Monday, January 27, 2014

Editor's Notes #6: A "Harsh Critic" is Not a Copy Editor

I can't afford an editor, but my spouse reads all my stuff and she's pretty harsh. 
I have friends who pick books apart like crazy, and they go through my books before I publish.
My beta readers have caught things here and there . . . I'm good to go.
I self-edit. I'm tough to please, so I know I'm not cutting myself a break.
Hey! I went to school! Do you think I'm dumb?

Have you heard these phrases from fellow authors? Have you said these phrases to anyone before . . . or even to yourself? 

When writers discuss whether they've hired an editor or not, these are the types of comments that appear. Of course, I am of the opinion that every person who plans on self-publishing needs to hire an editor at some point in the process. However, my opinion isn't a selfish one, since there's no way I can personally edit for every indie author out there. Rather, my conviction is based on a simple fact:

Unless you know the rules of grammar, punctuation, and sentence structure, are able to read through the work objectively, and have a slew of resources at your fingertips, you are going to miss something along the way that should have been fixed. 
Maybe it's something small and maybe it's something big. Maybe it's more than one "something" and those multiple "somethings" will be the deciding factor in whether your book gets a good review or a bad one. And don't get me wrong: I'm not saying you shouldn't use your harsh critics. Every set of eyes helps, if you can get honest feedback.

It's still not the same as using a copy editor. 

The average reader may or may not notice mistakes in the text. If your reader is not a strong speller, he or she might not notice misspelled words unless there's a red squiggly line underneath them. Even then, I'm firmly convinced that there are people out there who think the red squiggle means "what a fine, strong word you have here!"

Typos slip by easily, also. "One" instead of "once." "Tree" instead of "three." Real words, but not the correct words. 

What about these scenarios?

  • Which words are hyphenated only sometimes—but not always—depending on their usage? 
  • Which words are spelled differently in the US than they are in the UK?
  • Does this movie/song/book need italics or quotation marks?
  • Does the punctuation go inside the quotes or not? (Another US/UK difference.)
  • Are the verb tenses mixed, moving from past to present and back to past?
  • Is there "head-hopping" going on, rather than staying with a particular point of view?
These are a few of the things a copy editor is paid to notice. Friends and spouses can help, but the bottom line is that they're just not looking for the same thing a line editor is looking for.

If you want your hard work to be seen at its best, hire the person qualified for doing the job thoroughly. Take your time, scout around, and save your money. Copy editing doesn't have to break the bank, but it may be the deciding factor of whether your piggy bank ever gets refilled or not from book sales.


  1. I'm a harsh critic and I know I'm not enough. There are some obvious grammar and punctuation errors readers, spouses, or even I can catch, but that doesn't mean we know what we're doing when it comes to all the rules. A good copy editor would enhance the authors words, I think most fear that their work will be rewritten or they're afraid of the cost. But as you said, shop around before deciding its a no-go. I've read work before and after copy editing and even the smallest changes make a huge difference. Why sell your work or yourself short?

    1. You ARE a harsh critic! I cry every time we talk. But my fashion sense has improved greatly.

      Seriously, a good editor should be able to polish without changing the feel of things. It's amazing what a good old-fashioned tweak here and there can do.

  2. Great post and excellent points! Question, though: how do you tell a good editor from a bad one? How do you ensure quality in the commission, rather than merely throwing money away on an unqualified opinion?

    1. Elle, once again you've read my mind. Monday's blog post is called, "Is This Editor a Good One?" and will hopefully address what to look for.

      I think a lot of it boils down to getting more than one sample evaluation. Some writers go for the first cheaply-priced person they find, and honestly don't know any better until they start getting bitten by bad reviews. More details on Monday... (my shameless ploy to ensure your return)

  3. It's amazing how much slips through, no matter how many reads and re-reads we do! And as a casual reader, it's one of the first things we notice (well, I do anyway!). Editors are vital - I just wish I had one for all my tweets, too...

    1. Everything I've ever seen you post, whether Facebook or short story, is so doggone clean, being your editor would probably feel like a dream job. But I agree, the more we reread our own stuff, the more we overlook because we see what we meant and not what's actually there. If I do a final proof for someone after I was also the one to do the line/copy edits, I have a helper also read it to make sure I'm not filling in the blanks.

  4. It is crazy what the mind can fill in. You really need someone who can look at it as a story and as writing. That is a hard job.

    1. My mind fills in all kinds of stuff, whether it's my own writing or someone else's. I have to really read slowly when working, and will sometimes read pages out of order to force myself to pay attention to those kinds of details.

  5. I agree. An editor is important, possibly two. I've used a copy editor for my work but have also considered a developmental editor. Do you do both Lynda?

    1. I do and I don't, Heidi. I do manuscript evaluations up to 25k words, but not the full manuscript. I've been studying up on developmental editing but don't feel I'm as qualified as some . . . yet. Soon, I hope. In the meantime, line edits/copy edits are where I feel my skills really shine.

      It's neat that you are open to both. So many people will barely consider copy edits because all they see is money being spent, and not the fact that the final product will be SO much tighter and polished.


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