I was recently asked by a young writer to review the first pages of her new story and offer her some tips. When she prefaced the request with a flattering remark along the lines of wanting to use my advice to make her as good as me, there was no way I could resist.
The first page from this writer’s story was a disclaimer that she doesn’t have an editor and readers should expect mistakes in the story. Not only should readers expect them, but we should forgive them because she’s only human. I found this to be off putting for a few reasons.
I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve been asked to read and offer input on stories which are publicly posted chock full of mistakes. Of course, many of the works I read are from young writers who are learning their craft. It’s unreasonable to expect perfection, especially when it’s not always modeled in the e-books they’re reading. I’ve read a number of self-published books of late that are swimming with mistakes. As an adult writer, and a self-published writer in particular, this is unforgivable.
When it comes to young writers, I always tell them to make sure their editing is tight. I also stress that editing is more than proper spelling. The best spell check in the world can’t help if see is spelled right but the writer meant to use the word sea. Spell check also isn’t going to help with proper punctuation. Sure, it will occasionally tell me I should be using its instead of it’s, but it can’t tell me if a semi colon or comma is appropriate. My spell check also isn’t going to catch bad grammar, at least not overall. There are times when I intentionally use slang like gonna instead of going to, and my spell check will put that red squiggly line under gonna, but it’s not going to catch all of my butchering of the English language.
While young writers, or older ones for that matter, may not see the importance of tight editing, there is value. I always say readers won’t believe in a writer’s work if it’s riddled with mistakes. Even more important, readers may lose interest in the work if they’re constantly being tripped up by mistakes. This means they’re not only going to avoid reading your future works, but they may be giving bad reviews in public forums or warning friends and family off your work.
Don’t think readers won’t notice the occasional mistake either. I’m here to tell you they do. I’ve experienced this first hand. Like many fledgling writers, I don’t employ an editor. While I’d love to have an editor, they don’t come cheap. Instead, I rely on my own eyes to catch things, which isn’t always wise. In a chapter of my latest teen fiction story, I inadvertently used the word principle when I meant principal. The ironic thing is that as I was editing the chapter, my eyes kept going back to the word and telling my brain something wasn’t quite right. Trouble was my brain wasn’t listening. A reader caught it and pointed it out. I fixed it, but the damage was done. I lost credibility with this reader. I also recently tagged a story with the word amputee only in my haste, I wrote the word amutee. If you think that went unnoticed, you’re wrong. I had a reader point out the misspelling. My first reaction was to blow it off since this wasn’t part of the story, but I realized the flaw in this logic. The tags are how readers search for stories they want to read. No one is going to be searching for amutee which could cost me potential readers.
Like it or not, readers are checking for and catching mistakes. They expect a polished product, whether they’re reading a free e-book that’s been posted online or whether it’s an actual printed book they’ve paid money for. And you know what? Readers deserve that product and writers who want to be taken seriously will give it to them.
Edit, edit, edit! I can’t say it enough.