Self-editing is what now?

Okay, campers, I’m back! Didn’t know I was gone, did ya? My husband and I took a trip to Colorado for some rest and relaxation (pics to follow), and we thought it would be fun to drive, spreading the getting-there to two days.

But what to listen to for two days? A book on tape! Sure to make the hours fly by.

Or….not. Sure to frustrate the hell out of us? Most definitely. And it prompted me to concoct today’s PSA topic: self-editing. Two authors leap to mind who need help with this. I’m not going to name names. See if you can guess!

So, the book on tape guy. NYT best-selling author for…forever. His books used to be snappy little roller coasters, and now it’s clear that no one is reading them before they hit the shelves. I don’t know if there were typos, but there was so much info that didn’t need to be there! Not only did we get a first and last name for Every Single Character (so many…) but they all had loads of backstory that had no bearing on the plot. Everything that happened reminded the people involved of some other incident years before, and the flashback went on for pages and sometimes involved another flashback, just chains of events that, I think, were meant to build tension…but didn’t.

The flashbacks came in the middle of exciting events, but once I’d read a flashback for everyone involved, the event was no longer exciting, merely frustrating.

No one cut this book for content, or if they tried, the author didn’t listen, and the editor decided to publish it anyway, probably thinking like the editor that once commented on my next candidate for self-editing.

I went to a writing conference a few years back, and an editor for Tor (I think) was on one of the panels. She mentioned my next self-editing candidate, and people in the audience groaned. One person even stood to ask a question and added that this author (another NYT bestseller) had really dropped the ball as far as book quality is concerned, mentioning that said author’s books now regularly appeared in the B&N bargain bin where they never had before. The editor just blinked and said, “But she’s still making money. She’s still selling books.”

The audience was aghast. She’s not selling as many! The people in the room who had read her had stopped buying her books. Sales were falling, in a large part due to the fact that no one was reading them before they hit the shelves.

She had long tracts of dialogue, lasting pages and pages, about stuff that had no bearing on the plot. She rehashed topics that were discussed in previous chapters, repeating herself word for word at times. And let’s not forget the word repetition. In one tiny paragraph alone, she used the word “hand” ten times. “She grasped the whatsit in her hand, and then passed it to her other hand. Then she took the whosit from her belt with her hand and grabbed it firmly with her hand.” That’s not exactly a quote, but you get the idea. I gave her the benefit of the doubt. Maybe she just didn’t spot this, but surely she had someone ANYONE reading for her?!?! My writing group would have caught that in a New York minute. I think any voracious reader would have.

Oh, and just to address a pet peeve of mine, I think no one needs to say, “She grasped it in her hand” unless the circumstances require you to use right or left. Hand is default. Only tell me if she’s grasping it in her foot or mouth or tentacle or lady-bits. With this woman’s books, none of those would surprise me.

Promise me guys, when you all reach the NYT bestselling list and become ultra famous, that you’ll continue to practice self-editing. And if you don’t trust yourself, if you know you’ll want to wax poetic about the stars in the middle of a battle, if you can’t control your impulse to talk to the reader, or if you want to share with the reader (via your characters) your love for Target when it’s got nothing to do with the plot, HAVE SOMEONE ELSE READ FOR YOU AND THEN TAKE THEIR ADVICE. Ahem. Please, don’t frustrate someone’s road-trip.

Ever read a bestselling author and wondered if you could somehow get out and push the book along? Ever wondered, who in the hell read this before it was published? Ever read a much touted author whose book included typos? *Raises hand*


12 thoughts on “Self-editing is what now?

  1. I’ve been barred from revealing who the authors are, but I think its pretty obvious. I just wanted to add that either the reader for the recording or the author did indeed have errors getting the names of character’s confused, and this just baffles me.

    Most of my writing involves technical e-mails for my software business, but before I hit send on an important e-mail I always read it out loud. I catch all kinds of stupid errors this way. That a professional big time author lets this slip through and then the guys doing the audio book ALSO let it slip through is disturbing. Of course when you’re not cutting anything from your draft of 1 Billion words, I supposed a thousand such errors is still an acceptable rate. Whatever happened to craftsmanship?

  2. There was an author, new a few years ago, that I read her first book –and it was good, but it read like a first book. Then her second was better. Then her third was like what you were describing. Typos. Repetition. A dialog tag in the middle of a paragraph, missing the dialog.

    She’d gotten popular, hit the NYT Bestseller list, and over-reached. I think she does either two or three books in a year now and it shows.

    I will not pay for books that no one even bothers to proof-read so I understand the frustration.

  3. A well-known fantasy author’s trilogy to end his series was the same way. Telling, pages and pages of internal monologue that was repetitious, unnecessary, and dull, and ridiculous amounts of typos. On a few occasions, a character would say the same thing in the space of two pages, and not on purpose. Just literally repeating himself for no reason. And I won’t even get into the character inconsistencies or the author soapbox-monologues in there. I got so angry (because I loved his earlier work) that I don’t think I’ll ever read another one of his books again. Grumble grumble.

  4. Two prolific authors, one a man and one a woman, and both best sellers, have been dropped from my list of favourites because I came across newer books of theirs that disappointed me. It was as if someone else had written the books. They lacked the voice that I had previously loved and too often had mistakes that I thought only novice writers would make. One author now collaborates, and I can understand why his books have changed, but I don’t know what’s behind the other’s different writing. I just know I won’t bother to pick up any more of their titles.

  5. I don’t think it’s a matter of having friends, but rather having too much power. What big time author doesn’t think he’s ‘all that with a cherry on top’?

    Maybe the adulation just goes to their heads.

  6. I don’t think the adulation goes to their heads so much as the public, the publisher and the editor all pounding on their doors, their heads, whatever and screaming for the next book. The author is essentially being told, “Don’t worry about the editing, that’s our job, just write the book and we’ll edit it.” It used to be an industry about the craft. Now everyone will tell you, it’s just another business. I keep hoping the authors will slow the conveyor belt long enough to polish what they’ve completed, but it’s hard when the short term results mean a lessening of your paycheck.

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