I haven’t been able to read as much lately as I normally do and I miss it. However, time spent editing for clients and then trying to write has seriously cut into my ability to read. When I am editing for a client, I can’t disengage my mind from that mindset, which means I have a terrible time reading for pleasure. In fact, I haven’t written a book review in months. Lately, I am lucky to read two or three pages before falling out of the book. Thus I have been reading poetry and resorting to audio books.
When I am in an editing mindset, I notice things a casual reader might not, and I can’t just enjoy the book. And I am not talking indies here—I mean books published by the Big 5 traditional publishers. I keep finding things they could have phrased more actively, or should possibly have cut. These are things an average reader will never notice, and are examples of why authors must have a thick skin.
Typos and editing mistakes are pretty much taken for granted when left in mass-market paperbacks by the Big 5 Publishers, but woe to the indie who neglects to notice a repeated ‘and’ or any other editing error. Also, the Big 5 publishers are allowed to take questionable chances with “style,” such as Alexander Chee did when writing The Queen of the Night, allowing lazy habits we indies could never get away with.
I was unable to actually read the book, as it must have been too tiring for him to use closed quotations to indicate dialogue. The reader has no idea someone is speaking until they’re halfway through a conversation, and have to re-read it. I loved what I could read of it, so I had to resort to the audio book, which was the only way I could get through it.
As an editor, it’s incomprehensible to me why an editor for a large publisher would accept a manuscript that is as annoying as that one flaw makes this otherwise remarkable book.
It is also proof that large publishers (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in this case) are just as guilty as indies when it comes to making strange decisions that can negatively affect sales. They may have done this to elevate it to a “status” read, a must-buy literary name-dropper for those who wish to appear fashionably cultured. If so, it’s a disservice to work that is brilliant despite a flaw that would be fatal if it were to appear in an Indie author’s work.
However, though we can’t take avant garde chances with style, indies DO get to take chances with content, writing and publishing stories that traditionally published authors most likely wouldn’t be allowed to do. If a book might not sell, it won’t be published by a large publisher, because that is what they are in the business to do. However, once an indie has a best seller with a plot the Big 5 would deem sure to fail, traditional publishers will leap on it and the market will soon be glutted. (Can you say Fifty Shades of Grey?)
Sometimes the errors and flaws in the work sold by the traditional publishing houses are hilarious, as we saw in the first Kindle edition of George R.R.Martin’s A Feast For Crows. That was a formatting error, not an error on Martin’s part, so some poor intern probably got raked over the coals for it, as the book had to be pulled, reformatted, and republished as quickly as possible.
The thing is, errors do creep into even the most carefully examined texts and manuscripts. Usually, no one dies from it, but sometimes there are consequences, as in the case of the infamous Wicked Bible. The publishers paid a hefty price: Robert Barker and Martin Lucas, the royal printers in London, were fined £300 (£43,586 as of 2015) and deprived of their printing license.
Indies are held to a far more rigid code by most readers than the traditional publishers are because the internet is rife with disparaging rhetoric pointing the finger at us. And while the Big 5 traditional publishers are just as guilty of rushing-to-publish unreadable crap, the truth is, many new self-published authors haven’t yet gotten the hang of the publishing business, and often their books are rife with things they will later wish they hadn’t been so eager to publish.
Having learned my own lessons the hard way, I have made changes in how I review my own work. Besides working closely with a professional editor, I now have a solid group of friends who comb my completed manuscripts for errors and gross cut-and-paste errors. We can only hope we have caught them all. When you are an indie, it takes a village to help you get your book fit for the public to read.
Anyway—my editor’s hat is firmly on my head these days, and that means I can’t enjoy casual reading for a while more. This mindset slows my own writing output to nearly nothing because I am stupidly self-editing instead of just letting the words flow.
When I am editing I am looking for all varieties of mistakes–not just structural, grammatical, and glaring punctuation errors. I am also looking for things that will interfere with formatting the final manuscript for upload to Kindle or Smashwords, and I hope I find them all for my client, but it makes writing my own work challenging.
As an editor, I do my best. But, nothing is ever sure, and I won’t see the manuscript after I send my client the final suggested corrections. Mistakes can be made right up to the last minute while the client is making those adjustments, so someone else will have to proof-read her work.
Remember, you, as the author, have the responsibility for the final eye on your manuscript. So when my client has finished making revisions, she will have her posse check the manuscript over for the slings and arrows of publishing fate.
I will be done with my current editing project soon, and I plan to take a break from editing for a short while when that happens. Then I will let my mindset slide back into the joy-of-reading mode. I look forward to resting my editorial mind and over-indulging in the work of my many favorite authors.