This afternoon, I was taking a moment to read one of the few non-publishing blogs I visit, and something in the comments section made me cringe. A regular commenter there, who is articulate and intelligent, used a colon in his comment. A colon, you know, is the one that has two dots stacked atop each other, a smile, not a wink. ( : ) Immediately under this comment, another commenter praised this use of a "semicolon" ( ; ), and then she claimed she was an editor.
Now, this error didn't escape my notice, but it did escape my censure, because we all can make a simple error like this in less guarded moments. We talk about semicolons all the time, and about colons only rarely. Her fingers may have typed the word semicolon automatically, and then she didn't catch it before she clicked to post the comment, and this is one of those places that doesn't allow for comment editing. I'll give her the benefit of the doubt and assume she caught the error too late to change it. It's an embarrassing mistake, but what happened next was even crazier. Others chimed in with, "Hooray for semicolons! I'm an editor, too!" type comments.
And those are a little harder to overlook or forgive. The bigger problem, though, is that they point up a disturbing trend I've noticed growing over the past six months or so. Seems everyone is claiming to be an editor these days, and some of these folks are displaying an appalling lack of command over the language. It's not just this chain of me-too comments from self-styled editors who don't know colons from semicolons. I've received DMs from people on twitter advertising their "editting" skills. I've heard countless tales of authors who hired the cheapest editor they could find, and were shocked at the complaints from reviewers about horrible editing. As more and more people pursue direct publishing, I imagine this trend will continue to grow.
Be careful when you hire an editor. When you submit to a house, of course, you don't always have control over who does the editing, and not all in-house editors are built alike. You get what you're stuck with. But when you hire a private editor, you have more control over who edits your work. That's one of the benefits of DIY publishing, right? So why would you hire a shoddy, cheap editor with no credentials other than the claim that they can edit? Would you hire a plumber without first checking whether they can actually fix pipes?
There are plenty of good editors out there. Really, there are, and we're not hard to find. Ask around. Ask your author friends for referrals. Word of mouth is the best advertising for any of us, but a good editor can usually point to a solid track record of published projects, strong reviews, endorsements, and the like. (Take a look at my minimalist informational website for an idea of what I mean. I cobbled this together in half an afternoon just so I'd have something to link to -- believe me, other editors can boast better developed sites, but mine at least has listed the basics.) And though many of us don't like to reveal the names of private clients without express permission, an absolute refusal to reveal anything about past projects probably means that there aren't any, or those projects never amounted to much.
I'm hearing some of the same complaints about people trying to claim that they're cover artists. They're selling cover art for a pittance, and the grateful author snaps it up without realizing it's the wrong specs or there are copyright issues with the artwork. I haven't heard of similar problems with disreputable typesetters or file-makers, but that might just be because I haven't heard of them. The whole thing reminds me a bit of the days when everyone was rushing to set up an author website (mid-90s, late 90s) and so many people got burned by homecooked design jobs. Just be careful out there. There's a sucker born every minute, and right now, it seems a lot of people think writers are the suckers.