Umm, no, not in the ’70s, he didn’t.

    Somehow that “fact” slipped by an editor and two copy editors, and this was through a traditional publisher. If you are self-publishing, all those levels are your responsibility. There ARE mistakes in your manuscript/layout. Our job is to find them.

    Thank you for casting light on the fact that self-publishing doesn’t mean you do everything yourSELF. :)


    David Kudler February 15, 2013 at 11:14 am

    If I under-stressed the importance of proofreaders, Linda, I apologize — I have tended throughout my career to swim at the other end of the editorial river, as a developmental and line editor.

    Proofreaders are absolutely essential; they tend to be the folks with the keenest eyes and the strongest sense of style — whether it’s the publisher’s house style or an established manual or other standard. They are, as you say, the last line of defense.

    When I was editing a new edition of Joseph Campbell’s Hero with a Thousand Faces. Rather than retype the manuscript, we chose to scan it and run it through OCR (optical character recognition). I had two interns clean up the digitized text against the published book, spent two years cleaning and massaging the resultant text, and handed it off to the folks at New World Library. The senior editor took a pass before they had not one but two copy editors go through the text and catch more OCR artifacts and other style errors. It was only at that point that they began the final process of laying out the book. Once galleys were ready, we all looked over again, and then NWL sent it on to the indexer (a job I didn’t even mention above) and, finally, a proofreader.
    So here was a book that had had every word read hundreds of times by a dozen or more professionals… and she found not only the usual minor errors (missing commas, incorrect header levels, etc.) but a dozen OCR artifacts (clay instead of day and arny instead of army, for example). Made my jaw drop.


    Linda M Au February 15, 2013 at 4:14 pm

    Yikes, that’s a lot of leftovers for a proofreader! Yet, I’m not surprised with OCR scanning, especially if it was a handful of years ago or more. When I worked in a small prepress office, we were thrilled to start using OCR software (in the early ’90s). As the person charged with OCR cleanup, though, I quickly learned that it was often easier and faster to simply retype an entire article or chapter rather than scan it in with OCR and then clean it up two or three times (and still miss things).

    At first the editors balked at my plea to just type things in by hand, but since I type fast and accurately, it often became a far better use of time to retype copy clean instead of scanning it in.

    Meanwhile, fast-forward to this past week, and I’m now OCR-scanning typewritten pages from a friend. I expected far better results than I was getting twenty years ago… but I didn’t get them. I’m still retyping typewritten pages because the OCR cleanup takes far more brain space and is far more frustrating.

    I love proofreading, but I dislike when the rest of the prepress process before me gets so far off-deadline due to things like this that I end up being the one with the urgency shoved on her. (sigh)

    There is just no fast way to produce a quality book, no matter how well everyone does his or her job.


    David Kudler February 16, 2013 at 10:42 am

    Yeah, that book came out in 2008 — OCR has gotten better even since then… but it’s still OCR.

    I’ve found that working with hand-transcribed manuscripts holds its own terrors. Transpositions. Missing paragraphs. Missing pages. :shudder:

    There is just no fast way to produce a quality book, no matter how well everyone does his or her job.

    Yup. What’s that saying? “Any job worth doing is worth doing well.”



    David Kudler February 15, 2013 at 11:20 am

    Oh — and “Question everything” is a good approach to any part of the editing process, I think.

    I was always taught that rule #1 in editing was, “When in doubt, look it up.” Rule #2 was, “When not in doubt, look it up.”


    Linda M Au February 15, 2013 at 4:16 pm

    Ha! NICE! I may have to steal that or put it on a bumper sticker. :)


    Yelle Hughes February 15, 2013 at 9:59 am

    Thank you so much for your articles. I share them with my group #ASMSG and many author followers.


    David Kudler February 15, 2013 at 10:56 am

    Joel’s site is a real godsend — an amazing resource for anyone who wants or needs to know more about the publishing process.


    David Kudler February 15, 2013 at 8:36 am

    Thanks! And yes, indeed, they do; for example, I just spotted a couple of things in this article that I’ll have to fix. ;-)


    Linda M Au February 15, 2013 at 10:05 am

    Aha, yes, I saw a few things in the e-mail version that you have fixed here already (their/they’re, most notably). Good job! :)


    Joel Friedlander February 15, 2013 at 1:23 pm

    Linda, the posts usually get published first, then proofread a couple of hours later, so the version that goes out to subscribers on the feed often contain errors that weren’t caught. Sigh. Always trying to improve the process, thanks for you input.


    Jo Michaels February 15, 2013 at 6:45 am

    AMEN! Even editors use editors! Your money is never wasted if you take the time to find a good one. WRITE ON!


    Tracy R. Atkins February 15, 2013 at 6:36 am

    This is a great article and touches on the best points of getting an edit. In fact, the edit process can and should involve several different people, instead of just “hiring an editor”. There is a lot of expense, sure, but the value is typically there and is a good return on your investment if you are going for a major release. At a minimum, a good line editor and 1-2 proofreaders are what most books need to keep out the most egregious errors that readers pick up. (I say that broadly…)


    David Kudler February 15, 2013 at 8:35 am

    Thank you — and agreed: having at least two sets of (trained) eyes look over your manuscript is a bare minimum.


    Yvonne Hertzberger February 15, 2013 at 6:18 am

    This is one of the best posts I have read in a while. I could not agree more. I know that there is the rare author out there who manages a creditable job of self-editing but I certainly am not one of them. I have a wonderful editor who works closely with me to see that my work is the best it can be. I would not know where to turn without her. That said, I also make sure that before I send her my work I have dona ALL I can myself, first. It makes no sense to expect an editor to polish an ms that has not been carefully gone over first. The less they need to tall you about the better you’ll understand what they DO say.


    David Kudler February 15, 2013 at 8:33 am

    Thank you so much!

    Self-editing is indeed an essential skill, and it’s possible — but I deeply believe that putting out a book that hasn’t had a serious edit by someone with fresh, keen eyes is like getting dressed for a job interview without turning on the light: you might manage to dress yourself in clothes that look good without missing any buttons, but wouldn’t you rather have a chance to look at yourself in the mirror? I’d argue that there isn’t a manuscript out there that couldn’t have been improved by a good edit.


    Lexi Revellian February 15, 2013 at 12:47 am

    When I was a member of Authonomy, my novel won a critique by a Harper Collins editor. He suggested changing the London setting to the south of France, having the narrator live with her aunt instead of in her own workshop restoring rocking horses, removing the murder three years before the book’s opening which triggers everything that follows, and making the hero a recluse rather than a fugitive.

    I had to read it twice to take it in. I wasn’t so stupid as to follow any of this advice. ‘Remix’ has now sold over 40,000 copies in its original form.


    Ken E Baker February 15, 2013 at 5:12 am

    One bad egg doesn’t spoil the basket. Perhaps a great editor could bring the sales up to 60,000 copies… a trained pair of eyes an never hurt.


    Lexi Revellian February 15, 2013 at 5:17 am

    I think there’s a lot to be said for having keen readers beta-read. Mine are a sensible and ruthlessly frank bunch. Trained eyes, though no doubt often helpful, can also be jaded.


    David Kudler February 15, 2013 at 11:32 am

    Lexi, absolutely — the whole idea of the beta is a wonderful one, and in my own writing I rely on the input of friends and fellow writers to help me figure out whether what I’ve written works. I think of them as my writing group, but betas works. You’ll notice, however, that they aren’t called alphas.

    When companies create software, they don’t expect non-professionals to iron out the major kinks; at that point, they’re looking for developers who can identify specific problems and help them fix them. The same is true with prose.


    David Kudler February 15, 2013 at 8:28 am

    Wow. Sounds like someone had a novel HE wanted to write!

    I’ve always thought of agent and editor critiques as the publishing equivalent of speed dating: a chance for potential partners to quickly see if they’re compatible. Sounds like that sure wasn’t the case here.

    This is why I think it’s so important for an author to get to know an editor before agreeing to hire him or her. If someone doesn’t respond well to your book as it is, you’re probably not going to want to work with them. (This isn’t to say that major changes are necessarily a bad idea. I’m currently working with an agent on a YA novel that I’ve written. She recommended some substantial cutting, as well a couple of major internal changes. After an initial groan of dismay, I was able to see the wisdom of her suggestions, and am in the process of finishing those rewrites — leaving me with what I hope and trust is a much stronger book.)


    Brian D. Meeks (@ExtremelyAvg) February 16, 2013 at 2:56 am

    I’ve just started working with my third editor. The first two, were just fine, and I found their work to be more than competent. Erin, however, is fantastic.

    She challenges me to do better when I’ve gotten lazy. She makes suggestions and is fine when I explain my reasoning behind the original. I hope I can one day make piles of money, so I can afford to pay her what she’s really worth.

    Finding a great editor is like dating, one needs to just keep at it until the right one comes along.


    Michael N. Marcus February 15, 2013 at 12:27 am

    I’m a strong believer in professional editing. I hire editors and I’ve been one.

    HOWEVER, sometimes an editor or fact checker assumes the author was wrong, and then changes right into wrong. The author may not notice, or might assume the editor was right.

    BUT, sometimes an editor or fact checker will assume that the author must know what’s right and does not correct the author’s error.

    In Orange County Choppers: the Tale of the Teutuls, there are several really stupid mistakes that were missed by five co-authors and the support army at Warner Books.

    “Paul Senior” said his parents charged people to park in their driveway on Cooper Street in Yonkers when they went to baseball games in Yankee stadium, which was within “walking distance.”

    The stadium is about 8.5 miles south. The 17-mile round trip is not “walking distance” for most people. I hope Paul calculates more precisely while building motorcycles.

    He mentioned his house in “Muncie,” New York. Muncie is in Indiana. The Teutuls lived in MONSEY (which is pronounced like Muncie). Someone besides me should have noticed.

    From my new ebook, Self-Editing for Self-Publishers: (What to do before the real editor starts editing — or if you’re the only editor)


    PS: Back in the 1970s an editorial assistant at Esquire magazine called me and asked me to fact-check an article about car stereo equipment. I was the author of the article. Oops.


    David Kudler February 15, 2013 at 8:21 am

    I think every editor has been guilty of assuming they understand the author’s subject better than the author does — or that the author is an unquestionable authority. A good editorial relationship should always have room for lots of queries — and plenty of room for the author to say “STET”! (FYI: that’s editor shorthand for leave it alone — the equivalent of hitting the undo button in Word.)

    And fact-checking is a much-neglected editorial niche. I got my first freelance editing gig fact-checking, and have always regretted that it is one of the first jobs that publishers tend to jettison in cutting costs.


    Michael N. Marcus February 15, 2013 at 8:43 am

    Time mag was known for superb fact-checking, but they misspelled the last name of MAD’sAlfred E. Neuman — also my middle name.

    Newsweek was much sloppier than Time and often put correction notices after the readers’ letters. Once they printed “newsweek” in lowercase. Now that the mag is online only, it’s easy to make corrections.

    When I was a journalism major we were taught about “unstet” to cancel a “stet” — but the prof may have been kidding us.

    “Stet” comes from the Latin for “stand,” specifically the third-person singular subjunctive. “Status” (standing) comes from the same word.

    Sadly, my brain cells can still conjugate the word: sto, stā́re, steti, status.

    I remember that from around 1961. But… where are my car keys?


    David Kudler February 15, 2013 at 9:52 am

    Also the root, IIRC, of stasis, static, statistics….

    And yeah, it’s always amazing what sticks in your brain. ;-)


    David Kudler February 15, 2013 at 9:57 am

    And what doesn’t.


    Linda M Au February 15, 2013 at 10:11 am

    Totally agree on the fact-checker stuff! I work as a freelance proofreader, and a copy editor ahead of me on a project marked “Jon Voight” as misspelled and corrected it to “Jon Voigt.”

    A simple hit on a search engine, and I had recorrected it back to “Jon Voight.” My job here was done. :)

    Lesson for the Day: Question everything, and take the extra two seconds to look it up!


    David Kudler February 15, 2013 at 10:54 am


    The first day of my first fact-checking job, I had to explain the reverse an edit from immanent (present in all things) to imminent (happing soon).

    That class in Zen Buddhism came in useful after all.


    Judy Griffith Gill February 16, 2013 at 8:38 am

    At the moment, I’m editing a novel set in England (London’s East End) during the time of Jack The Ripper’s fun and games. The author has driven me crazy by using modern terms that were not in use in 1888. Adrenaline, testosterone, jackhammer, “john” for a prostitute’s customer, “newsreel” when news sheet, or newspaper would have been appropriate. I have the Random House Webster’s College Dictionary, 1991 edition, which shows the dates words came into common usage. I’ve never put that book to such extensive use as during this edit. I’ve also had to Google many terms and words throughout. Other authors I’ve edited insist on using “Hello” as a greeting long before Alexander Graham Bell even invented the word to use as a specific greeting on the telephone.


    RD Meyer February 15, 2013 at 12:00 am

    “Most editors are — or wish they could be — authors.”

    This is one of the biggest truths out there. I’ve found some great editors who work with folks and make the work better. However, I’ve also run into some editors who wanted a story all their own…they just didn’t want to go through the messy work of, you know, writing it themselves. Suggestions become entire re-writes, and when a writer rejects the edit, I’ve seen some tirades that would make a sailor blush.

    Again, not all editors are like that, but a surprisingly large number are.


    David Kudler February 15, 2013 at 8:11 am

    That’s why it’s so important to see what an editor does to your work before you hire them — to see if they’re someone who you can actually work with.


    Leave a Comment

    { 18 trackbacks }