Light-handed Editing in LDS Novels

Thanks so much for all the great work you do on the LDS Publisher blog. I really enjoy reading it. [You're welcome.]
I'm an aspiring LDS fiction author. I've been studying a lot about writing and have attended several writing conferences. It's kind of ruined reading for me. When I read, I see so many mistakes, it's distracting.
My question is this: Why are established LDS authors not held to the same standards as those of us who are trying to break into this business? I've been reading [Amy Author's] newest book. I see so many mistakes she makes. On one page I counted 14 unnecessary "that's" she could have left out. There are POV problems all over the place, and lots of other things which I've learned and been taught are incorrect.
I look forward to your insight.

Yes, well. You're never going to find a perfect book. Not even ones that I've edited and/or published are error free. (Gasp! I know. I've burst your bubble and shattered your high opinion of me. Sorry.) However, light-handed editing has been one of my issues with LDS publishing, even before I became a publisher. Twenty years ago, I did book reviews for a local paper and I hated reviewing LDS novels for that very reason. The basic plot might have been good, but the writing was so poor you couldn't get through the story. That is part of the reason LDS fiction has gotten a bad rap.

Things have improved since then. I read a new LDS fiction release last week (not published by my company) that had almost no errors in it. It was great. The quality of editing varies between publishers. IMHO, some companies are nearly always weak in that area, while others are usually strong. However, even the strongest sometimes put out weakly edited books.

Why? Because once an author is established, it's harder to force editing upon them. They argue with you over every little thing. Plus, you know their book will sell based on the strength of their name, and the publisher wants to get it out fast, so they sometimes cut corners in this area. (This happens in the national market too. I can think of several authors whose writing have declined as they've gotten more popular.)

So, to answer your question, why were there so many mistakes in the book you mentioned? Because someone got lazy—either the author (who can't really edit out the "that's"--that is what editors are for), or the editor.

Other posts that touch on the topic of editing can be found here, and here, and here. And here's one from an author's perspective.


Annette Lyon said...

I understand this person's frustration. Before my first acceptance--during a time I was getting rejections from this market--I read a book by a popular author that was atrociously edited and poorly written even in a plot and character level. I was angry, because I knew that was I was submitting to the same publisher was better than that, but this book was published because the author's name on the cover would sell books. That's still often the case, even nationally, as LSDP explained.

That said, I can honestly say that all of my books have been meticulously edited by the folks at Covenant. In addition, before I submit, I have my critique group go over all my manuscripts so it's as clean as I can make it going in. I never, ever want to put out a book that gives a reader the same frustration I felt. It's only fair to the reader to give them your best.

Stephanie Black said...

I feel your pain. One of the downsides of studying fiction technique is that you read much more critically--which CAN make it harder to enjoy a book. Things that another reader would never notice bug the crud out of you.

I think one of the issues is that opinions--even editorial opinions--can vary on what constitutes good technique. For instance, I don't like mid-scene viewpoint shifts, but given the evidence I've seen in published works, clearly some editors don't mind them at all.

So yeah, it's gonna bug you when a published author violates the rules you've been taught, but all you can do is make your own work the best it can be, and keep submitting, knowing that your work will be that much better for your use of solid technique.

Christine Thackeray said...

I've got to say that my first novel had two glaring errors in it. One was a correction gone bad and the other was never caught. They were both corrected in the second printing of the book but that was embarrassing.

I'm hoping the next one will be much closer to perfect. In all fairness to my editor, we were under a breakneck schedule to get it out and the publisher was short on staff.

I think readers also need to remember that the profit margin in the LDS Market is much more narrow and as a result there are less resources to throw at each manuscript which is most obviously seen through editing.

Jennie said...

A while back I asked readers of my review column on Meridian to tell me what they like or dislike about LDS fiction, and what they want to see in the LDS books they read. Over a hundred letters and emails mentioned better copy editing and asked me to point out in my reviews in which books they might expect to see this problem. I don't always do this (many times I receive advance review copies that haven't gone through the final edit yet so it would be unfair to find fault for the errors found), but it has certainly made me more conscious of the problem. Occasionally I find a book that either has no errors or the story is so absorbing I just don't notice, but there aren't many. On the other hand, I see far fewer copy errors now than I did two years ago. Some of this is due to the reasons LDSP listed, some are because preferred usage changes, some are because older grammarians are retiring and those taking their places are not as strictly schooled in grammar and spelling as their predecessors, some are because some publishers count on typesetters to catch those errors and they aren't qualified to do so, and sometimes this occurs because the author and editor have gone over the text so many times they unconsciously read what it should say instead of what it really does say. Honestly, I haven't found this situation any better in nationally published books than in LDS market books. As far as overall editing, not all writing teachers have all the answers. Sometimes there's no explaining taste or what sells. In recent years there have been huge sales of mauldlin, soap opera style books, designed to wring the heart strings and they succeed in spite of flashbacks, POV confusion, backfill, tons of adverbs, plots that don't quite make sense, and over-simplification. Go figure.

Traci Hunter Abramson said...

Each time I prepare to submit a new novel to my publisher, I spend literally months editing to make sure it's going to be of the same quality of my last submission. Well-edited books are a result of good editors and authors willing to listen to those good editors. Sometimes a suggested change isn't exactly what needs to make it into print, but authors need to recognize why a trouble spot has been identified and be willing to smooth it out. Personally, I'm truly grateful to have been blessed with a wonderful editor. I only hope what I write continues to be worthy of her efforts.

David G. Woolley said...
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David G. Woolley said...
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David G. Woolley said...

The second-to-last revision of my published novel, Power of Deliverance (I give the title here so you’ll forgive all the errors and any harm or serious head aches it may have caused), was submitted for printing by accident. It happened to be on my editor's desk and she put it in a Fed Ex box and sent it overnight to the press with a hurry-up-and-print-this-now memo.

It wasn't until I started getting all sorts of nasty emails about my poor grammar and punctuation along with offers from readers to proof my work, did we realize what happened.

There was a period in the middle of a sentence.

A sentence that repeated itself a sentence that repeated itself a sentence that repeated itself three times.

Lentil soap instead of lentil soup.

“His said” instead of “He said”.

She warped her clothes instead of she wore her clothes.

In all, nearly 200 obvious errors and another hundred that weren't so obvious. I still get emails about my poor grammar which has restored my faith in the literacy of the reading public.

Thanks to the expert, meticulous editing of that same editor, my most recent published work has only one error (if you can find more let me know). Its really not an error as much as it is an editor changing something that I would never write.

I wrote:

Did he still love her?

The thought was carefully placed into the character's consciousness through preparing the reader in the point of view character's mind. No italics. No speaker attribution. How can you use a locution for something that is not physically spoken anyway?

When I picked up a copy of the published novel a few weeks ago the editor had changed it to this:

Did he still love her, she wondered?

There was a speaker attribution that I never submitted. The question mark was all you needed to let the reader know that the character was wondering something. And it was all italicized. Yuck.

Sometimes you can't blame the author for editorial conduct. It was one of those things that my editor would have happily agreed to not do, she just did it because, well, that's what she'd seen done in other novels. And there was never a mentor-editor around to tell her, hey, if the point of view character is strong use the question mark instead of the "she wondered" locution. Then the work won't be marked as the work of a hack. Dear me. I'm now a hack. But then, the rest of you already knew that.

Win some. Lose some.

Stephen said...

My favorite take of editing was "Bio of an Ogre" by Piers Anthony ...

I've had wonderful editors and terrible ones.

But "Light-handed editing" has always been a sign of pure dreck to me.

Danyelle Ferguson said...

I recently edited a manuscript for an author for the third time. This last time was a quick read through before it went to publication. After submitting my list of errors to fix, the author emailed me to say that even after reading through the manuscript again, she had missed several of the errors I had pointed out. That's why a fresh pair of eyes is so important. Even then, it's not often a manuscript is absolutely perfect.

I rarely read a perfect book - from either the national or LDS markets. But as a reader, I've found that if the story is absorbing enough & the editing is pretty darn good, I don't notice the mistakes as often as I do in books I'm reading & just trying to get through, hoping to find "the good part" soon.

As a writer, it gives me hope that if I continue writing and editing to the best of my capabilities, improving along the way, that I'll soon have a successful career as an author. :)

Heather B. Moore said...

On my last book, I discovered that the final version had crashed right before press, so the closest to final version was sent. I wish I'd had known--I would have stayed up all night to make sure it was fixed. Then a reviewer commented on some mistakes, and I was afraid to go and look to see which ones they were (still haven't and it's been a year). With my publisher, there are copyeditors, then I always read through again after that--sometimes new mistakes can be entered in when another error is corrected. Then at the galley proofing stage, I have my sister (poor girl) read the first half, and I'll read the 2nd half. I've also heard authors say that it takes them about 10 hours to go through a final proof, and after so much time spent on the book already, they'd rather skip that part and move on. But I've seen crazy mistakes in many national bestsellers, so the LDS market is certainly not exempt.

Sometimes the editing stage comes down to dollars spent on production. So it's important for the author to go through and do a final edit (even though it about kills you to read the dang thing again).

La Mujer Loca said...

I love getting this insight from all of these authors. It's awesome to read these comments on your blog and see names of the authors of some of my favorite books. This is sooo cool.