Saturday, December 10, 2011

A Minor Rant About a Bad Trend

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.



Laura K. Curtis said...

ABSOLUTELY. And a secondary point: know what you want from an editor and be sure you're getting the right KIND of editor. I ranted about this over on my blog a while back:

Darkspires said...

I am a magazine editor and I had to smile at your comment. I have recently been smacking the hands of a newbie I am bringing along for colon usage. No, I am not charging this guy one red cent.

Before I get a slew of interested persons bombing my blog, I only take on one newbie every two years. Position taken. No one else need apply. I do this to pay back all the help I received from wonderful people when I was a novice writer.

I have noticed the trend of loading in colons and semicolons in wildly inappropriate places on various workshop subs. Given that there are many good books on how to use grammar, I wonder why this is happening?

Of course, a person only has to pick up any newspaper to see how the standards have slithered down the toilet. I defy anyone to find a flawless edition. I once spent ten minutes trying to work out the message a paragraph in the local newspaper was trying to convey. I confess utter failure.

Darkspires said...

Oh, and I missed a comma. After three brewskis, this is going to happen, but not when I am working. I take what I do very seriously, both for myself and for those concerned.

Susan Helene Gottfried said...

I edited before I was married and now that I'm in dire need of an income, I've gone back to it. That means I don't have a recent track record, and recent is what people are looking for. (As they should!)

Which brings me to my point: Authors should always ask for a five-page sample from the editor before money exchanges hands. Styles may vary, the editor may be clueless, the author's work may be beyond the scope of what the project was described as... there are a million scenarios.

A wise friend taught me the five-page trick.

Oh, and you'll notice my colon above. And the semicolon in the wink I'm about to use, too. ;)

Jenny said...

Writers, alas, are suckers. Something about typing words onto a word processing file makes otherwise reasonable people delusional. The only group more attractive to scammers are the near-demented elderly.

It fascinates me that while we see a ton of blogs warning people about various scams no one ever asks why it is that would-be writers are so credulous and why no matter what you tell them, herds of would-be writers continue to throw away huge sums under the touching belief that publishing their novel will make them rich.

It probably has something to do with the fact that most people can talk and few people understand the difference between talking and writing something someone else will pay money for.

kate said...

You're right. Even in my small town, I'm meeting more and more people who claim to be editors as well as writers. When asked why they are editors they might say, "Well, I like to write." Credentials? "I like to write." Luckily my client base isn't in this town, because explaining to new writers the difference between what I do and what some of these self-proclaimed editors do can be frustrating.

Edittorrent said...

So I'm not the only one noticing this. But I guess this leads us to a question. In an industry without uniform practices and standards, what should a writer look for when hiring an editor? Maybe we ought to have this discussion as a way of helping people avoid bad experiences.


thea said...

Your Editor website IS simple. Also elegant.

"I wonder if" sentences I was taught take periods at the end because they make a statement. These days, I often see "I wonder if" sentences end in question marks. Have standards changed on this matter? I'm wondering what is the correct handling of such sentences. Thank you.

Dana Elmendorf said...

This stuff makes me crazy. People are so easily duped. Everybody's an editor and everybody's a critic. Its kind of like writers gets their story critiqued by their neighbor's sister's daughter, and they thought their work was awesome. Hopefully your post reaches the not so aware.

Wes said...


Before I turned to you as my editor I contracted for the services of an editor with a writing program at a Big Ten university. Seemed like a good idea. What a waste!!!! She told me everything I wanted to hear about how good my writing was. Suspecting I wasn't that great, I sent the same MS to you, and you sent it back bleeding to death. I much prefer your method.

Wes said...

OMG! Don't publishers edit at all these days? I started a new book five minutes ago and made it to page two of the preface before encountering the first misplaced modifier. Are times so hard that publishers can't even hire a starving grad student to check for obvious mistakes?

Edittorrent said...

I had a weird experience as a freelance editor a couple years ago. There was a lot of $ involved, or I wouldn't have bothered "auditioning," but that's what I ended up doing.

The writer had me do a "sample edit" of an entire chapter. It was only a little while later, consulting with other editors, that I learned he'd been sending out different chapters to "try out" different editors. He ended up getting the whole book edited for free! Never hired any of us.

Of course, the book probably wasn't consistently edited. But I thought it was fairly clever, if underhanded! This taught me not to sample-edit more than a few pages.