How Bad Are Those Editorial Mistakes You Made?


Mid-last month, I got an editorially-focused marketing email from Amazon’s self-publishing arm, CreateSpace.

Now, normally, I don’t care about CreateSpace’s marketing tips. I highly recommend Amazon for the initial self-publishing phases (i.e., using its free services to format your interior, design your front cover and publish your book). But I haven’t had a single positive experience with its advertising business, so I consider anything it says on that subject to be a waste of both time and money.

That’s why I normally delete these emails as soon as I notice them in my inbox.

Normally.

This one caught my attention though with its dire subject line: “The True Cost of Editorial Mistakes.” Since that’s my realm of expertise, I was pretty curious about what it would say.

Clicking on the email, I immediately found it to be on the melodramatic side, starting with the very first sentence: “With a slip of a finger on your keyboard you can drastically change the meaning of a word.”

At its most basic, that’s a true statement. There is a big difference between, say, leer and seer. One is a verb; the other’s a noun. One has significantly negative connotations; the other is usually a title of respect.

But that doesn’t mean you ruin your whole entire story with that one “slip of a finger.” You just confuse a sentence. It’s neither the end of the world nor the end of your writing career.

So breathe. (No matter what CreateSpace tries to tell you.)

Also, there really should be a comma after “keyboard.” Just sayin’.

And I would have reformatted the next sentence too. Instead of writing, “For example, take you’re/your, then/than,” I would have drawn it out more engagingly to, “For example, take the case of you’re vs. your, or then vs. than.”

It just reads better that way, encouraging recipients to continue.

Moving further down, the letter goes on to ask, “But [do editorial mistakes] really matter? Let us count the ways…” before listing off three different reasons why it thinks you really need to be careful about all the nitpicky details:

  1. Immersion

  2. Professionalism

  3. Efficiency

In other words, editorial errors run the risk of tripping readers up, making you look bad and creating more work for you in the end.

Once again, those are all true. To varying degrees.

Let’s start out with the first one: immersion. It’s a known fact that grammatical and spelling mistakes can pull a reader out of a story; but it’s also true that a really good story rises above grammatical and spelling mistakes.

I’ve now read two books, one a young adult novel and the other a historical non-fiction piece, that obviously didn’t get the professional proofreads they needed. As an editor, my eyes kept noticing misspellings, poorly chosen punctuation and the like.

Yet as a reader, I didn’t care. Not one bit. I was too caught up in the stories, my pulse speeding up or slowing down in time to the characters’ fears and triumphs. All I wanted was for them to get their respective happy endings.

So while I wouldn’t recommend publishing something with tons of editorial issues, it wouldn't be the worst mistake you ever made. And yes, you heard that from a professional editor.

Then there’s professionalism. This is a bit more nuanced, only because your opinion of yourself matters just as much as your readers’ opinion of you. They’re the ones buying your books, but you’re the one constructing them – an act that requires confidence.

Again, your readers care much more about getting caught up in some moving, thrilling or thought-provoking adventure. But being a writer, you almost certainly have a bad habit of never being fully pleased with your final product. So you’re going to stress out over every other word choice you put out to the public, a fixation that will inevitably grow worse – possibly even creatively debilitating – for every actual mistake you find.

As a result, hiring a professional editor might not be bad idea for your overall sanity levels.

But that whole “efficiency” thing? Seriously, hiring an editor might save you time and money. Or it might not. It all depends on how you’re published and how well your marketing campaign goes and how much time you’re going to spend pouring over your own work editing it again after it’s already published.

In short, I don’t think any of the reasons CreateSpace listed are particularly awesome ones for hiring a professional editor. The best reason is to strengthen your story. Because that’s where your readers will be focusing.

Here are just some of the editorial questions Innovative Editing asks every time it evaluates a story, whether fiction or non-fiction:

Are your characters compelling? Is your dialogue engaging? Does your plot and purpose make sense?

How about your sentence structure: Do you switch it up appealingly or does it plod along? How many times are you using the same word in the same space, slowing down the copy in the process? Is there a synonym that can be used instead?

Am I on the lookout for spelling and grammatical mistakes in the middle of all that? Of course! I’m not saying those aren’t important. They are.

However, perfect punctuation and editorial excellence isn’t going to make or break your book. Your story will.

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