My kingdom for a decent copy editor!

Romance novels suffer from the worst, most sloppy (possibly non-existent) copy editing I’ve ever encountered. This was rammed home during the weekend when I was reading White Tigress by Jade Lee. The hero’s father’s name is Sheng Fu, yet it switches back and forth between Sheng Fu and Cheng Fu with dizzying frequency in the middle of the book. The family name also briefly changes from Cheng to Chang. And in one spot, something which clearly took place during the night time is referred to as having happened during the day in the next chapter.

This isn’t the only romance novel with this sort of problem. I bitched long and hard about the huge honkin’ continuity mistake in Sally MacKenzie’s The Naked Duke. The villain’s eye color switches from tawny to blue in Loretta Chase’s Mr. Impossible. In Taboo by Kathleen Lawless, the hero and heroine allegedly spend a week together but the book clearly covers only four days, with no “And then three days went by in delirious humpalicious bliss” to account for the disparity. And I’ve seen the words “feisty” and “chaise longue” mis-spelled more often than I can count.

These problems aren’t entirely the fault of the author. I can dig that proof-reading tens of thousands of words isn’t the easiest thing in the world to do, especially when you don’t have the requisite distance from the work to look at it with fresh eyes and you have to make extensive edits that require shifting the timeline around. Hell, I have trouble proofreading these 500-1500 word articles I bang out; I catch typos from old entries all the time. But that’s why authors have editors, no? Editors—copy editors, in particular—are supposed to catch problems like these. If a casual reader like me notices these issues, why the fuck aren’t the people who are actually being paid to pay attention to nitty-gritty details?

Sloppy editing only feeds the accusations that romance novels are sub-standard, and really, when routine words are mangled, character attributes change magically from page to page and the timing for events doesn’t obey time’s arrow, it’s hard to argue that romance novels are just as good and just as professionally-written as other varities of genre fiction. The publishers need to make the horror stop. Can’t these publishing houses afford to hire a team of decent copy editors? Leisure and Zebra seem to be the worst culprits when it comes to mind-boggling sloppiness in editing, but other companies certainly aren’t exempt.

There. My first blog entry after my mini-vacation, and it’s all pissy. Did y’all miss me?


Ranty McRant

Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    Fair says:

    I used to work as a copy editor (for an online site) and I can tell you that copy editors get ZERO respect. NO ONE understands what you’re doing or why. And that’s because Americans can’t spell, and don’t understand the purpose of punctuation, and therefore they don’t respect, or feel the need for, copy editors. I had to fight to keep doing what I was hired to do, because my bosses (a new one every week) wanted to push me into something, anything else—and that includes one boss who was a published fiction writer.

    I enjoyed copy editing a lot but most people wouldn’t. It takes extreme care and obsession with tiny details. I found it fun. I’d love to be a romance novel copy editor. But it’s pretty clear romance publishers aren’t hiring copy editors. (Who is, these days?)

  2. 2
    Candy says:

    That just makes me want to cry. Don’t people understand how unprofessional badly copy-edited books look? GAH. Good copy editors, in my opinion, deserve Varlhona chocolates and endless luxuriant footrubs for sparing my eyes from fiesty women draped across chaise lounges.

  3. 3
    Marjorie Liu says:

    Another thing to keep in mind, though, is that authors almost always have another chance to look at their books before they go to print.  I feel a huge responsibility to check my own work – because it does represent me – and I try my best to carefully examine the galleys for any typos or factual errors.  Usually the copy editor has caught everything, but I do sometimes find some typos – and I probably miss some, too!  I guess what I’m trying to say is that you do your best to put out a good story, and that your job as a writer doesn’t end when the revisions are done and the book is typeset.

  4. 4
    Wendy Duren says:

    Typos don’t bother me nearly as much as continuity issues.  A misspelled word is easily forgotten about, but changing eye color?  In the many hands a manuscript passes through, how does something like that get missed?

    Several years ago I read a Harlequin—Temptation maybe—wherein the heroine arrived at a restaurant in a taxi and left in her car.  Much had been made of the heroine’s desirer not to drive on icy roads, then she anxiously waited for the cab, fretted over having enough money for the cab ride home.  All for not since her car was magically waiting for her in the parking lot.  I guess the ice melted during dinner, too.

  5. 5
    Sybil says:

    Of course we missed your pissy rants.

    I have to agree with Wendy, continuity is the worst sin.  I understand how it can happen with edits and cutting and what not.  But if you don’t trust your copy editor than have your husband/bestfriend/writing partner/anysoulwhohasn’treadthebook50times read over it.

    Of course nothing is worse than reading a used book where some kind and stupid fucker has taken a pen and corrected the mistakes, mispellings or tense or whatever, and corrected it WRONG.

  6. 6
    Jade Lee says:

    Ouch!  I try and catch all the typoes and continuity problems.  Truly, I do, but unfortunately, (a) I miss things, and (b) I don’t necessarily see the final version.  And, worse, even if I do, I’m really sick of the manuscript.  White Tigress especially, I did 3 full read-throughs in a week.  I was lucky I could spell my own name right.

    Another author friend of mine—Cindy Dees—learned that Harl has another editor read the manuscript one last time AFTER the author’s last look.  That particular editor introduced over 200 errors into her book, and she was FURIOUS.

    So…continuity problems, dang, I thought I’d fixed all of them.  Even after the revisions.  Typoes, etc, *sigh* I’ll work harder on those too.

    But…did you like the story?


  7. 7
    Candy says:

    “But…did you like the story?”

    You vill haff to vait for ze review, my pretty. Bwahahaha.

    “That particular editor introduced over 200 errors into her book, and she was FURIOUS.”

    See, an editor like that needs to be beaten thoroughly on the head and shoulders with some sort of large, dead fish (steelhead would do quite nicely) until she learned to do her job properly.

    “I guess what I’m trying to say is that you do your best to put out a good story, and that your job as a writer doesn’t end when the revisions are done and the book is typeset.”

    Oh, I agree—I’m just shocked that some of the errors I notice aren’t caught by ANY of the people who look at the manuscript. Proofreading is definitely part of an author’s responsibility, but like I said, it’s hard to spot mistakes when you don’t have distance from the work. You’ll often read words as you expect them to be, not as they actually are; God knows that’s happened more often to me than I’d like to think about. That’s why a fresh set of eyes, preferably the eyes of a competent, nitpicky, anal-retentive copy editor, is indispensable.

  8. 8
    Kate says:

    my favorite editing story: A copy editor working on a Regency changed footpads to footpaths.

    I can’t proofread worth beans. But does that stop me from mocking underpaid and underappreciated CEs? Nope.

    Actually I love and appreciate CEs to bits. A woman who worked on a magazine with me was an anal compulsive saint. I resented and loved her thousands of notes—she was right 99.9% of the time, and her ability to snark would make even you bitches weep with envy.

    Sainte (notice the correct “e”) CE isn’t why I appreciate people who can proofread. That came when she left, I had to take over her job. Baaaaad, rotten evil job.

  9. 9
    Stef says:

    ‘And that’s because Americans can’t spell, and don’t understand the purpose of punctuation, and therefore they don’t respect, or feel the need for, copy editors’

    Since you’re targeting Americans, I will presume you aren’t one. Just a point I wanted to clarify: you are aware that there is a difference in the way Americans and other countries both spell and punctuate. Realize vs. realise, for example. I use both, as some writer’s voices aren’t conducive to Americanization.

    Some of the rules are quite complex, as well as having to be up on slang and sentence structure to do either correctly.

    I assume you know that, since you’re so talented that you’re entitled to disparage the language skills of an entire country. But I figured I’d better check.

    The more likely reasons copyeditors aren’t respected are simple:

    1. Already mentioned in this posting. Many don’t hone their craft and do a bad job.

    2. Some authors think their prose is perfect the way it is, thank you. And you will not touch it. Ever. I had someone send me a sub once and the cover letter mentioned that the misspellings were deliberate, and couldn’t be changed or the story wouldn’t make sense. I didn’t even read it.

  10. 10
    E.D'Trix says:

    Copy editing is a hard and thankless job, and boy did I rejoice when the publisher I work for started hiring skilled line editors instead of relying on proofers to catch all of the errors. We have a stringent test for line editors, one that 99% of the applicants do not pass. I like to think that I catch the majority of continuity errors and typos in the course of my edits, but I know I let things slide by—especially if there has been a major timeline change, etc. in the course of edits.

    Unlike some other editors who can get defensive and pissy when a line editor points out errors in a manuscript that is considered to be fully “edited”, I am thrilled for every little mistake a line editor catches (although I reserve the right to preserve certain things like commas, etc. – because a removal or shift can completely change the meaning of a sentence!).

    As someone who had the pleasure of a good friend calling me up to report a major typo in one of the first books I edited, I never want to explain the reasoning behind a hero “caressing the heroine’s beast” again.

  11. 11
    Ankah says:

    I don’t know Stef…I’m an American born and raised, and after working in the high school setting and later as a Grad Assistant who looked over essays and papers, I have to agree with Fair on some level.

    You would be shocked at what I saw occurring in papers on the Graduate level. It would make one weep.

  12. 12
    Candy says:

    “You would be shocked at what I saw occurring in papers on the Graduate level.”

    I’ve met people from all around the world, all speaking English with varying degress of fluency. It wasn’t until I moved to America that I met people with college degrees who didn’t know what pedestal or botany meant, or who sincerely thought Germany bordered on Russia, and thought that Thai food came from Taiwan.

    It’s not that American people are stupid—far from it. But I do think the education system (especially primary education) leaves a lot to be desired.

  13. 13
    Stef says:

    Actually,I was objecting to her lumping ALL Americans in said group of ignorance.  If you say just ‘Americans’, you’re talking about all of us.  If you mean “some Americans”, say so. I detest generalizations.

    But yes, the educational system has problems. The focus seems to be aimed at standarization. They instituted testing to make sure that kids learned in school—required the tests to graduate. Now school curriculums are aimed at preparation for passing those tests.  Which in most cases, means rote memorization. Big help there.

    My daughter starts kindergarten soon. I’m very concerned. She has a very creative and active mind…I’d hate to see it assimilated into the cluster.

  14. 14
    Diana says:

    As one of my colleagues pointed out when I was complaining about the editing in a Harlequin I was reading for work a few days ago (I work at a literary agency), a lot of this might have to do with the fact that most of the people editing these books are probably making like $19,000 a year. I too find typos and continuity errors when I catch them, but I think that given a lot of overworked, underpaid people trying to churn out a lot of product in a very short period of time, what’s remarkable is that there aren’t way MORE mistakes slipping through.

  15. 15
    Shannon says:

    Hay, im an Amerikun, and i kin spel.


    (This amuses me becuase I’m 100% American, but I spent my early elementary years—-you know, the formative years as far as spelling—-in England, and to this day I don’t know if it’s it grey or gray, and if I’m tired I’ll add a “u” after every “o” in my manuscript.)

  16. 16
    Shannon says:

    Ummm…becuase is a typo, not a misspelling. 


  17. 17
    Kate R says:

    Yeah, Diana, that’s what I always think about when people complain about newspapers. It could be so much worse. Talk about underpaid and fast turn around!

    And then there are the “decline in quality” whiners. They ought to read a few passages in a newspaper written in 1880 or even the early 1920s. Whoowee! Some hideously bad prose in there and I’m not just talking purple. Those guys would make some pretty hilarious mistakes with dependent clauses and bizarre construction.

  18. 18
    Candy says:

    “And then there are the “decline in quality” whiners.”

    I think the basis for all this whining lies in the fact that mostly the GOOD stuff has survived over the years, while godawful drek has mostly been forgotten. So people point to Dickens and Hardy and Twain and Elliot and go “See the magnificent specimens of literature from days gone by! How can our modern fictional climate compare?” Not a fair comparison, though, is it?

    And then there’s the rose-colored glasses of nostalgia and all that. I find that the older generation always thinks the younger generation’s art/music/movies/books are crap. “Those good old days” are more often than not “Those days in which the same old shit was happening, but I’m old and selective memory is kicking in in a major way.”

  19. 19
    Fair says:

    Stef, yes, I am American. Sorry I offended you, but I think Americans need to face facts about our atrocious education system, because the head-in-the-sand thing isn’t working for us. My current work brings me into email contact with people all over the world, people who speak English as a second (or third, or fourth, or fifth) language, and their spelling is uniformly better than ours. I went to American public schools, where I was taught virtually nothing, and I pay the price for that every day. It’s sad and humbling.

  20. 20
    Velouria says:

    I can tell you that copy editors get ZERO respect. NO ONE understands what you’re doing or why.

    I respect copy editors enormously—when they know what they are doing. I once worked at an engineering firm (they produced gigantic reports for regulatory agencies that are probably moldering in a storage bunker somewhere) with a woman who had been a tech editor for Sperry Rand, and she caught everything. EVERYTHING. Even scientific notation errors. I think she stayed up nights reading the Chicago Manual of Style. It was really beautiful. When she was finished with a document, anybody could read it and make sense of it—no impossible scientific jargon allowed.

    You can just tell when a good copyeditor has walked through a piece of writing, because they smooth out the awkward sentences and transform that passive scientific mumbling into active communication.

    Now my day job is as a $12 an hour editorial assistant for a major medical periodicals publisher, and most of the journals are aimed at doctors and nurses. The compositing is contracted to a print production company which also handles copyediting, and they clearly got the job because they bid the lowest.

    I thought I’d seen it all from the authors, who write mainly to document their work, not because they are writers at heart—but these CEs actually make the articles worse. They change sentences that are perfectly all right, and totally ignore screamingly bad constructions, wrong punctuation, and misspellings.

    Worst of all, they don’t read for comprehension, which is especially irritating in the context of communicating research.

    So forget about the nuances; I check the copyeditors’ work twice, on the proofs and the revised pages, just to make sure major errors are caught. I do it just because I can’t bear sloppy editing.

    For what this mini-Ranty McRant is worth, crappy copyediting is not solely a problem of genre fiction. It happens in “academic” publishing too.

  21. 21
    Gail says:

    I never want to explain the reasoning behind a hero “caressing the heroine’s beast” again.

    I once had the hero pulling a sheep up over the heroine as she lay in bed…

    Did catch that one, though…

  22. 22
    Candy says:

    “I once had the hero pulling a sheep up over the heroine as she lay in bed…”

    Bestiality: the new frontier of romantica!

  23. 23
    Fair says:

    Well, I respect copy editors, too, especially after my own glimpse into that world. I shouldn’t have generalized and said “no one” understands the point of copy editing. And as I said, I wasn’t working for a publishing house but an Internet site. (The person who hired me quit before my first day of work. My next boss died. After that, my bosses were constantly being fired. My role became to pick up the pieces for my departing supervisors. I kept trying to copy edit because I felt it was my responsibility to at least remove glaring spelling errors from the site’s front screen—it was a well-known site in its field, and I felt personally embarrassed by big errors—but no one at the company had a clue why I bothered doing this. After a few years, I quit.)

    I was speaking from my own experience and frustration, and I apologize for generalizing.

  24. 24
    Ankah says:

    Goodness, Fair, your bosses seem to have the same fate as the Professors of Defense Against Dark Arts!

  25. 25
    Fair says:

    Don’t know who those professors are, Ankah, but I do know I wouldn’t want to be one of my bosses! I always felt sorry for the new ones because I knew they wouldn’t last long. (Not my fault, I swear. I liked all of them except the last one—that was why I quit.)

  26. 26
    Crimson Ink says:

    I cannot heap enough praise on the beleagured copy editor. Authors and editors try to catch every error, but after multiple readings, our eyes get blind to typos, etc.

    I’ve reread books that I’ve edited and been astounded to find a typo that looked correct to my eyes even months later! When reading these books sometimes a dozen or more times, things can be and are missed.

    Skilled copy editors/line editors are an absolute godsend and make the author, the publisher and editor shine.

    Jade, the story of your friend is just terrible. I couldn’t imagine making that amount of changes and not consulting the author. In the end, the book is a reflection of HER, of the name on the cover.

    I’d have to agree that grammar skills in general in America are sliding. Our parents had tougher educational guidelines and our children have much more stringent ones.

    E.D’Trix, it is just too bad that some editors take copy edit changes personally. It isn’t a matter of ego, but a matter of getting the best product out there. Do I agree with every change a copy editor makes? No, but I understand that she’s part of the team and treat her and her changes with respect.

  27. 27
    Stef says:

    Hey, Fair, did you have this experience?

    I started out as a copyeditor, and when I noticed content errors, I was told that I wasn’t allowed to do that. Seriously. Their policy stated I was to dot Is and cross Ts. Period.

    Luckily, the editor I was working for did a “if do you happen to notice these things, you, uh, could point them out” deal with me. So the author didn’t suffer. Though I did notice I was called upon less and less.

    I think anyone not willing to accept help from a copyeditor is nuts. Nobody is perfect, be it editor or author. It is all about the product, as Crimson said.

  28. 28
    Fair says:

    Stef, how frustrating for you. In my case, no one cared if I made content changes. I was free to do whatever I wanted (which was great till it lead to total burnout). We had some excellent writers and some terrible ones, and I had to do some heavy-duty rewriting on the terrible ones, and I was surprised that I never received a single complaint. In fact, I worked closely with one writer, rewrote all his stuff on a daily basis, and he was very happy about it. I felt it was my job to make him look good, and I really enjoyed that. I would have stayed with the company if my supervisors had let me focus on copy editing instead of piling on other responsibilities. I think there’s a perception that a spell-check program is all you need these days.

  29. 29
    Fair says:

    (And there again I was wrong to say copy editors get no respect. The writer I just mentioned was very appreciative of copy editing. My later supervisors weren’t opposed to it—they just had lots and lots and lots of other work for me to do, and didn’t see any value in wasting time on editing.)

  30. 30
    Crimson Ink says:

    Fair, physical rewrites to this extent go WAY beyond what I’d consider copy editing.

    In my company, the content editor deals with all of the rewrites, etc. though she doesn’t physically do rewrites. The copy editor checks the book at its latter stages for typos, grammar issues, things that don’t mesh with the house style and any inconsistencies.

    I cannot imagine any editor, especially a dedicated copy editor being expected to do rewrites. How else is the author going to grow and learn what the company expects if the author can sit back and just approve the editor’s hard work?

    I’ve worked for five publishers in my time, and thankfully none of these demanded that I do the rewrites for the author. I’m perfectly happy suggesting changes and my authors seem pleased with this arrangement as well.

    Yes, there is a significant amount of time spent on author relations, questions and answers, formatting, etc but that happens in every publishing compan. Its a frustrating reality of what editors do.

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