Why authors need editors, not just checkers

This rant’s been yammering at me from my forebrain for a few days now, so I might as well get it overwith.

I’ve been reading quite a few ebooks from self-published authors of late, most of them gotten for nothing from Amazon. (Twitter has been very, very good to me.) Having paid nothing for them, I’m at least not ticked off at having spent the rent on ebooks; however, having paid nothing for them doesn’t equate to “expect poor editing.” I’ve been consistently annoyed, and sometimes even appalled, at the lack of what I would consider basic editorial attention displayed by the final products on my Kindle. I’m not even talking about formatting weirdness; that, I can overlook. Seriously. I’m not that annoyed by oddball kerning, or strange page breaks. I am annoyed by things like the following.

  1. Having your character speak a single word in a foreign language does not by any stretch of my imagination demonstrate to me that your character is fluent in that language. Not even a little bit. I can order from a menu in Spanish, but I can’t speak it. I know “tostada,” “torta,” “burrito,” “carnitas,” and “cerveza.” I’m not fluent in Spanish. I could probably fake my way through one in German (four years of it in high school means I can still sing “O Tannenbaum” and “Stille Nacht”), and perhaps even in French. I am not fluent in either one. So—if your character is fluent in a foreign language, I strongly suggest you show me by having him speak a full sentence or two, preferably with some vernacular forms thrown in, so it’s not right out of a phrase book I could check down at my local library or here on teh intarwebz. Just having him say “Yes” is insufficient for my needs.
  2. In the same vein, if your character has been living in such and such a foreign city for a decade or more, when you’re describing the contents of his market basket, I expect to see terms consistent with the language of the city—not those of another one in a different country, with a different language. A long, crusty loaf of bread is called a baguette in Paris, but not (as far as I’m aware, anyway) in Rome. Similarly, within the US I expect to see regional variations reflected in descriptions and dialog. A hoagie is a sub is a grinder (sorta, I know, I hear the screaming and wailing from here), but each of those terms has a “home territory.” And if you know what a gagger is, we should talk. I have a recipe you might want.
  3. Please, for the love of Robert Louis Stevenson (in this instance), get your literary references straight. (And if you the author can’t, make sure your editor—you DO have one, don’t you?—can.) Saying that such and such an occurrence “would bring out the Jekyll in anyone” does not mean what you think it means, I don’t think. At least, not if you want us to think that the worst side of a person will emerge if this thing happens. Jekyll was the good one.

These are not things your grammar checkers and spellcheckers will catch for you, folks. You need a real live editor-type to find these. (I wager you could find them yourselves, but I also know that once you’ve finished writing, the last thing you want to do is read the whole thing again.) I am not a developmental editor, despite what this rant might lead you to think. I’m a copy editor and a proofreader, and a damned good one, too. I do know what annoys me as a reader, and I do know what skills any decent editor should possess. The kinds of things I’ve enumerated above should never occur in the final product—not if the editor’s earned their keep.

(Watch this space for an entry about “they” and “you” and why folks who rant and rave about the former as a singular epicene pronoun often haven’t a clue that they should also be ranting about the latter—and why, if they only rant about the former, they’re right good hypocrites.)

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