Friday 11 November 2011

Editing? What editing?

I am currently reading a novel (courtesy of the Amazon Vine programme). It is, I suppose, a thriller, a first novel re-issued by Amazon publishing. It has had good reviews so far, and I am baffled.

Because if this book has been edited at all, then how has the writer got away with so many basic errors?

For start, there's the opening sentence: "'Hurry up, Katy,'" Jake Crosby called out, as he took a wet tennis ball from his aged Lab Scout."

Hardly gripping stuff, and as for the name of the "aged Lab", who needs that at this stage? A small point, but as we all know, openings are crucial. Then there is the mix of POVs. One minute we are with someone who's on the phone, the next, we are suddenly told the the person he's talking to is "gazing at the ceiling". How do we know? We aren't with that character. This happens repeatedly, as we skip from one POV to another.

Meanwhile, everyone's scurrying about in a forest in the middle of the night looking for villains. A deputy sheriff finds a girl bound and gagged, and forgets to remove the gag or even ask her how or who she is; he just bundles her into his van and heads for home, feeling like a hero. There's the police dog which would rather lick its balls (it does this all the time) than work, which as well as being unbelieveable adds nothing to the plot. There's the excess use of adverbs, the avoidance of "said" if he can write "explained", "demanded" or whatever, the lengthy phone calls ("Bye,", "bye", "love you", "love you" etc etc), no doubt true to life, but not remotely interesting. Sometimes, there are simply too may words.

And yet this novel has the bones of a good story (probably not really my kind of book, but that's not the point). So why, oh why, didn't someone edit it properly? Those of us who have suffered (at the hands of an editor) the pain of having our favourite passages removed in the interests of plot; who have been (quite rightly) picked up on every little error or repetition, will know that while this is a painful process, it is essential, and leads to a tighter, better novel.

This particular novel is American, and there are things in it that might only be understood by the author's compatriots, but surely any novel by any author needs some good editing. Maybe many readers won't mind any of this, but I can't help feeling that the loose editing (if indeed there's been any editing at all) must have compromised the chances of this novel. And what a shame.


  1. This is was scares me about on these ebooks everyone is rushing to upload. Like you say, Editors know their job and without them our books won't be the best we want them to be.

    It would stop me from buy the authors next book if that had happened to me.

  2. Editing is vital. Reading a badly edited, yet otherwise good book is like eating a half-cooked potato. You want to carry on, but it just becomes impossible and you have to give up halfway through.

    A relative of ours, only twenty-one at the time, wrote a novel and used a vanity publisher. I dutifully read the book and thought her ideas, dialogue and characters were quite impressive. It was a credible story with a beginning, middle and end, even though it was hardly great literature. But it hadn't been edited at all. The mistakes were rife from the opening sentence. Numerous grammar, punctuation and spelling errors had not been corrected, just as if it were a first draft. It turned a fairly good debut novel into a nightmare.

  3. I have edited several books and no one gets more indignant than I do when seeing unedited manuscripts published as finished books.
    I recently read a very interesting, rather good self-published book by the husband of a friend. I found many errors, and offered to fix them (for free) before they go to the expense of another printing, but they said "No, thanks"!
    When people think that way, the whole point of editing is lost. The world doesn't seem to care.

    Kay, Alberta, Canada
    An Unfittie’s Guide to Adventurous Travel

  4. Jarmara, I had exactly the same thought.

    Joann, I'm glad you agree. Being edited is often very unpleasant, but every book needs a fresh (experienced) pair of eyes (or several!).

    Kay, a very good friend of mine asked me to look at her novel. There was just about everything wrong with it, and I really didn't know where to start. I managed to find some nice things to say, but otherwise I did tell her what I thought (playing it down, of ocurse).She did take what I said on the chin, but I will never read a friend's unpublished work again. It was far too painful for us both!

  5. If you read the book reviews on my blog, you'll find that I often pick on badly edited works, such as the Charlaine Harris books I read earlier this year. A job well done is so satisfying to both the people who do the job as well as to those who benefit from the end result, therefore it pains me to see how, for the sake of making things cheaper and faster, thoroughness is so often sacrificed.