Saturday, November 10, 2012

Editing and Proofreading Defined - Repost of the "Controversial" Post

Okay, so the picture is a bit dramatic, but yes, I've felt crucified lately. So, pphhhtttt. I'm here now to purge  myself so I can move on.

I recently wrote a post called "When did Misspelled Words and Punctuation Errors Become Deep Edits?" Many of you noticed that when you clicked on the link to that post in your twitter feed, you got an error that said the page could not be found. The reason for that is that I was threatened with legal action and accused of defamation, even though I didn't name names in my post. Since identities could have been inferred from my post for those industrious or desirous enough to hunt them down, I removed the post. For those who saw that post and commented, my thanks. I did save the post and your comments, which were encouraging and much-appreciated.

Being that I think the message in that post was noteworthy, I have rewritten and restructured the it so that those interested can see what all the fuss was about and possibly learn something. Leading references have been omitted so no one can find out who or what I'm talking about. This will be the last I write about this incident, and then it's time to move on, but I wanted to at least clear the air and set the record straight on a few things. So, here goes:

First, let's start with a couple of definitions.

Editing (here's just a few definitions, but there are more)
  1. To prepare (written material) for publication or presentation, as by correcting, revising, or adapting.
  2. To modify or adapt so as to make suitable or acceptable.
  3. To prepare (text) for publication by checking and improving its accuracy, clarity, etc.
  4. To modify by, for example, deleting, inserting, moving, or copying text.
  5. A stage of the writing process in which a writer or editor strives to improve a draft (and sometimes prepare it for publication) by correcting errors and by making words and sentences clearer, more precise, and more effective.
  1. To read in order to find errors and mark corrections.
Here's another way of putting this: During an edit, an editor will look at everything. They will look at sentence structure, word usage, content, punctuation, spelling, etc. They will point out where the author is losing the reader, where content contradicts itself, where wording is unclear or unnecessary, etc. They are like a surgeon performing open-heart surgery on an author's manuscript. On the other hand, during a proof, a proofreader will only look at words and, maybe, punctuation. They are like the doctor who addresses superficial problems and prescribes medicine, but they don't cut open the patient and start rearranging things to prevent a heart attack or stroke (or a major manuscript malfunction). That's the editor's job.

Still another way of putting this: An editor will catch discrepancies in content, such as when a character has their hands cuffed behind their back in one sentence, and then is running their hands through someone's hair in the next. A proofreader will simply proof the sentences for spelling and punctuation errors but not point out the content error of a character with the tactile dexterity that comes from having four hands: two cuffed behind their back and two running through another character's hair.

With that said, I was recently asked to proofread a series of stories, which were in their final stage before publication. As I began the proofread, it became obvious right away that all but one of the stories weren't ready for proofing. They still needed a LOT of editing. The stories contained lots of content errors, poor sentence structure, misused punctuation, and mechanical dialogue, among other mistakes. I emailed the publisher regarding my concern but didn't hear back, so, knowing what I knew about these stories, I proceeded by marking editing errors that needed to be addressed, as well as the proofreading mistakes. So, I did double duty. I proofed, and I edited. However, I only edited the glaringly obvious items that needed to be addressed to make the stories "suitable or acceptable..." "...for publication or presentation," as defined above.

I spent at least 100 hours of time (probably more) that I had to steal from every aspect of my life to perform this work, and I did it because I knew the importance of these stories. The stories were later published, and I started reading them. Only two of the six authors made any of my suggested changes. When I compared the published manuscripts against my marked-up copy, four of the authors didn't make but maybe two changes of all I had noted. They didn't even correct the misspelled words or the punctuation mistakes.

In short, I wasted my time. On BOTH the PROOFREAD and the edit, which is worth noting. I'll get to why that is in a minute.

I don't know about y'all, but I don't have 100+ hours to waste. Do you? I'm extremely busy, working a full-time job, writing full-time when I'm not at the day job, and trying to get at least some time with my husband and to relax. I mean, I consider myself lucky if I get a night of six hours of sleep. So, yes, seeing that pretty much all my time was wasted, I wasn't happy.

I approached the publisher with my concerns and to convey that I was upset over wasting so much time (I wasn't paid, per the agreed-upon parameters of the project). This was what I was told, in a nutshell:

  1. The authors were responsible for their own edits and thought their stories were clean and ready upon submission.
  2. I was only supposed to proofread, not perform "deep edits." Since I took it upon myself to edit, it was my own fault my time was wasted.
  3. I was more or less accused of trying to inflict and force my style on the authors.
  4. The authors had written in their style, according to what their readers expected.

My response and mental musings over the above points:
1.Okay, so if the authors thought their stories were clean and ready, and if they were responsible for their own edits, why did the publisher send them to me to review?

A) The proof may not have been intended for "deep edits," but the manuscripts were nowhere near proof-ready. The person who had supposedly edited before the proof was sent to me had obviously not done a very good job editing, which left that task to me, unless the objective was to put out shoddy work.
B) I didn't realize spelling, punctuation, and simple grammar errors were "deep edits." If anything, those were the types of mistakes I should have caught on the proofread, and yet the authors didn't correct those errors, either, leaving misspelled words and punctuation mistakes in the finished manuscripts. So, even my proofread was a waste of time, not just the edit.
C) If the publisher hadn't wanted me to perform "deep edits" (which my editor has told me are called "substantive edits." No such thing as deep edits exist), she should have responded to my email, where I pointed out that I was finding a lot of editing errors and was going to point out the worst of them on the finished manuscripts. Instead, she failed to communicate by answering my email.

3. How is pointing out grammar, spelling, and content foibles an act of inflicting and forcing my style? I did make suggestions in my comments, and within the manuscripts themselves by way of Word's Track Changes feature. As Nathan Bransford writes in his Ten Commandments for Editing Someone's Work:
"It's okay to offer up some illustrative directions the writer could go to fix something that isn't working, but ultimately the writer is the best equipped to come up with ideas for new directions. Your job is to spot what's not working, not to rewrite."
This is what I did. I pointed out what wasn't working and, in some cases, offered up suggestions and illustrations to improve/correct, as well as explanations regarding the why and how. I never changed the ideas and components of the stories by rewriting them in my own voice and style. I occasionally rewrote sentences or phrases that needed structural correction, but did not rewrite the content or alter the voice. And my corrections and suggested rewrites were just that, suggestions. They were examples for the author to use to reconstruct and/or rewrite the problem areas in their own words if they chose not to use my suggested change. Never once did I say, "This has to be done my way and rewritten just like this." My corrections were presented in the following manner: "Perhaps try this," or "How about something like this?" or "Could you instead say something like this?" I think I might have even commented, "Use your own words," but I'm not sure.

Where something was way off base, such as when one author continued to use big words that made me stop and pull out my dictionary, I explained in the notes, "Perhaps use [a simpler word] so readers don't have to stop and pull out their dictionary, which disrupts their reading experience." I further explained that the generally accepted rule is to write using words every 8th grader knows and that by using big words, the reading experience will be disrupted because the reader will either have to stop and look up the word or will gloss over it and not capture the full meaning of the sentence. In the case of this story, sometimes these big words were used back to back with their simpler counterparts, much like saying "He suffered from an acute myocardial infarction heart attack." An acute myocardial infarction is a heart attack, so there's no point in using the terms back-to-back, which makes no sense. Use one or the other, but not both. And sometimes the definition of the big word didn't fit the context of the scene or sentence, such as saying "The chisel galvanized the wooden block." No definition of galvanize, which has to do with stimulating electrical current, startling into activity, or coating in zinc, fits this content. It sounds impressive, but to those who know what galvanize means, they see right through this as an attempt to pull the wool over their eyes, and it's insulting to their intelligence.

This poor word usage just made it look like the author was showing off her vast knowledge of vocabulary or had used her Thesaurus to pick out the fanciest-sounding word for something that would have been better-represented by a simple one. This is a cardinal sin. A story/book isn't for the author to show off their mastery of big words or to make readers feel stupid. It's for the reader to get a good story and to be entertained. As an editor, it is MY JOB to point that out (and in a case like this, where it's clear the author is disregarding the reader so blatantly, I have every right to be upset, because in the editing role, I play reader's advocate, and I don't like seeing readers insulted like that), and it's the AUTHOR'S JOB to correct it. I did my part. The author didn't and left her big words to litter her manuscript.

4. How are errors considered an author's style? What readership wants to read a bunch of misspelled words and sentences that are so badly punctuated that their meaning is unclear? And in the case of the big word user, do her readers seriously want to have to be talked down to like that? Seriously? They want to have to read a dictionary alongside her story? Ooookaaaay. I guess my perspective is that authors would like to expand their readerships by writing as cleanly and clearly as possible. Am I wrong?

In hindsight, this situation is greatly disturbing to me. I went in to my responsibilities on this project ready to help and do my best, because unlike what some of the authors and the publisher might think, I was clearly aware of the importance of this project and who would be reading it. As such, I assumed clean, perfected stories that were nothing short of the best that could be offered were the goal. I was wrong. I tried to communicate with the publisher about what was happening, but she did not communicate back to me until AFTER the published work came out, and then it was to basically blame me for wasting my own time instead of getting angry with the authors who blatantly disregarded not only my editing marks, but my proofreading marks, too. I feel like the priorities are way screwed up here. I feel like I'm the only one who cared about the quality of these stories, and I feel like I was framed: Tommy stole the cookies, but I'm the one who's been spanked and sent to my room for the rest of the day without dinner.

Am I wrong to feel confused and frustrated?

I'm sorry if these authors don't have the grasp of grammar that I have, or that they can't afford to buy a grammar guide, or that they're too lazy to open the one they've got and actually learn how to use punctuation, or that they don't want to learn to be better writers. But that's not MY fault. I should not be punished for their lack of knowledge or their laziness.

I think many of them think that proofreading is the same as editing, because I've seen how some of them "edit." I even know someone who calls herself an editor, when all she's doing is proofreading (and proofreading badly, I might add, because I would calculate that 90% of her corrections are wrong). Editing and proofreading are not the same thing. Not even close. Rather than get pissy at me, who understands the difference, maybe these authors need to look in the mirror. And, yes, I understand that I was only supposed to proofread these manuscripts, but as I said, the person who acted as editor on them obviously didn't understand how to edit and missed everything, leaving it to me to catch in the proof. And it wouldn't have mattered had I only done a proofread, because, as I said, the authors didn't even change the mistakes I caught on the proof, as it was.

One thing is certain: I will never edit or proofread again without getting paid. And even then, I may never edit or proofread again. Period. My experience in this venture has been that authors seem to think they know what editing is, but they don't, and when they get back an actual edit (which is far tamer than what they would get back from a real editor who edits professionally for big publishing houses), they freak out and begin the blame game, pointing their finger at everyone but themselves, rather than look in the mirror and think, "Hmm, maybe I need to get better at this." To them I say: If you want to be an author, you need to understand the responsibilities and terminology involved. Don't punish those who are doing their jobs because you don't know yours, understand theirs, know what the difference between editing and proofreading is, or because you can't communicate better than you are. Learn the craft and grow a thicker skin before blaming others for being too harsh on you, because you're only wasting the time of those who do know, do care, and do understand.

Happy Reading and Writing


  1. Brava!
    This should be required reading for proofreaders, editors, AND writers, to be quite honest. The delicate, prima donna egos so many writers have really does them a disservice. Unless, as your example pointed out, they are unfortunate enough to land themselves a publisher who defends that ego at the cost of encouraging the writer to grow in their craft and strive for excellence.

    I had the same experience as you, only in reverse. I had an editor who did not know her job, and whose grasp of language, grammar, and punctuation could not compete with mine by the time I had hit sixth grade. Through six or seven rounds of editing, I was ready to tear out my hair and hit the bottle by the time we were finished. Seeing my work being replaced with glaringly incorrect "corrections" sent me through the roof.

    One can hope this editor is a rarity. Honestly, just from the concern you show in your work, the beautifully crafted blog post, and passion you have for proper use of language, I could wish you'd have been *my* editor!

    1. Thank you, Delena. I appreciate your compliment. :)

      Sadly, I'm finding more and more that these indie editors, as I call them, are really just glorified proofreaders. One of the authors I've edited is also an editor, allegedly. Her work has probably been some of the worst I've edited, and it scares me to think that she's editing for other people if her own material is that bad.

      I'm glad to hear that you have enough of a grasp of English and grammar to know a shoddy editor when you come across one, though. I feel bad for the authors who don't. Then they get stuck thinking this "editor" knows what he/she is doing, when really, the "editor" is just as clueless, if not more so.

      Thanks again for stopping by. :)

    2. or that they can't afford to buy a grammar guide, Resume Editing Services

  2. What an awful experience! I do wonder why the publisher asked for a 'proofread' if basic spelling/grammatical errors weren't going to be corrected.

    I specialise in editing websites and I'm in the process of developing a commissioning checklist for my own business that I can use with [potential] clients to establish what they expect me to do. It will be based on three stages of editing I outlined in this post:

    I don't work on commercial content for free, so don't have the frustration of your situation. My practice is to provide an estimate based on a sample of the work to be edited: , but if I think it needs structural work and they only want to pay for copy editing, I grit my teeth and ignore the structural problems.

    Also agree that there are editors and 'editors': the ability to get people to pay you to edit seems to be unrelated to the ability to edit. (Some people do both well; some can't edit, but are convincing; some are skilled but not good at selling. Those who can't to either probably won't be in business for long.)

    1. Thank you for stopping by and commenting. You sound like you know what you're doing. One reason why I like blogging about these issues is that it allows me to find others who operate in a similar state of mind. It also allows me to see I'm not the only one who has noticed these things. Hopefully ovef time we can bring a greater light to this issue.

  3. I am dropping in again...and although I won't repost everything I wrote before...

    But I find it truly amazing that so many of the indie publications are full of grammatical, spelling and punctuation errors. As both a reader and a reviewer, I get frustrated reading a storyline that is full of so many errors.

    I expect there NOT to be any errors in the books that I purchase or read. Is that asking too much? I don't think so.

    But as a reminder...I did mention....that' your 'and' you're' is a major bone of contention with me when I am reading a storyline and the author NEVER uses the proper contraction.

    e.g. "Your amazing." she said....*rolling eyes*

    I sometimes wonder if the age of computers and the over usage of social media short forms have left us with a generation that is incapable of the proper usage of grammar, punctuation and spelling. I think is reflects poorly on an author when a novel or storyline has not been proofread or checked for errors. It shows a lack of concern and, in my opinion, poor use of the written language.

    I applaud your post and I can see and hear the frustration throughout the text....*as i look over my post for spelling errors*... ;)

    1. hahahahahhaa......*as I look over my post......*

      I found

    2. Oh,we don't count grammar and spelling in posts. LOL. I kept your original response to the original post. :) The feedback I got on that one was great. It was so reassuring to see that so many others notice the same things I do, and that many are just as frustrated.

      Thank you for stopping by again. :)

  4. I've been saying this honey for a long long time. What happened to proofreaders, and is it an extinct career, like a telex operator or a switchboard operator?

    I can honestly say that 98.5% of the books I read have errors of one form or another in them. Whether it be spelling, grammar, incorrect word use or continuity errors. I simply believed that the proofreading phase of publishing had been dispensed with in favour of a rushed one for all style editing job instead. Cuts out a layer of costs if no one proofs it before print.

    If I was a little more adept and confident with my grammar then I would honestly say I'd make an accomplished proof reader. Errors leap out at me and it ruins most things I read when I encounter them. Authors should take a pride in their work and at least ensure it is spelled correctly if nothing else.

    1. Yes, continuity is another problem.

      I recently read a book where the heroine's arms were tied behind her back and in the next sentence her hands were in the man's hair. I thought to myself....*great dexterity*

    2. Toni, you make an awesome reader-reader...period. *wink* It's why I value your feedback so highly as a beta. You make me a better writer by catching things that don't add up, and I, for one, love to hear that kind of feedback so I can fix it BEFORE it's published.

      And, yes, Sandy, I remember that comment from the original post and used it as an example in this one. LOL. :)

  5. Well written. Or should I say RE-written ;0)

    1. Yep. RE-written.

      You know, what I find ironic is that the publisher got all up in my face over the original post, when she really should have paid attention to the message being conveyed. This publisher didn't do the affected authors any favors by ignoring my message and by defending their ineptitude/laziness/whatever-it-was. Oh well, I led their thirsty buns to water. If they don't want to drink, that's their own dang fault. But I'm diving in and chug-a-luggin.

    2. My dad used to say, "You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink...even if you siphon from the other end."

      Ah, Dad, you always were so good at making your point, lol.

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