Where Have All the Editors Gone?

Where Have All the Editors Gone?

by Vicky Burkholder, Wantz Upon a Time Reviewer

Over the years in the field of publishing, I have worn many hats. I’ve been a journalist, a novelist, technical writer, a reviewer, and an editor, but above all, I’ve been a reader. I’ve traveled the universe in a wide variety of space craft, gone 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and walked on the moon. I’ve experienced life from cave man times to the distant future. I’ve read almost every genre of fiction written and a wide variety of non-fiction. Why should this matter to you? It all serves to show you that I do know a little about the field of writing. And what I’m seeing in recent years saddens me. Not because the stories are lacking. Far from it. But because the attention to good writing is lacking.

In more and more books, newspapers, and magazines, I’m seeing a deplorable lack of skill in the basics of spelling and grammar. And it’s not just in the smaller publishers where occasional mistakes are almost the norm, but also by the so-called “Big Boys” coming out of New York. The misuse of words, misspellings, overuse and under-use of commas, things that should be caught by any good copyeditor, are being overlooked.

What is the reason for this lessening of standards? Good question. I’m not sure there is a good answer. Maybe the economy has publishers tightening their belts and cutting back on copyeditors and proofreaders. Maybe those editors, copyeditors and proofreaders are the products of a lessening of standards in the education system. Maybe nobody cares about spelling and grammar anymore. No, that’s not true. I see comments from many people on my writers’ lists about the terrible editing that is coming through in books these days. In at least one case, an author complained about an error that showed up in her published book that was not in her manuscript, the edited version, or the galleys. In this case, the fault lay with the publisher.

What about those writers who can’t be bothered to learn the basic techniques of writing? They assume their editor will “fix the problems” when the manuscript is accepted. Many times, these days, editors simply don’t have the time to correct errors and the books go through with mistakes intact. Not only do the errors reflect poorly on the writer, but on the publisher as well. One expects poor editing from a vanity publisher, but not from respected publishers, and yet this is happening at all levels of publication.

I know not all published works can be perfect. Typos slip through. Misspellings happen. Commas get missed, or stuck in where they don’t belong. Unfortunately, it seems of late, that there are far too many of these goofs slipping through. It is up to everyone in the publishing industry, from the lowest writer all the way up to the head of the largest publishing house to pay attention to the details, for it is in the details that the story is told.

As a copyeditor, I was often tasked with teaching a writer why his or her manuscript needed the corrections it did. As a writer, I hope I don’t make as many mistakes as some do, but I know I’m not perfect. As a reader, I find it difficult to enjoy a story that is rife with problems and will often discard the book rather than finish it. As a reviewer, I’m going to let other people know about those problems. I would like to believe the publishing industry would get a clue and figure out that they need help.

I’d like to believe this, but I don’t hold out much hope. If the last few years have shown me anything, it’s that grammatical expertise is on the wane. And that’s bad news for us all. So I send up a plea to all writers out there – learn the basics. Open up a dictionary and learn the difference between peek and pique, between bring and take. Learn what an infinitive is and why we shouldn’t split them. Learn where commas go and what makes a compound sentence. Learn when to capitalize something like queen, king and prince and when not to. In other words, learn your craft. Tell a good story, but tell it in the best way possible. That will keep readers like me coming back to you.


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