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 sentenceĀ at a time, burning his or her seal into the trail of pages left behind.

* Thanks, Steven Schend!

10 thoughts on “Seal of A-proof-al

  1. I couldn’t agree more, Ray, with both your desire to have such a thing and with your reasons why it’s unfeasible. I’m reading so many ebooks lately that just scream “I NEEDED A COPY EDITOR!” it’s infuriating to me on a professional level, and annoying on a reader’s level. When I’m finding “discrete” used consistently instead of “discreet,” it’s pretty clear that no real live editor read the copy–and that the author may well have used a spell checker and thought the results would be fine.

    Lest someone point a finger at me and utter words along the lines of “hardass” and “grammar police,” let me say this: If an error like the one I just mentioned happens once or even twice in an entire book, I can overlook it. We all make mistakes. Really, we do. But–when it’s repeated time and again, every time the *other* word should be there? And never used correctly in its own sense? No. I can’t overlook that. Such an error detracts from a reader’s enjoyment and should not appear in a final copy, whether it’s an ebook or paper.

    So–yeah. A “seal of approval” is a grand and glorious idea, but it’s impractical. I guess we just need to keep plugging away at how important good editing is for a quality product and try to get that message in front of the folks who need to see it: indie writers.

    • I don’t get bent out of shape over an error or two, either. However, when the number of errors reaches a magical tipping point, they become too distracting. They pull me out of whatever I was trying to read. The only problem is that the tipping point can’t be defined. It just happens.

  2. Thanks for the mention, Ray!

    I just had a brilliant flash! Instead of editing seals of approval, let’s use the Internet for what it does best–pointedly mock.

    Use the image of the boss from Office Space or whomever seems appropriate.

    “Um, yeah, I’m going to need [to take away your exclamation point key based on your last published book].”

    Whaddya think?

    • Well, pointedly mocking is why I started using the GRAMMARGEDDON! tag in the first place! But now that it’s turned into a respectable blog and gained a cohost, it must strive to be a uniter, not a divider; to lift up, not tear down; to — oh, who am I kidding? We’ll continue to mock, berate, and educate as needed.

  3. Rather than a “seal of approval”, do something that I think the dead tree world should have been doing for a long time – add ‘edited by {whoever}’ to the cover somewhere. Yes, it has some of same problems as a seal of approval – who is this editor, and why should I trust them? – but on the other hand, it’s an identity of some kind. I think it would be easier to develop faith in a specific editor, instead of in a seal of approval. You could also possibly generate a web-of-trust – this editor that I trust says that editor does good work, so I’m more likely to trust the editing done by the second editor sight unseen.

    • That sounds like a good idea to me (said the totally unbiased editor)! Of course, it would take some time to be of any use, since, as you noted, most readers would have no idea who a particular editor was, and they probably wouldn’t care, either. An editor would have to build up a following the same way that an author does. But that would not be a bad thing.

      By the way, I’m very pleased to say that Colin McComb, author of the Oathbreaker series, credited me (the editor) prominently in the Amazon listings for the first two books (see http://is.gd/FW5eQc).

  4. I was recently asked to proofread a self-published book that had been very successful as a podcast because a) it was a terrific story and b) you can’t hear a missing apostrophe. Despite the pre-existing rep, the Kindle edition of the book had been slammed for typos and errors. So, do we make a big deal about the proofed version? “Hey, this used to be a mess, but we fixed it!”

    The author decided on a low-key comment at the end of the Amazon summary. When the sequel came out, he gave me a nice nod on his site, saying that the book had been “carefully edited by the meticulous Deborah Bancroft” (Aw, shucks!) But he didn’t put a “Fixed Mess!” label on that one either, and I understand why.

    No one picks up a book at B&N and wonders whether it’s been proofed: we expect a certain level of quality, and that expectation is a benefit to the authors. As self-published books start meeting that level of quality, the authors will benefit from the same expectation. And I will happily settle for a paycheck!

    • You’re so right about the perceived difference between self-published books and “real” books. Price is a factor, too — just like no one wonders whether a book at B&N has been proofed, no one seems to think that a self-published book should cost as much as the other kind.

      Good solution to the fixed-book problem. You need to let readers know that it’s new and improved, but you don’t want to shine a spotlight on its history. You wouldn’t buy a car from a salesman who said, “Boy, this thing used to be a real piece of junk! But now we’ve got ‘er fixed up okay.”

  5. I would be in favor of the “Officially Edited!” starburst on the cover if it came with, like, an attractive headshot. Or maybe it should be a kind of peel-off sticker so people could collect themā€¦

    But seriously, i suspect that as the new indie publishing matures, making note of all the various contributors will become the norm, as it is for magazines and RPG works, among others. (In my own books, i make thankful note of my editors, readers, and proofers in a credits page, though at the back end of the text.) More importantly, though, i think that maturation process needs to play out a bit before everybody finally gets the point of understanding the necessity of an editor. An analogy that i think is apt can be made to music. A musician can record a song not knowing anything about mixing or production and it might sound okay; it just won’t sound professional, but it’s up to the person listening to make up his or her mind whether that lack of polish ruins the experience of listening.

    • I like the music analogy, but I suspect that people are more likely to be forgiving of amateur-produced music than they are of amateur-produced books (or maybe I’m just projecting). We expect some music to sound like it came out of someone’s garage, and some people even prefer that. I’m not sure anyone thinks the same way about books. But as you say, maybe that’s just because we’ve all been conditioned to expect slick, professional publications and have been caught unawares by the self-publishing boom.

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