Thursday, July 7, 2011

Editing and Producing the Best Possible Product

I'm on several ebook forums, and lately there's been a lot of discussion about the quality of self-published works. Most of the discussion has been very distressing to me as an author and sometime editor.

First, let me be very clear. Every author, self-published or traditional, has an obligation to produce the very best product for readers. Anything less is unacceptable, and readers have every right to reward other authors who keep quality in mind.

Okay, now that I've said that, let me also say that editing is tougher than it looks and can be VERY subjective. Many of the people who slam authors for mistakes have obviously never written or edited professionally. It's easy to sit in your armchair with a book and a red pencil, finding errors in a book you never wrote or edited.

It's impossible for an author to proof his or her own work, beyond a certain point. I saw that in spades this week. I was doing a mostly final rewrite of The Case of the Haunted Vampire, and I had been very careful in my re-read and rewrite. Then I pulled out the critiques from the online critique group, Critters. Mostly the story received high marks for professionalism and editing/writing quality. The readers found several grammatical/tense/consistency errors. I had missed all but one in my last re-read.

You know what else was interesting? None of them found all the errors they found as a group. It took eight people to find the errors I corrected yesterday. There's probably a few more out there. I have hired a professional editor for a final review, and I'll bet she'll find some of them. Will she find everything? Probably not.

And this was a work that most readers said was very high quality.

Those were just the objective errors. What about the subjective stuff? A couple of readers commented on my use of tense. One even asked if I had originally written the story in present tense and rewritten it in past. Ugh, no. I wrote part of one story once in first person, present tense. It was an interesting experiment, and I learned a lot, including that present tense is a bitch to both read and write. I went back recently to re-read that story and found a bunch of places I'd slipped into past tense. Never again.

But back to this story, which is told in first person, in a very conversational style. I did use present tense a few times, because it's what we do when we speak. An example is when Dafydd was talking about Annie's, the diner he was going to. I wrote "Annie's is pretty well known as a gay hangout." One of the readers called me on it. Another noted the tense shift but indicated it was okay if I was doing it for style reasons. I was doing it for stylistic reasons. Think about it. Annie's exists today. If I were telling the story to a friend about going there, I'd probably say "We went to Annie's last week. It's a great place to eat!" I wouldn't use past tense in the second sentence, so I had Dafydd use present tense as well.

Subjective, eh? Six different editors would probably give me seven or eight opinions.

What's the point of this rant? Simple. Authors need to have a commitment to writing the best possible story and making it as perfect as possible. If we do that for you, readers, will you give us a bit of leeway and understand it's impossible to make a work perfect, even when we give you our best possible effort?


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