Just now I’m head-down in an edit of my novel The English Monster. It’s the second time my editors at Simon and Schuster have read the manuscript super-carefully and made a bunch of incredibly useful and intelligent suggestions, not to mention capturing dozens of infelicities and syntactical flame-outs.
I only bring this up because I’m incredibly grateful for it. This is my first book (I hope not my only book, but we shall see), and one of the anxieties I had going into the publishing process was a fear that being “edited” might be a frightful experience. After all, they’d bought my book, hadn’t they? Surely it was already perfect?
The lesson being that no book is ever perfect and is probably not even really finished. It’s only good enough for publication in whatever context it’s being published in. There’s a deadline for my book to come out (currently March 2012), and we’re working back from there to make the book as good as we can in the time we’ve got available. If there wasn’t a deadline, I’d probably still be turning semi-colons into full stops when the Devil started skating to work.
I’m sure most authors (or at least the authors I’ve got time for) can think of dozens of little things they’d like to improve on even books published years ago. A good editor does more than point out the problems with your manuscript – they force you to see that any creative work which has got tens of thousands of words in it can be improved. You’d be mad to think otherwise.
Which brings us to Jacqueline Howett and her sudden digital notoriety, which stemmed from her reaction to a poor review of her book The Greek Seaman on the website Big Al’s Books and Pals. The review was pretty favourable about the book itself (I haven’t read it), but it did call her out on the quality of the copy-editing:
However, odds of making that final click are slim. One reason is the spelling and grammar errors, which come so quickly that, especially in the first several chapters, itâ€™s difficult to get into the book without being jarred back to reality as you attempt unraveling what the author meant.
Jacqueline’s reaction in the comments to this was to say that the review was unfair as it was of an early version which had subsequently been extensively edited and corrected:
You obviously didn’t read the second clean copy I requested you download that was also reformatted, so this is a very unfair review. My Amazon readers/reviewers give it 5 stars and 4 stars and they say they really enjoyed The Greek Seaman and thought it was well written. Maybe its just my style and being English is what you don’t get. Sorry it wasn’t your cup of tea, but I think I will stick to my five star and four star reviews thanks.
Now, I won’t get into the rights and wrongs of an author getting snippy with a reviewer like this (although I would say this was never going to end well). I would say that I feel Jacqueline’s pain. She was self-publishing, and presumably did not have the help of a professional editor. Not to mention having to keep track of different versions of her book (a problem which affects even the Biggest Authors on Earth) My book, on the other hand, will have had at least two full edits plus a copy-edit and a proof-read. That’s a lot of professional eyeballs stopping me making a dick of myself.