The Self-Editing Myth
Blogger: Wendy Lawton
One of the best writing books of all time is Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Browne and King. I’ve devoured that book multiple times. I used to read it, William Zinsser’s On Writing Well, and The Elements of Style by Strunk and White every single year. But today I’m going to talk about the fallacy of thinking we can adequately self-edit. Or more precisely that the self-edit is sufficient. Science fiction writer Eric T. Benoit summed it up nicely, “Self editing is the path to the dark side. Self editing leads to self delusion, self delusion leads to missed mistakes, missed mistakes lead to bad reviews. Bad reviews are the tools of the dark side.” Yep, the dark side.
There are many things we can adequately do for ourselves. Giving ourselves a good haircut, however, and editing our own books are not among those things. I decided to address this issue when a friend handed me the print-out of a review she read on Amazon. The review addressed the dangers of an unedited book so succinctly, I contacted Amazon and the reviewer, Sondra Kelly-Green, to get permission to quote much of it here. I’m not going to name the book because the author took the comments to heart and reissued an edited version of the book. But here’s the review:
I would love to recommend this book. I really would. [Title] made me laugh, and its premise and main character were engaging. BUT. . . as much as I would like to recommend it, I just can’t. This book is the victim of the same crime committed by the authors of many (MANY) other self-published books. In the heady rush to press the author neglects to get it to an editor.
There are so many spelling errors in this book it’s nearly impossible to follow the plot. Just one example is the word desert. It has one “s” like sand. Dessert on the other hand has two, as in strawberry shortcake. So as a result we’re faced with a lot of whipped cream and sponge cake where there should be arid dunes.
This is something that really hits me where my peeves live: Why can’t writers admit to themselves that there may be errors editors can catch that they can’t? Spell check is not the great license to go forth into print. The all-too-sad bottom line is that if I passed this on to friends it would imply I hadn’t caught the widely scattered errors on what would have otherwise been a perfectly delightful work.
So – if you’re not driven wild by typos, confused synonyms and operator error in general, you may find this a funny and sweet read. Just don’t say I recommended it, okay?
Gulp! I couldn’t have said it better.
How would you like to get that kind of a review on your book? And this reviewer was merely talking about copyedits. What about the substantive edit? Our friend Dr. Seuss once wrote, “So the writer who breeds more words than he needs, is making a chore for the reader who reads.”
Your turn. Have you noticed more typos and mistakes in books lately? How about doing some future-think with me. If this trend were to continue how do you see it impacting readers and books in general? Do you see a problem like this making readers shy away from self-published books? Do we see this happening in traditionally published books more often than before? What should an author do?
Is self-editing really the path to the dark side? So says @wendylawton. Click to Tweet
What’s the newest trend in digital? Typo-filled books. Click to Tweet
The editor is your best freind. Click to Tweet