In Which I Ask The Question, Is Editing A Make Or Break Proposition In Book Reviewing?

Lets-eat-grandmaI have a lot of pet peeves. So…so…many. (If one of your pet peeves happens to be ellipses, then let me just apologize for that previous fragment of a sentence. If fragmented sentences are a pet peeve, again, apologies.) (If parenthetical phrases happen to be a… never mind.) Anyway, between you and me, sometimes I have a difficult time distinguishing between what’s a simple and forgivable nuisance, and what’s something that should be addressed as an issue, especially when it’s a correctable one.

When I first started reading books in the M/M genre a few years back now, I came to it straight from reading some pretty well-known mainstream authors: Ilona Andrews, Jeanine Frost, Diana Gabaldon, Patricia Biggs, Kelly Armstrong, J.R. Ward, J.D. Robb… You get the picture. I was reading authors who were being represented by some fairly large publishers with deep pockets, and I have to say that one of the things that astonished me when I first began reading books in the gay romance segment of the fictional population was that I had to very quickly learn to turn off my inner critic, which tends to want to nitpick things like misused idioms and overused clichés and poorly structured sentences. I had to learn not to nitpick over line editing issues that, for me, being a mildly OCD person with a bent toward ADD, is really, really difficult, let me tell you. And let me also tell you that things have got infinitely better over the years, but, in my most humble opinion, there’s still room to improve.

6a0120a753b67e970b0133f3205559970b-500piNow, before I go on, I want to be perfectly clear on one thing, and that is that I’m not talking about a missing “and” or “the” a few times in a two-hundred page novel. And believe me, I know from firsthand experience that COMMAS SUCK! I’m not that arrogant. I’ve had the very humbling experience of going back and reading some of my puny reviews days/weeks/months later and have cringed at my grammatical shenanigans. ::shudders:: The point is, is that I grasp the brain’s capacity to read something over and over again, until it starts filling in what it thinks should be there, or overlooking things that are there but shouldn’t be. That’s the simple truth of a very complex machine. No, I’m talking about the sorts of errors that are so frequent—significant words missing from sentences, words placed in the wrong order, words that had likely been deled during the editing process but were never accepted as a deletion before the book went to publication, because those words clearly don’t belong—those are the sorts of things I’m talking about, errors that don’t show up once or twice but a multitude of times, the sorts of things that will jar you out of the flow of the narrative and force you to read the sentence several times over just to figure out what the author is attempting to convey. Those are the things I’m addressing here; it’s been a red-flag-reading period for me recently, which has caused me to, fairly or not, rate some perfectly good stories just a tick or so lower because I couldn’t get past those annoying boo-boos. Honestly, I’ve read one-thousand-plus page books with fewer editing mistakes in them than some of the shorter novels I’ve read in the past few months, and let me tell you, it’s disheartening to me to love a book’s content and dislike its execution.

4088495_700bSo, here’s the question of the day: what do you do when you come across a book that’s been so poorly line edited that it makes you kind of want to cry for the author’s sake? Is it fair to downgrade a book’s rating based on, again, not minor mistakes but blatant issues that pull you out of a story? Should reviewers start giving separate ratings, one for content and one for line editing? Because I have to be honest, there are a few times I’ve wanted to do that just to get the point across that, hey, publishing world, this is something that a lot of us readers really care about. Clearly this is something that a few publishers (and self-published authors) have made a priority; I want to let them know that it shows, which is why they’re my “go-to” guys when I’m on the hunt for a good book. As a reader looking from the outside in, it seems to me the author/editor relationship should be a symbiotic one, each making the other look shiny and spectacular so we readers can shout to each other, “PEEPS! READ THIS BOOK RIGHT THIS VERY MINUTE!” Because that’s what I love to do.

But there are still some publishers, in spite of how dramatically this genre has grown over the years, that seem not to make that trifecta of a relationship between author, editor, and reader much of a priority, and maybe it’s a simple matter of not having the financial resources to devote to that area of the business, but it’s to those folks I want to shout, “HEY! It matters. Trust me, it matters.”

Does poor editing make or break a book for anyone but me? Is it something that we who opine ought to even mention in a review? (Or whatever it is that I do. Mostly, I think I just ramble.) I am curiouser and curiouser.

And P.S. – Please forgive any editing issues in the above text. :-)


17 thoughts on “In Which I Ask The Question, Is Editing A Make Or Break Proposition In Book Reviewing?

  1. As an author, proofreader & editor I find it extremely difficult to overlook editing errors. I don’t know an easy way to incorporate that into a review but I absolutely think it’s worth mentioning. It should be a top priority for authors and publishers.


  2. Hi Beau,

    You know, I don’t read a lot of New York Times book reviews, but I have read a few over the years and don’t think I’ve ever seen one in which the reviewer has said something to the effect of, “This was a great book. I just wish it’d been better edited.” Whether that’s due to the fact that those issues don’t exist in the books that the NYT reviews, or if it’s more due to it not being general practice to mention those problems when critiquing a book, I have no earthly clue. It’s really difficult for me to overlook sometimes, though, that I do know for sure.

    P.S. – I’m looking forward to meeting you at RainbowCon. :)


  3. Brita Addamsb says:

    Having just gone through the editing process for Tarnished Gold, I can tell you that after the second or third pass, you are text blind–both the author and the editor. One thing that Dreamspinner does is each successive round is conducted by a different editor, which helps. Then it goes to a proofer, who has fresh eyes.

    The errors left after editing should be caught in proofing. This is where the author gets another chance to help perfect the piece. I spent four days proofing Tarnished Gold, while the manuscript was with another proofer. I caught things left over from editing, a passage or two left in after I removed a character, though I scrubbed the piece for remnants. The proofer caught some other things as well.

    I know the process and have engaged in it often enough to know that there are good publishers and not so good. There are editors who really take the time to make each manuscript shine, and there are others who don’t really give a flip because they aren’t making enough to care. Editing is difficult work, time consuming, and sadly, some publisher pay a pittance, and most get their money’s worth.

    My problem with poorly edited books comes, sadly, mostly, though not completely, with self-published work. On one hand, I’d never be that brave to trust my editing skill, which is shaky without guidance, and publish a book without a professional edit. On the other, I’m harsher in my reviews, because there, the author is responsible for the entire package, with no fall back.

    There are so many things to watch for – continuity, grammar, passive voice, punctuation, etc. An author is text blind and shouldn’t be the editor of their own work. To be very honest, authors shouldn’t editor other author’s work either. Even if they are professionals. Personal opinion, based on experience with author/editors.

    Only one thing will halt the process for me that is disrespect toward me and/or my work. When an editor fails on that score, I put up the wall and refuse to proceed. I’ve done that twice in my writing career. Both times, I pulled the piece because I wasn’t going to be subjected to the “WTF were you thinking?” kind of editor. Both times, the editors were writers and not professional editors. They also had no idea how to treat people in or out of the editing process.

    From a reviewer’s standpoint, I’m not sure how you should rate a poorly edited piece from a publisher. Perhaps an email to the publisher, spelling out your problem with a particular piece. It could be that the publisher thinks the books they publish are being properly editing and would appreciate the input to the contrary.

    For me, when I review from my personal reading, I consider the publisher. If the book has gone through a publishing company, I have to consider that it has been professionally edited. (I am the eternal optimist) Much of production is out of the author’s control and the review is on the story, theoretically speaking. In that case, I might say something like, “The editor really let this author down.” But I wouldn’t deduct points if the story itself was well executed.

    With a book represented by a publisher, to penalize the author (in review points) for an editor’s mistakes, isn’t all together fair. But that is my humble opinion. Fair though, is a mention.

    I do judge self-published books quite differently, because the onus is on the author for the entire production. They are out there, twisting in the wind otherwise.

    My fifty cents.


    • Text blindness is the absolute perfect way of putting it, Brita, which is why I think it is so imperative to have that layer in place for editing content, grammar/punctuation, and finally at least one more set of eyes to say yea or nay on whether a piece is as clean as is humanly possible. I don’t expect flawless at all, ever, but I do like to know that when I’ve spent money on a book, it’s one that someone has treated lovingly–someone besides the author, that is–before I’ve had a chance to get my hands on it.

      I used to be kind of a stickler about editing problems, until it seemed like I was mentioning editing issues in almost every review I wrote, which, in turn, is something that made me believe the onus was on me to start cutting these books a little more slack. I mostly don’t say anything anymore, unless it’s just ridiculous. I’ve learnt over the years that there are publishers I should simply avoid, and I do. It’s been a matter of training myself more than anything.

      It’s funny that you mention self-published authors, though, because for some unknown reason, I tend to do the opposite and cut them a little more slack, up to a point. I can’t throw everything to the wind, obviously, but I’ve always been the one who wants to cheer for the little guys, so maybe that’s my wrong-headed reason why. :)


  4. You’ve definitely found one of my pet peeves, too, Lisa, although since I haven’t done any consistent reviewing, my strategy is simpler: if there are too many editing issues in a book, I just stop reading. I’ve done that on a few self-pubbed books, but the one that really shocked me the other day was a history book (I won’t name names) with such atrocious punctuation I couldn’t make heads or tails of some of the sentences. Traditionally published and everything. Sometimes you never know.

    In general, it boils down to readability for me. If the story is clean enough that I can read it without being jolted out, I’m happy to ignore some mistakes and keep reading. If it gets to the point that I’m focusing on the editing instead of the storytelling…that’s usually where I stop.

    (And by the way, I personally love your parenthetical side comments, so please don’t stop those!) :)


    • Hi, Jennifer, thanks for stopping by. :)

      Do you hate DNF-ing a book? I so do, first off because I’ve paid for it (probably), and second, because I just don’t like giving up. But it’s the same for me; once a couple of those pesky little triggers of mine show up, I end up focusing on everything else that’s wrong rather than paying attention to the story, and that kills the book for me.

      One of my triggers is the overuse of exclamation points! !!!!! I had to DNF a book once in which the author was so! Darn! Excited! about nearly every sentence he wrote that I couldn’t read it. I’m one of those readers who believes that unless a character is shouting in anger or because maybe there’s danger looming ahead, it’s a punctuation mark that should be used rather sparingly. I want the words to tell the story not the exclamation points, but that’s more a personal pet peeve of mine, and likely isn’t shared by a lot of other readers. :-/


      • Brita Addams says:

        My favorite is when there is mixed punctuation – !?! No editor would allow a writer to get away with that (these days anyway, I don’t know about in the past.) No CAPS either. I find a lot of these kinds of things in self-pubbed books.

        Ellipses are useful in dialogue, as are emdashes. We sometimes trail off when we speak, thinking better of what we wanted to say. True enough, they can get carried away, but they can come in handy.


    • I agree CAPS should be saved for acronyms. I’d rather see words italicized for emphasis.

      I don’t mind a few ellipses here and there. I happen to think they can make a funny line even funnier. They help the timing of the delivery, IMHO. I did DNF a book once, though, because of overuse. They stilted the dialogue of nearly every conversation in the book, and I ended up wanting to shout, “For God’s sake, think before you speak.” LOL.


      • Brita Addams says:

        True enough. It helps to read conversation aloud, with the pauses, etc. It truly changes the writing, or can. Something in your head might not sound quite the same when read aloud. People don’t naturally stop and start in dialogue. They pause or trail off. :)


  5. Pingback: Stumbling Over Chaos :: Linkity limps along (and I’ve probably already used that title)

  6. I’m different from most bibliophiles I’ve met in that I actually don’t mind not finishing a book. What with college and writing, I have little enough time to read as it is, and every time I go out and buy a great new book, some professor tells me to read Puritan histories, so when I’m reading for fun, I want it to be something I’m enjoying, not criticizing for grammatical mistakes. My TBR pile is larger than my bookshelf. I’m not going to waste my time on a book I don’t like. :)

    Do you also mind exclamation points in dialogue? I agree that they make my nerves screech when they’re in narration, but I find them useful from time to time in quotes. After all, we do shout from time to time… I agree about capitalization, though. I almost DNFed (does that acronym work that way?) Harry Potter 5 because Harry kept screaming in CAPS.

    And yes: emdashes are wonderful. ‘Nuff said. :)


  7. I don’t mind some exclamation points in dialogue at all. :) Anger, danger, some situations where excitement is involved, I’m good with. In the narrative, though, that’s another story altogether. I tend not to like them so much in cases that involve the author using the exclamation point as a crutch to convey an emotion that could be told in words rather than with punctuation. Some exclamation points tell me the character is excited or agitated. Too many make me feel as though it’s merely the author who is just very, very excited about what s/he is writing, but it doesn’t necessarily serve to make me excited by whatever happens to be going on in the story.

    But that’s just a personal niggle. :)


  8. Here is a perfect example of my issues with line editing. I’m currently reading a book in which the word “then” was used in the place of what ought to have been the word “than”.

    The first time it happened, I let it go. The second time it happened, I gritted my teeth and moved on. Now it’s happened a whopping third time, and I’m only 25% into the book.

    These are the things that make me so crazy because now I’m anticipating it every time I see the word “then” even when it’s being used properly in the sentence, and it’s ruining my enjoyment of what is, so far, a terrific bit of Civil War era Steampunk.


    This shouldn’t affect my review of the book, should it?


  9. If a book is really poorly line edited, or just plain poorly edited, tripping over those mistakes pulls me out of the story, sometimes it’s just a stumble and other times I land on my ass, or off the sidewalk and into the gutter, so yes it does affect my rating–I couldn’t fall into the story and forget I was reading. Occasional mistakes/typos are not a big deal, I just can’t take a whole book of them, but then, if the book has so many typos it keeps ripping me out the story, it probably has other problems as well. But sometimes a book is just so good I don’t care (usually fan-fic or free stuff).

    And yes, forgetting that “accept deletion/insertion” thing does crop up in books–ever wonder about those weird words in the middle of nowhere that make no sense? I really learned that the hard way when I self-published Not His Kiss to Take – I had it professionally edited, and even though I had accepted/didn’t accept all the deletions and insertions in the document, I forgot to actually turn it off before I put it in the Smashwords ‘meatgrinder’. Uh-oh. It actually pulled out all these invisible words long since gone and stuck them back in. What the hell? So anyone planning on self-pubbing on Smashwords who has used the mark-up in Word – don’t forget to turn it off!

    Spell-check actually works. And if you write in Word, those squiggly green lines will alert you to problems like “then” instead of “than”. Maybe authors who get complaints about their books could do a final check themselves just before they hand-in their final version? It’s not perfect, I know, and authors are usually more concerned about the story itself rather than their grammar, but it might help.


    • Hi Finn,

      It’s good to know that Smashwords is that tricky. Maybe it’s the uploading of the books into e-format that’s the cause of some of the problems we notice. I don’t read print books at all anymore, but I think it’d be kind of interesting to do a comparison and see if the issues that exist in the e-books aren’t there in the paperback versions.

      I can’t imagine how hard it is to keep reading the same story over and over again for editing. I liked Brita’s comment about becoming “text blind”. I can imagine that happens a lot, though, especially for the author who’s written all those words, which leads me to believe the responsibility for a clean version, or an as clean as possible version, of a book falls on the editors/proofreaders and not so much the author, but then it becomes an issue of the publishers (and certainly self-publishers) that can’t afford to employ 3 or 4 different people to handle a single manuscript, or find enough people willing to volunteer their time as proofreaders to get the job done.

      In some cases, I think I just need to learn how to let it go. :)


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