How do experienced editors find all the mistakes?

If you’ve come here looking for editing help, all hope is lost.

I asked the question because I’ve been going through my collection of nine ghost stories, cleaning up the typos and spelling errors. I finally sent off the corrected manuscript this afternoon.

Evil Spirit

But here’s the thing. I know for a certainty that if I read through the manuscript again, I’ll find more typos. They (various gurus) say that a writer is the last person that ought to be proofreading his or her work. They are right. We get distracted by the story and start tinkering with the dialogue or the action and forget all about looking for mistakes.

I’ve decided that experienced editors are bionic in some way or (if you’re a Star Trek fan) part of an inhuman collective called the BORG. Otherwise, they couldn’t find all the mistakes the rest of us miss. The trouble is, these people charge $100 a minute, much more than the book will probably earn. So, we proofread our own stuff and hope we don’t get dinged by a reviewer who writes, “This story was pretty good except for a shitload of errors.”

I’m not sure I want to trust a reviewer who uses the word “shitload.”

But readers trust those reviewers and once they see the book is sinking like a stone on Amazon (due to the weight of that shitload), they (the readers) start looking for more mistakes. BobsYourUncle from Champaign Illinois comments that he has never seen a green cardinal except in a bad dream. RomanceGirl from South Florida comments that the sex was unrealistic and that she ought to know. FlyingNun from Rome says the book has too many pagan references in it and that the author and all the characters are going to hell.

The whole shebang starts because somewhere in the novel, the author accidentally used “your” instead of “you’re.” Once those comments get started on Amazon, they spread to Twitter where mobs of unwashed critics slam the book even though they haven’t read it. If you’ve read the news lately, you know this can happen, especially in the YA world.

There are days when an author thanks his or her lucky stars that the grammar Nazis and the worst of the general public haven’t heard of him or her because if you miss a typo, you have a target on your back. So does your book.

Let me suggest a solution. If you learn hoodoo or Voodoo, you can hide hexes within your books. When you do this, innocent-looking descriptions and inane dialogue passages contain groups of letters that summon evil spirits who don’t like people who go on Twitter, Amazon, or GoodReads and say nasty things about books. Readers who aren’t doing anything wrong have nothing to worry about (usually).

According to a recent poll, evil spirits charge less than editors. So, when it comes to choosing whether to pay $100 a minute for an editor or mixing up some graveyard dirt and rusty nails for evil spirits, what do you think most savvy authors are going to do?





4 thoughts on “How do experienced editors find all the mistakes?

  1. Judi Moore

    I was trained as a proof reader and had input to academic materials, back in the day – so I reckon my proofing skills are pretty good and I can tell when an argument/plot is hanging together and when it isn’t. But when I’m reading as my own editor I do it quite differently from when I’m reading as the author editing a draft. I approach the Ms with a different mindset. I keep before me the question ‘will the reader be able to understand this easily, thus maximising the pleasure s/he derives from the story?’. That one question covers everything from wonky plotting through unpleasant formatting to overlong sentences and typos. It should work for anyone on any piece of writing.

    These days no published work is immune from typos. Actual editors are a dying breed. And nobody – not even big-name publishers – can afford them to do the kind of scrupulous work they used to do on Mss. I accepted that the days of accuracy had gone when I started coming across errors in that bastion of British rectitude: the Radio Times. If they have failed then all is lost – and they fail a coupla times per issue these days.

    So by all means hex those typos. But do try the trick above. Also keep up your sleeve a couple of howlers by top-flight publishers to turn Twitter-wrath if all else fails.

    1. I can’t change the mindset from author/reader to proofreader. So, I miss the errors. I’m more likely to see errors in somebody else’s work, in print or in MS form. That always bugs me because I know what’s correct, I just don’t see it if I wrote it.

  2. Judging by what I read online, I would estimate that there are only two or three decent proofreaders in the world today and I never get to see anything that they have worked on. Heck, for $100 a minute, maybe I should be a proofreader!

    1. And, it’s quite possible that those 2-3 proofreaders are all 101 years old and could disappear at any moment. I made up that $100 a minute, of course, but I think the editors and proofreaders out there are making more than the authors.

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