Have you ever written anything which, once proudly presented to someone else, turns out to be a total turkey which is either illegible or incredible?
What often sets bestsellers apart from books which “just do okay” is polish, and by polish, I mean editing. I wish I had a percentage for all the self-published works out there written by people who think they don’t need editors. I don’t, so I’ve made one up, and put it into a graph. Have a look at this, it’s lovely.
Sometimes the value of a good edit is unquantifiable. Such as, when your editor points out that your story has lost its way and nudges you back on track, or when you’re told that Chapter 9 is boring, pointless and annoying, and should be surgically removed immediately.
But nothing infuriates me more than reading a self-published book full of spelling mistakes, grammatical errors, continuity errors and generally unforgiveable oversights, such as:
1. Spelling mistakes
This is self-explanatory, but can be remarkably more expansive than you think. It’s not just typos. Some people just don’t get that spellcheck can only check half of what you right. 🙂
You’d be surprised how many times you’re told that something “wrecked havoc on her life”, for instance, and the book I’ve just finished reading had a doormouse in it. I once read a self-published e-book which had a fairly decent storyline and structure. But after textual offences too numerous to count, the expression “like a bulldog chewing a gasp” appeared. The ensuing rage caused me to break every plate in the house. Get an editor.
2. Grammatical Errors
We are all guilty of these, and there is absolutely nothing to be ashamed of:
missing commas which make your brain breathless as sentences run on and on without a break and which run the risk of the reader missing the point entirely as they struggle to remember the start of what they were reading
commas where no commas should ever, be
apostrophical abuse to within an inch of it’s life
over-use of: colons; and, semi-colons;
relative clauses, what are never clear whether to use which or that or where or who
The point is, when you’ve written them, it’s impossible for you to see them. You must therefore ask someone else to look for you. Get a bloody editor.
3. Continuity Errors
When you’re on your 42nd draft, it’s quite unlikely you would notice that Farquhar, whose name you changed to Alistair in your 38th draft, has made a reappearance on page 684. Or indeed that Penelope, who you decided should not go to the ball on page 58 and rather, in a fit of female empowerment, should stay at home to read a good book and broaden her mind instead, should not therefore be coming home from said ball on page 72 any more. For the love of God, get an editor.
4. Tangent Terror
It may well be that the six chapters which finish the first third of your novel contain some lovely literary grandstanding of which you are very proud. That purple prose-ridden piece in particular, describing the horrific childhood of a peripheral character who only appears once more before the end of the book, is like poetry in a paragraph. It doesn’t matter that it has nothing to do with the main plot. Even if your readers think it’s irrelevant, they will appreciate the beauty of your prosaic prowess.
No they won’t. For pity’s sake, get an editor.
5. Generally Unforgiveable Oversights
An editor will be just the person to kindly and gently point out that World War II did not start in 1966 because of government-sanctioned telephone bugging. If you think you don’t need an editor for this sort of stuff either, you’re welcome to your own opinion. Just don’t ask other people to buy your book unless you want a lot of very shouty people making a scene on GoodReads or Amazon, and an excruciatingly large proportion of hard-won but speedily-lost readers agreeing with them. In the name of all that is wonderful, get an editor.
Would you buy a medicine which hadn’t been tested and certified, or a car with no windscreen wipers? No, of course not. You expect the people who make these things to make them properly. A book is no different. It is an author’s duty to ensure their work is up to acceptable standards before releasing it on the innocent public.
Research candidates carefully, choose wisely, and accept changes calmly. But above all, get an editor.