Editing Out the Editor

This shit editing is bananas, B-A-N-A-N-A-S.

Hey, Editors, are ya there? Editors? Editors? Bueller? Bueller?…

I recently saw this editorial, “The Price of Typos,” which comments on how “typos are everywhere” now—in large part because publishers are employing less editorial staff and rushing to publish books ever faster. And modern authors are playing their part in it, too:

“Use of the word processor has resulted in a substantial decline in author discipline and attention. Manuscripts are much longer than they were 25 years ago, much more casually assembled, and beyond spell check (and not even then; and of course it will miss typos if the word is a word) it is amazing how little review seems to have occurred before the text is sent to the editor. Seriously, you have no idea how sloppy some of these things are.”

Though editors arguably have more work cut out for them in light of the above (man, don’t I know it firsthand!), when I read traditionally published books I’ve wondered the same: where are the editors? How did that typo get through? I’ve always said that I’ve never read a book without a typo, which is fine—annoying but fine, as I understand how that can happen maybe once or twice—but lately I see several mistakes, and it’s not just typos anymore.

Back when I read the Twilight series (disclaimer: my Freshman Year students were squealing about it incessantly and kept begging to write book reports on it, so I felt it my duty to understand what they were talking about…and obsessively read all four books, and joined Team Edward, and watched all the movies so far, and…), and, I’m sorry, where was I? Oh, so when I read Stephanie Meyer’s decent storytelling but crappy writing, her overuse of words like “guffaw” and “mutter” bored a hole in my head as they plunk, plunk, plunked against my skull like water torture. Where was the editor to chuck a thesaurus at her and make her vary word choice? [See Also: “Sloppy YA Editing: Tic Words]  And when each book got longer than the previous (and not in a good JK Rowling way), when plot didn’t thicken so much as stretch like taffy and read like a fanfiction of her own work, I asked myself, where was the editor to hack out those paragraphs and pages of redundancy and filler?

So maybe Twilight is an unsurprising example, but I was in a bit of despair when I read the most recent book of one of my new favorite authors: The Distant Hours by Kate Morton. I loved her first two books in a way I hadn’t anything that I’d read in such a long time, and while I still enjoyed this third one, it needed a good, solid edit. The thread of an interesting story was there for me, which did keep me reading, but I found myself in a frustrated “get on with it” mode—and this from someone who can totally nurture the slow-going and character-based. I don’t need action and rapid pace, really I don’t, but I also don’t need constant dancing around with dazzling wordsmithing and every detail about yet another thunderstorm raging outside while, go figure, conflict between characters is on the rise, too. That’s my two cents, but here’s a sample of what I saw at Amazon as well:

“What on earth went wrong with this book? Was there no editor involved?”

“[T]oo long and too repetitive. A great deal of the fault lies with the editors.”

“What did this book lack? An editor!”

“This seems to be a problem with modern publishing…some way down the line in an author’s output either the editors stop thinking they need to edit or they believe it OK to drop an earlier piece of work on an unsuspecting readership who naively expect new books to be better books.”

Hear, hear! to that last one; I really do think publishers think we’re chumps when it comes to best-selling authors. I don’t read much Philippa Gregory, so maybe she’s been doing this all along in her historical novel series, but I recently read her The White Queen and, while her writing style otherwise does keep a good pace (especially considering the mammoth amount of factual history she manages to distill), I felt little explosions in my head every time I chanced on passages like this:

“More importantly, I think, but I do not say, not even to Elizabeth, that once we are living in a private house quietly, my boy Richard might be able to join us. As we are stripped of our royalty my son might be with me again. When he is no longer a prince, I might get him back. He has been Peter, a boy living with a poor family in Tournai. He could be Peter, a visitor to my house at Grafton, my favorite page boy, my constant companion, my heart, my joy.”

Listen, I know there’s merit to lyrically using repetition for emphasis, but it loses its efficacy when this sort of thing is done over and over and over again for the length of a novel. I mean, seriously, this reads like she wrote the same thing a handful of different ways in brainstorming which she wanted to use and just forgot to scratch out the losing options.

And by this point, you’re probably all wishing I had an editor to keep this post concise. 🙂 But before I go, I leave you with this: eliminating redundancies might be a subjective task, but spelling and grammar are not. An editing colleague recently emailed this sentence:

“A woman without her man is nothing”

Evidently, an English professor wrote this for students to then punctuate. Most of the boys wrote:

“A woman, without her man, is nothing.”

Most of the girls wrote:

“A woman: without her, man is nothing.”

The power of punctuation! Never underestimate the importance of attention to detail—the importance of EDITING!



About thefallenmonkey

Primate that dapples in writing when not picking others' fleas or flinging its own poop. View all posts by thefallenmonkey

15 responses to “Editing Out the Editor

  • Connor @ Citiesofthemind.org

    “Oh, so when I read Stephanie Meyer’s decent storytelling but crappy writing, her overuse of words like “guffaw” and “mutter” bored a whole in my head as they plunk, plunk, plunked against my skull like water torture.”

    I believe you may mean _hole_ there ;P (Yes, I am winking AND sticking out my tongue). Speaking of, have we ground out some sort of smiley punctuation rules yet? I mean should the colon and the parentheses go before or after the period? :). or .:) and so on?

    • thefallenmonkey

      AAAAHHHH!!!!!! Connor!!!!!! Thank you for being my EDITOR!!!!!!

      I mean, um, yeah, I meant to do that. You know, to show an example of how irritating spelling mistakes are, and, uh… Shyeah. 😉

      And if only I knew the emoticon etiquette…I used to use my smiley as the punctuation but have lately taken to putting it after the period. Couldn’t say why. 🙂 But that’s now my second emoticon in one comment, so I’d better cease and desist.

  • Ollin

    Here! Here!

    Haven’t read Twilight, but I’ve heard of that complaint.

    I’m a big fan of great writing, thus, great editing, so I lament the de-emphasis on editing these days. Very important of you to point this out!

    • thefallenmonkey

      Thanks, Ollin! Yeah, don’t worry about putting Twilight on your reading list. Am sure you’ve already got the gist. 🙂

      It’s a sad thing when good stories are pushed to publication so quickly that they can’t be given due respect in editing. More and more I see typos in signs, menus, and other everyday sources of text, and my biggest fear is that people are going to just get used to it and accept it. Or, scarier still, not even know what’s correct or incorrect to begin with.

  • Melissa

    I’ve only read the first Twilight book, but it was more than enough – largely for the same reasons. One review I happened across mentioned it read more like a first draft than a completed and where the hell were the editors?!

    The paragraph you pulled, I imagine it was Gregory’s? Made my head hurt.

    Perhaps before my great trek into the Query Waters, I’ll acquire my own editor.

    • thefallenmonkey

      Hey, Melissa! Yes, that was Gregory’s, and many such paragraphs made my head hurt as well. Ridiculous. She could have cut her word count by thousands by eliminating instances of that. I’m trying to get my own bum in gear for querying and likewise feeling the pull toward getting an editor. From the editing work that I do myself, it’s amazing what I’m able to see in someone else’s writing that I seemingly can’t catch in my own. That’s been a massive reality check.

  • Eva

    My dear monkey, you are so right in so many ways in this article. Don’t know if I ever aired it in this forum but my personal theory is that the more successful the writer is, the less editing is done. Not always in a good way, as I think many writers tend to go overboard on length. You need somebody to let you know what is too much information or self-indulgence. Even if your name is Mr. Bestseller. But if books sell anyway and the deadline is looming … guess it is a win for the money there. 😉

    And yes! yes! yes! I will never ever go without an editor for my own stuff. Learned my lesson good and well there. Typos, grammar, you name it – no writer can manage that on his/her own. And the epic wait that was my editing process brought me a publisher after all … 😉

  • Glen

    no editing, utter madness could make oh so dad is we.

    Personally i can’t spell check a problem with that 🙂

    • thefallenmonkey

      I don’t think it madders weather or knot u use spellcheck, Glen—all these words in the English language, their all the same aren’t they? Nothing to loose just righting the weigh u wont. 😉

  • Milo James Fowler

    Hear, hear! We must do our good readers the service of presenting a polished final product, and that requires us to edit, edit, edit.

    • thefallenmonkey

      Indeed, Milo. I don’t expect perfection, but it’s always nice to see effort has been made. I imagine so much error is a result of short time frames, in which case it’s an absolute shame that publishers are valuing quantity over quality. It’s not only aggravating for the readers who can see these mistakes but enabling for those who can’t, at least where spelling and grammar are concerned—society is becoming increasingly illiterate the more mistakes like these are allowed to slide by. I just noticed that a street name on the sign at my local bus stop is misspelled—Really? Someone really couldn’t be bothered to proofread before that was manufactured and installed to stand there for x amount of years? [shakes head—and yes, that’s a nod to your characters shaking theirs, per your other comment ;)]

  • Alannah Murphy

    I for one, am constantly amazed, at the incredibly long winded manner of writing style that so many writers have. Amazingly enough, it is beyond my grasp of understanding as to how these people, somehow, incredibly manage to acquire and keep an agent….

    and that paragraph is written to be purposely annoying to prove my point.

    What I’d really say is:
    Learn to edit. It’s important

    • thefallenmonkey

      Likewise amazed, Alannah. Do these authors not even attempt to edit their own stuff before it goes to the editor? Maybe they can’t, in all fairness, given their deadlines, but you’d think if they’re already experienced, multi-published authors, they’d catch themselves in this long-windedness as they’re writing—just like you were saying about already knowing to watch out for those oft-repeated character descriptions when you write. Not that I expect those authors to be able to crank out polished pieces on their own and in a short time frame, but I catch some rookie errors that I expect them to be past, or at the very least should get caught by an experienced editing department! I’m new at this gig, but redundancy slaps me in the face like a wet, stinky fish immediately!

  • The Curious Case of the Missing Editor « The Fallen Monkey

    […] See my related post: “Editing Out the Editor“ […]

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