Bad editing

Okay, I have a pet peeve.

Bad line editing kills me. And right now while I’m in the midst of a run reading Donald Westlake/Richard Stark/Sam Holt, I just have to say this: Thank you to the University of Chicago Press, Hardcase Crime and Felony & Mayhem Press for putting some great novels back into print. I’ve bought books from each of them in the past year precisely because they published some Westlake novels that I want/need to read. I’m eternally in their debt.

However …

Bad editing abounds in these books. Bad line editing, specifically. Quick example: The Green Eagle Score (University of Chicago Press) has a horrendous typo on the back cover. The thieves are referred to as “hoisters.” Now, sure, they pick stuff up. But Westlake continually refers to these guys as “heisters.” As in, guys who plan and execute heists. Having someone who has read the books before and knew the details of the characters would help with those kinds of errors. There are small, bothersome editing errors throughout the books from all three publishers.

Frankly, the most egregious errors usually come from Felony & Mayhem. I’m not sure who edits their books, but they’re asleep at the spell-check. I guess I can live with it, but it’s annoying on a couple of levels. No. 1, I know how I would be if a novel I’d written was badly edited. I’d want it taken out of print immediately and fixed. I know that’s not feasible, but as a writer it would be my preference. No. 2, as a reader it’s distracting to see typos, errors in punctuation and wording, etc. It jars me out of the story. And if that happens with me, I’m sure it happens with other readers, too.

Now, the three publishing houses mentioned above are all small presses. They don’t always have the manpower to do great line editing. And let’s face it — line editing is something that mostly only dedicated readers/editors/other writers care about. But Penguin did Jim Butcher a disservice with their editing of his latest novel, Changes. There are a few instances where punctuation was missed, specifically in quotes, which made me have to back up and read again. And my friends, that novel is too damn good for me to be forced to slow down on it like that.

So what can be done about this? I’d offer my services as a line editor (and a pretty good one, frankly), but I don’t work cheap. (Actually, that’s not true. I’d work on a Westlake/Stark or Robert B. Parker manuscript for nothing.) But seriously, from what I can tell, it’s just going to get worse. Editors get cut as book publishers consolidate. And the fewer editors out there, the more common it becomes for mistakes to come through.

And no one should be happy about that.


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