Sunday, October 4, 2020

Nitpicking: When Editing Goes Horribly Wrong

I'm sending a shoutout to my bestie Grace Draven this week, celebrating the long-anticipated release of THE IPPOS KING on Tuesday, October 6, 2020. I read an early copy and this book is amazing and wonderful and totally worth the wait. (I know her website still says September, but it really comes out Tuesday!) (Also, Grace might be a dear friend, but she became my friend because I read and loved her books. So, I'm biased, but in the best possible way. This is really is a wonderful book!)

Our topic at the SFF Seven this week is  Nitpicking - venting about things or thinking about the value of attention to detail.

I want to tell you all a story.

Recently, a good friend self-published a book. This is not Grace, btw. (I also discussed the initial part of the story on my podcast on September 24.)

But this friend is an accomplished author - more than two-dozen traditionally published books, multiple appearances on the top bestseller lists, winner of top industry awards - and she knows what she's doing in writing a book. 

As a responsible self-publisher, she lined up an editor to proofread the book, scheduling them for two days to read an ~60K book. She'd also factored in a couple of other reads: one from her continuity editor and a couple of betas, including me. I read - and loved! - the book in about a day. I marked the very few typos I happened to spot and identified a few word-choice questions and one continuity error that could be fixed in five minutes. 

In other words, it was a really clean manuscript.

Or, it was, until the "proofreader" got a hold of it.

H.G. Wells is credited with saying "No passion in the world is equal to the passion to alter someone else's draft." There's a lot of truth to this. It seems particularly true when the editor is also an author.

Unfortunately, the proofreader succumbed to this passion and began making vast changes to the book. When I say "vast," I'm not exaggerating. It was on the level of a deep-dive developmental edit. Scenes were rearranged. Sentences deleted and new sentences added. Her personal opinions added to change aspects she didn't approve of. 

Reader: this was not a proofread.

The resultant manuscript was in such terrible shape - with almost no time to sort it out - that my friend was reduced to stress tears multiple times. I was hugely upset on her behalf. So, I went to another proofreader, one I thought could be trusted to help sort it out, for help.

That person, however - also an author as well as an editor - scrambled the manuscript further. They didn't listen to the writer of the book either and made huge changes again. It took my friend days to sort it out. Time she did not have. Worse, they didn't even catch the typos as was the job they'd been hired to do.

Finally I - chagrined that I'd thrown my dear friend from the frying pan into the fire - found one more proofreader for her. By this time, so many people had made changes to this manuscript that it desperately needed another set of eyes. I'm going to tell you that I asked Crystal Watanabe at Pikko's House. I'm giving you all her name and link, because she did an amazing job. And you know what? She did exactly what she'd been hired to do: proofread. She submitted a quote, performed the turnaround in the agreed upon timeframe - and she didn't attempt to do any more than that. No bragging on social media about "saving" the book. No rewriting or trying to make herself look special by her affiliation with the author. She did her job and she did it well. 

I've hired her to proofread my next novella.

All of this is by way of a cautionary tale. It's not always easy for Indie authors to find professional services that aren't predatory - and that aren't primarily a path for the service provider to advance their own interests - but it's critical that we do. And that we share those resources with each other. 

My friend and I both learned a good lesson here. 


  1. I'm curious - when she realized the "proofread" was way off-base, why didn't she just reject it/not use the comments?

    1. Well, I'd actually urged her to do exactly that - but it wasn't that simple for her in the way her process works. There was some valuable stuff that she wanted to incorporate and by the time she realized she should scrap it all, she felt she'd invested too much work to just wipe it all away. I suspect that, in retrospect, she wishes she had done that. In the moment, though, it seemed recoverable to her.

  2. Thank you for your kind words, Jeffe! <3

    1. Also, I tried to log into another account that had my real name, but Chrome is being fussy. :)