I’m not making this up. Honest.

I’ve been ranting a lot here and elsewhere about the sorry state of ebooks from indie authors, relating to the (apparent) lack of editorial skills (paid or otherwise) applied to those ebooks. I decided to provide concrete examples from the book I’m currently trying to read. I say trying, because I want to read it, I want to enjoy it, but the appalling number of errors is really harshing on my serenity, dude.

I won’t name names or titles, or say where I got the book. I will say I’m glad I didn’t pay for it, though. If I’d parted with any money for this I’d be pretty upset. More upset than I already am. At least having paid nothing for it, I can’t bemoan the loss of money I could have spent on, I don’t know, food or gas or something useful. All I’m losing is time.

These, then, are actual errors from an actual book. I’m not making this up. Honest.

I will note that I’m only 25% of the way through the book, according to my Kindle. I took a tip from another editor and started highlighting errors as I came across them. What an eye-opener that was! I mean, I knew there were errors; I can’t not see them. Proofreading is hardwired into my brain. However, highlighting them makes them seem that much worse. Now I really can’t not see them.

Some of them I’ll explain, some I’ll let speak for themselves. By all means comment if you don’t understand why I’ve called something an error. I’ll do my best to enlighten. I will also state that I’m not quoting full sentences, but only the portions containing the error. It’s also important to know that the writer is from the UK, so some of the mechanics just drive me batty on principle and some of the word choices are unfamiliar to me.


no sights, no sound (For parallelism, I’d change that to “sounds” in this description of a setting.)

standing next to it, was M (Delete that unnecessary comma.)

lit up the lens of his glasses (Unless he’s wearing a monocle, he has lenses, plural.)

gunge (As an American English speaker, I didn’t know this word. It’s a UK term that I figured out contextually and then checked against a dictionary online. If I had been editing I might’ve queried it even after finding the definition. Therefore, this isn’t so much an error as a language issue–but I’m still pointing it out as something that can stop readers in their tracks.)

” . . . we can-.” (Oh, dear me. No. Not even in British usage. If the sentence/thought isn’t finished, there’s no period, no full stop, whatever you wish to call that dot at the end. Also, rather than a hyphen, I’d have used an em-dash to indicate the sudden breaking of the thought/speech. This particular mechanical error occurs throughout the book. I cheated and looked ahead, so I know.)

“Just one . . . at a time”. (Again, no. The period’s at the end of the spoken sentence, so it goes inside the closed quotation mark. I’ve read quite a few blogs lately about US vs. UK mechanics, and quotation marks with other punctuation is one of the most confusing things on both sides of the pond. However–no. It’s a sentence; it has a definite end; put the period inside the quote.)

alright (It’s not all right to use this. It’s all wrong. Two words. Always. All right? Thanks.)

small with a blue studs on top (It’s either a single stud, or perhaps this is a possessive missing its apostrophe and its object. I think it’s the first, and I’d delete that “s” on the end of “stud.”)

industrial sized Hoover (Adjectives made from two words–called compound adjectives–are often hyphenated. “Industrial-sized.” To a point this comes down to the editor’s preference in conjunction with a style guide, such as the CMoS. I far prefer the unambiguous hyphenation to an open version that in some cases leads to confusion or misunderstanding. That, and I like the look of the hyphenated form. So there. I suspect that in this case one might argue that “industrial-sized” is a temporary compound. I’ve not looked for the term in any dictionaries, so I can’t say. The concept is familiar to anyone who shops at places like Sam’s Club or Costco, though.)

give a once over (The idiom is hyphenated. “Once-over.”)

cotton weaved interior (I’m not entirely clear on the intent, here. I think the writer means the interior of this particular wig is woven from cotton. I’d have suggested changing it to “woven cotton interior.” On further discussion with the writer, I might have ended up with something more like “woven cotton cap,” since I believe that’s what the base of a wig is called–the part that fits the head like a cap, that is. I’m indulging in conjecture, of course.)

cheers and laughter . . . was a cacophony (I’d recast this, because while it seems a quick fix to say “were” and have the plural form for the plural subject, we’re also in that messy area of reciprocity. The sentence can’t be easily reversed using the same words (“cacophony” as the subject requires “was,” but “cheers and laughter” as the subject require “were”). I’d suggest recasting the sentence entirely to avoid the issue, and perhaps use the verb “created” instead of the form of “to be,” which is the heart of the problem.)

To the greying ice cream man, he couldn’t help but think . . (The greying fellow is the “he” following the comma. The sentence needs to be recast to eliminate the clumsiness. Perhaps “To the greying ice cream man the crowd looked like nothing so much as a cross between . . . .” Trust me, that’s where the sentence was going. I didn’t want to type the whole thing as it appears in the book, though.)

white-clothed (Again, this needs a hyphen.)

The driver slammed the breaks (No he didn’t. He slammed the brakes. A live proofreader would’ve caught this one.)

her inner thighs ran red raw from . . . (It took me a while to realize what’s needed here, I think because I was getting numb from the number of errors assaulting my editorial senses. Inserting a comma after “red” helps quite a bit, but I still would query the “running red” part. I know the condition the author’s describing, and I wouldn’t use the term “running” with it. “Were chafed and red,” perhaps. The way it’s written sounds like a hemorrhage.)

marine life getup (Another case here of needing a hyphen to create an adjectival compound. “Marine-life.”)

baggy (Pants are baggy. The plastic bag is a “baggie.”)

un-amused (Here’s one of the hyphens that was missing from the compound adjectives. It doesn’t belong in this word; “unamused” is a closed form.)

pre-occupied (Here’s another one. Delete it and close the space. “Preoccupied.”)

buy one get one free offer (Now we’re back to needing hyphens. “Buy-one-get-one-free offer.”)

collapse on to the floor (Usage problem. One could say “collapse on the floor” or “collapse to the floor,” but “collapse on to” is just poor usage.)

oxidisation (Aside from the UK s-for-z spelling issue, this just isn’t a word. The one the writer wanted was “oxidation.”)

pressed him for a minutae more (Just–no. No. One cannot have “a minutae.” “Pressed him for more minutae” preserves the author’s word choice and is grammatically correct. I had originally written another suggestion with a different word entirely, but I like this one much better.)

spaghetti bolognaise (If you’re going to write about a food, know how to spell it. Particularly when the food is regional Italian, like “spaghetti Bolognese.” Capitalize the “B” because this is a proper adjective.)


That’s where I stopped taking notes for the time being. You’ll notice I’m not fussing about pacing, or characterization, or plot, or any of those bigger things. I’m not a story/fiction/developmental editor. I’m a copy editor and a proofreader. I see these little things that many people seem to consider “nitpicking.” They’re far from nitpicking, though. They’re signs of someone with an imperfect grasp of grammar and mechanics who would have done well to have hired someone like me–or any other professional copy editor/proofreader–to look over the work before publication. Then, readers like me wouldn’t find themselves becoming irritated and unable to enjoy the story because of the plethora of errors in the “nitpicky stuff.”

I’ll also say: I learned a new phrase from this book. “Keep schtum” means “keep quiet, particularly if you’ll get in more trouble otherwise.” While it sounds Yiddish, it apparently came from the criminal culture of the UK. It might come in handy someday, so I’ll tuck it away for later.

I would hope that this has shed some light on how a typical copy editor’s brain works while they’re reading. (I think I’m typical, anyway. I’m damned good at what I do, but I don’t think I’m all that special when compared to other professional copy editors.) That’s why I did it. Not to point at a writer and chastise his work. Not to complain for no reason. To point out the kinds of errors commonly made, to explain how I would correct them and why, and to provide an example of why writers really should drop some cash on professional editing and proofreading for their hard work. That’s all, really.

Thanks for reading.



Spam, Spam, Books, and Spam

Have you read Thirty-Five Shades of Grey? How about I Am the Girl With the Dragon Tattoo? How about Steve Jobs—no, not the biography by Walter Isaacson, but the version by a guy named Isaac Worthington? The one that looks like it was cribbed from Wikipedia?

If you try to buy a popular best-seller from Amazon, double-check your purchase before clicking all the way through. It seems that the website sells books that have titles and author names that are deliberately similar to genuine best-sellers. That’s because they’re “written” (and I wish I could imply even more sarcasm than mere quotation marks will allow) by “authors” (there I go again) who are trying to jump on the self-publishing bandwagon.

Worse, they use CreateSpace, an Amazon service that makes it easy—apparently far too easy—to write and publish your book on the website with an air of legitimacy. The product details list CreateSpace as the publisher, so customers who aren’t paying attention might miss this clue that the books are, in fact, self published. (Amazon has removed the knock-off books listed above from the site, probably due to the bad publicity stirred up by articles like this one from Fortune, but you can still find them for sale elsewhere on the web.)

As I’ve said before, self-publishing is great, but not if it bypasses an editor. At the very least, a good editor can stop you from making an absolute fool of yourself as you try to dupe people into buying your book by accident.

Then again, maybe I’m missing the boat here. According to the Fortune article, Karen Peebles, the “author” of I Am the Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, claims to have used CreateSpace to publish 10,000 books. Yes, ten thousand. (You can see some of them here, if you dare.)

If I hurry, I might be able to get I’m Not the Girl With the Dragon Tattoo up for sale by dinner.

E-books that read YOU

Today I heard a great story on the NPR radio program On the Media. The host talked to Alexandra Alter, a reporter who wrote an article in the Wall Street Journal (which you can read here) about how the major e-book publishers are tracking your e-reading habits and using the data to shape future publications. As you read an e-book, your Kindle, Nook, or iPad is gathering data about where you start reading, where you stop, what sections you skip, what passages you underline, and so on, and transmitting that information back to the publisher. Here’s the opening paragraph from the Wall Street Journal article:

It takes the average reader just seven hours to read the final book in Suzanne Collins’s “Hunger Games” trilogy on the Kobo e-reader—about 57 pages an hour. Nearly 18,000 Kindle readers have highlighted the same line from the second book in the series: “Because sometimes things happen to people and they’re not equipped to deal with them.” And on Barnes & Noble’s Nook, the first thing that most readers do upon finishing the first “Hunger Games” book is to download the next one.

With the data they collect, the publishers determine (rightly or wrongly) what readers want to see and then try to deliver more of the same in subsequent releases. In other words, the publishers are putting their e-books through virtual focus groups.

And it gets better (or worse; your mileage may vary). In the radio interview, Alter added that some publishers have started releasing early digital editions of books, gathering data on how customers read those books on their devices, and then changing the eventual print editions to reflect that feedback. So if enough people quit reading the book before the end, the publishers are likely to punch things up so the hardcover has a better chance of keeping your eyeballs all the way through.

Set aside the privacy concerns for a moment (though I don’t want my Nook to narc me out to Barnes & Noble—do you?). Regardless of whether you think it’s a good thing or a bad thing that publishers are trying new ways to create books that will hold your attention, it’s not hard to see how this development might diminish the perceived role of editors. If an algorithm can decide that chapter 1 is boring and the book takes too long to read, but there’s a very popular passage in the middle of chapter 7, so let’s have more stuff like that, is there still room for humans in this process?

Sure, that question is a bit dramatic, because the answer is yes, at least for right now. But how can we stop publishers that are focused on the bottom line from giving too much weight to data about sales and reading habits?

Seal of A-proof-al

I just became aware* of an interesting post that went up a few months ago on The Digital Reader. It asks a very intriguing question: Should editors certify that an ebook has been edited?

I really like the idea of a shiny burst stamped onto the cover of each ebook, similar to the old classic Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval (still going strong!) or the mark of the Comics Code Authority (which has faded away in the last few years). But honestly, there are a million reasons why it wouldn’t work: lack of standardization among editors, absence of a certifying body, never knowing whether a seal was earned or rubber-stamped, the difficulty of assessing the value of line editing versus development work, and so on.

A “seal of good editing” would be more or less meaningless, and the reading public would recognize it as such before too long. The best way to make your book appeal to potential readers is to make it readable, which usually means hiring a good editor and listening to his or her suggestions.

But it’s still fun to imagine an editor, red pen in one holster and a branding iron in the other, riding from town to virtual town, cleaning up the lawless publishing frontier one bad sentence at a time, burning his or her seal into the trail of pages left behind.

* Thanks, Steven Schend!

A little rant for a Sunday forenoon

It’s a bit too late to call it “morning,” so “forenoon” it shall be.

When I see a post/article/tweet/what-have-you from someone purporting to be “professional,” and it contains one of my peeves (which may admittedly be dogmatic, pedantic, petty, and so on–but these are my peeves so that’s all okay), I twitch. Now that I have somewhere to vent about those occurrences, I can share my twitching with all of you.

Or not. If you’ve stopped reading, that’s ok.

Just today I found this: “We are comprised of college grad English Majors who are extremely proficient in writing, copy editing and proof reading.”

As they say on teh intarwebz: O RLY?

The zoo comprises the animals. The animals compose the zoo. “Comprise” denotes inclusion. “Compose” denotes–well, composition. (That’s why the words are so similar, after all . . . I will refrain from a lecture on etymology, however.)

So–first of all, “We are composed of” or “We comprise” would both be correct. (Note the lack of “of” in the second form. It’s unnecessary.) The reason we have two different words is they have two different meanings. Improper usage has been the death (slow, unkind, and agonizing death) of many a perfectly good differentiation over the life of this living language we speak. I fight to keep such words on life support because I think they’re important. The differences in meaning are important. If we hadn’t felt the need for different meanings to start with, we’d not have two different words. (And actually, “we are composed of” gives me a fit in this case for an entirely different reason. That’s another rant for another time, perhaps.)

::breathes deeply and evenly::

Second, what’s with that capital “M” on “Majors”? It doesn’t lend an air of importance; it only lends an air of . . . well, incorrect capitalization, to be honest.

And finally: “Proofreaders” is a closed compound word. “”Proof readers,” I suspect, are adept at reading liquor bottle labels. (And that could well be true of this group, I suppose. Not that that’s a bad thing. Sometimes we really do need 151, instead of 80.)

I hear grumblings out there among you (all two of you, I hear you, y’know) about my use of informal styles in a grammar-oriented blog. Get over it. It’s MY BLOG, and this is MY RANT (ooooh, I must be upset, I used ALL CAPS), and while I clearly am discussing grammar and usage, I’m doing so informally because I’m not writing an academic presentation. I’m blogging. That’s like talking to you on my front porch. It’s informal. Deal with it.

Or don’t. Your choice. I write this stuff anyway.