Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Doesn't Anybody Edit Anymore?

I've heard arguments against self-publishing that the quality of the books will suffer if there is no editorial process. I can't speak for everyone who has self-published, but I know that my stories go through extensive editing. I don't have an English degree, and I'm not employed as an editor, but that doesn't mean my books have not been through an editorial process. I spent countless hours reading and re-reading Pariah and I'm very happy with the final product. I'm sure it's not 100% perfect, grammatically speaking, but I have confidence that I have produced a quality book that is easy to read.

On the other hand, you have the major publishing houses. I just finished reading the second book in the Dragonlance War of Souls trilogy. These are books by established authors with many titles under their belts, and published by Wizards of the Coast.

As much as I like the story and the world, I'm finding this series to be very hard to read. It's not the vocabulary (even though I look up at least a dozen words per book), it's the grammar and the spelling. The state of these books is absolutely atrocious. I wouldn't have published it as-is through my company. These books need some serious work. And the further I get into the books, the worse the errors get -- missing words, extra words, repeated phrases, incorrect punctuation and capitalization. I'm actually getting a headache from trying to decipher the prose. Usually I'm an avid reader, but I can't read more than a chapter or two of this at a time.

And the faults don't stop with grammar and spelling. There are problems with the usage of incorrect proper names. Near the end of the first book, the leader of the evil army makes a speech:

"I do," Mina replied, serious and earnest. "I did not come here to make war upon the Qualinesti people. I came to save them."
Source: Dragons of a Fallen Sun, page 606

There's a fundamental problem with this speech -- she's not in Qualinesti. She's in Silvanesti. She's on the other side of the continent with a completely different group of elves. Now if I, on my first time reading through, can catch plot errors like this, then I would imagine any competent editor would also find it immediately.

I just discussed this with my brother Paul and he, having just finished the latest Wheel of Time book, chimed in with his experiences. Different publisher (Tor), same result.

After some reflection, I think I understand. Editors cost money, and quite frankly the publishers knew that people like us would buy the books anyway. So why bother paying someone to fix the grammar and spelling? Just rush the book to the shelf and maximize profits. Word's spell check feature is not a viable substitute for paying someone to actually proofread the finished novel. And that is where I think the problem lies - not with laziness, but with money. Having something properly edited costs money, and right now the whole publishing industry is in a rather shaky position. A lot of these publishing houses can't afford to pay for someone to clean up the grammar and spelling. So they just shovel the book out the door, hoping that nobody notices or cares. And in today's world, that's probably a safe bet (I can't even tell you the last time I read a news article that was free of technical errors).

The really sad part of this is that it reflects poorly on the authors of these books. I hate to think that this blog post will make people think that books by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman are not worth reading, because they are excellent authors. I've been enjoying their stories for more than twenty years now. But their publisher really needs to hire some copy editors.

If anything, these revelations have led me to an interesting thought. Another bonus bullet point for the ebook revolution: I can edit the ebooks I've purchased, so that the next time I read them I can actually concentrate on the story and enjoy my leisure time.