Time for the annual republication of this classic—I’d say “enjoy,” but really I’d rather it make you squirm a little bit. Also, if you find errors in my books, PUH-LEEZE email me at pamela at pamelafaganhutchins dot com. I fix them. And let my beleaguered copyeditor know, so we can both learn from the ones that get through. On the other hand, you don’t pay for my blog posts, so I don’t worry about errors in them. Read on the internet at your own risk. 😉


 

 

Stop the madness, people. Hire a damn copyeditor before you publish your books.

Maybe you are one of the eager writers who attends my workshops and presses your book into my hand.

“You’re going to love it. I can’t wait for you to read it,” you say. “I hope you can review it.”

Or you could be a writer who connects with me via social media and is–understandably–asking for a review. Books need reviews. Maybe you give me your book. Maybe I download it free or on sale.

However I get it, I open it and start reading. And one page in, sometimes three, I turn to my husband and say, “Oh no.” Because you sat through my workshop or my Facebook diatribes or my blog posts or my Loser book and know what I think about the necessity of professional copyediting, and that I believe it’s not just about competence, it’s about respect for readers. Yet you slapped that book on me with a smile and a wink believing you will fool me and your readers with a self-edit or one done by your half-hearted critique group or even a cheapo or barter job done by a friend who is an English teacher or who does a little writing/editing on the side.

You won’t. We’re smarter than that. We’ve learned to expect more from writing. We don’t invest our time in crap that’s not ready to see publication.

You didn’t fool me.

My husband sighs. “The editing or writing?”

I count the obvious errors, the errors 95% of their readers will catch: misspellings, missing words, duplicative words, missing periods, incorrect spacing, incorrect capitalization. I count the less obvious ones: verb tense, subject-verb agreement, homonyms. All published books have errors, but good ones have only a few in 100,000 words. Yours has ten in the first ten pages. Not style issues, but errors. Distracting, gross, reader-insulting errors. Close-the-book errors.

Despite that, I keep reading, because you seem nice, and I am determined to find a well-conceived story in here somewhere, maybe even a well-crafted one. I want to like your book. I want to at least be able to give you a three-star review on Amazon, and an encouraging email wherein I refer you to a professional copyeditor. But your story is disjointed, your characters are brittle and their reactions are way off. Your plot bogs down, and your writing is cliche. You need a critique group, one your mother isn’t part of, one comprised of writers better than you. You need to study writing, take some classes, and you need to write hundreds of thousands more words before you publish again, because that’s how you learn to write well: by doing it until you get good at it and develop your voice.

“Both,” I tell him. I shake my head. “Both.”

“I’m sorry. You’ve got to tell them somehow. You’re not helping them if you pretend the emperor is dressed to the nines.”

“I know. But I don’t know how.”

Because I don’t want to hurt your feelings. This isn’t an abstract writer. It’s you, smiling and eager, and looking me in the eye. I like you.

Only I can’t believe you heard me talk about the criticality of professional copyediting (and developmental editing for the sake of your story) and still dumped this on me. Are you really that unaware? You can’t be. It wasn’t edited by a paid professional. You can’t not know that. It’s your book, and you didn’t write a check to anyone for editing. So I can only conclude that you don’t respect me as a reader and want to manipulate me.

And waste my time.

I sound harsh, I know. I mean, who am I to judge? I haven’t won a Pulitzer Prize. I’m not perfect nor is my writing, and I’ll never claim we are. You can still find a few errors in my books, because my (expensive) editor and team of 20+ proofreaders aren’t perfect either. But there is a difference between a well-edited, well-critiqued book by a writer who has put in the years and the work, and what you handed me. You and I both know that.

You are capable of better.

I wish I could tell you there is a short cut. That you are the exception, the writer who should publish every word you queef out from the age of ten, that you don’t need years of practice or editors. I can’t, though, because it’s just not true. You start by sucking. You work to suck less. You attain a level of diminished suckyness eventually redeemed only by the help of other writers and a professional editor(s) and proofreaders. That’s how this works.

And that’s what I’ll pay for. Not with just my money (and my money counts for something), but with my time. With my attention. With my online review under my own name, which is attached to my carefully-guarded reputation as a writer.

Your book? I skimmed through most of it, after I reached the “have to stop” point. I probably made it farther than most of your readers, because I care. And because I care, I can’t review it. I wouldn’t do that to you. If I can’t give you a three, I am not going to hurt you online by posting something lower. You also didn’t pay me to critique it or copyedit it, so I’m not going to send you back a marked-up copy. That’s your job, not mine. Mine was to read.

You can salvage this, though, if you pull the book down, rewrite it WITH HELP until it is truly ready (however many weeks or years that takes), and get it professionally edited before you republish it. {And I don’t want to hear that you don’t have the funds. Hold off on publishing until you do. There’s no need to rush. We don’t deserve you dumping this on us prematurely. Period.} You can save your good name and keep the potential readers who you hadn’t yet lured into this version of your book, who were otherwise destined to run from this book—and you—never to be seen within your pages again.

If you do that and emerge on the other side as a better writer with a book to be proud of, I’ll post that review. I swear I will.

Until then, unless you can be honest with me, and yourself, about what you didn’t do to get this book ready for publication, my silence will be your review. Implicit in it is this suggestion: find a community of writers, in person or virtual, to help you as you develop, through critique and education, and to provide references for great professional editing when your work is ready.

Oh, and in the meantime, I’m using your book as a door stop.

Pamela

Pamela Fagan Hutchins writes overly long e-mails, hilarious nonfiction, and series mysteries, like Whatpamela author portrait Doesn’t Kill You, which includes the bestselling Saving Grace and the 2015 WINNER of the USA Best Book Award for Cross Genre Fiction, Heaven to Betsy. She resides deep in the heart of Nowheresville, Texas and in the frozen north of Snowheresville, Wyoming. Pamela has a passion for great writing and smart authorpreneurship as well as long hikes with her hunky husband and pack of rescue dogs, traveling in the Bookmobile, and experimenting with her Keurig. She also leaps medium-tall buildings in a single bound (if she gets a good running start).

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28 Responses to The Uncomfortable Silence

  1. Wow. That was somewhat painful to read. And very, very necessary. Thanks for caring enough to shoot straight with all the other writers out there. I’d write a more eloquent comment, but I’ve GOT to run to the store or we’ll be starving come dinnertime this evening. 😉

    • Pamela says:

      Eloquent, and using a word I’d never typed before. Hopefully my mother will think it’s just a typo 🙂

      • I think I know which word you’re referring to, and I must confess I had to look it up, because I thought it was a typo. And I’m not your mother! 😉

        • Pamela says:

          It’s really a horribly rude word. I had to look up the spelling. That sentenced needed shock-and-awe though. So I gave it a little.

          • My daughter recently wrote a blog post (http://sempiternalheart.wordpress.com/2014/05/25/a-rant/) and used the word “bullshit” . . . same reasons. It’s not a regular part of her vocabulary, but she felt her subject required some “shock and awe,” too.

            (I know I’m her mother, but I think she did an excellent job sharing her thoughts on something very important to her. I invite you to stop by and read it!)

  2. Of course I feel the boot in MY butt. But I do think things worked out. And I made a forever friend with Rhonda Erb (the best copyeditor in the world).

    • Pamela says:

      Yay Rebecca!!!!!!!! We all learn the hard way the first time 🙂 at some point in our journey. And i think rhonda is fab too!

      • And I sure wish you had a “press this” button on this here blog because I’d love to share this with my blog followers. Yee Haw. (I don’t know why I’ve reverted to Texanisms)

        • Eric says:

          Hmm good idea. I’ll see if we can add and let you know tomorrow.

          • WordPress allows you to add a “Press This” button to your tool bar. I have it on mine and can “press this” on any blog I visit. It’s great, since it doesn’t require the blog you want to share with your followers to have the button. Takes you straight to your WordPress draft page, inserts a link to the blog you want to share and allows you to add whatever comments you’d like introducing the shared blog entry. Good luck!

          • Eric says:

            Thanks. Looking for it to add now.

      • rhonda says:

        You guys are making me blush. 🙂

    • rhonda says:

      Awww, shucks! Thanks, Rebecca!

  3. Olivia Flores Alvarez says:

    Thank you! When I bring up these same issues to writers, I’m dismissed as an overly-fussy reviewer or uppity reporter. These are real issues – I find the large number of errors in many indie books to be completely unacceptable. Not just as a reporter covering books and authors, as a reader. Indie authors, get a copy editor, please! I can’t find your great story under all of those misspelled words and screwy verb agreements.

    • Pamela says:

      It’s mind-boggling that people would sent books to you that are error-ridden. Don’t they understand they should be trying to impress you? It’s just not good enough unless it’s nearly perfect.

  4. Very well said Pamela! I’ll make sure to get my MS perfect before any submissions. Great article and thanks for putting it out there:)

  5. Megan LaFollett says:

    A round of applause for the frank challenge to indie authors! I will add that as a professional editor, I still pay someone else to edit and critique my writing. If I ever publish my own books, you can be sure I’ll add a copy editor to the process too! It is simply impossible to see my words and my story with the perspective that’s necessary for editing. After the third or fourth round of revisions, I can’t even see the typos anymore, and I’m a very careful writer.

    • Pamela says:

      Thanks, Megan. I so agree. And I also think that copyediting requires a particular skill set and a depth of knowledge that most writers never have the opportunity (or desire) to acquire.

  6. Gay Yellen says:

    Well-said.

  7. Deane Gremmel says:

    Last year I had an author contact me asking me to write a dust jacket blurb for his upcoming “dog” book. I had never heard of the guy so I checked him out on Amazon and discovered he had several books with 400 to 600+ reviews, most of them glowing. I figured the guy was legit since he was with a small publishing house and had because of the reviews. I agreed to write the blurb without even reading the book because I was so excited a “published” author had contacted little old me asking me to help! He sent me a fancy bound manuscript with nice cover art and I dived right in expecting to read something fabulous. I found one error out of the entire book, the formatting was nice, and I had no problems with the editing.

    I read and read, turned the pages faster not because it was engaging but because I kept waiting for something to happen. Nothing ever did. The poor dog was old and slept and peed a lot. I turned more pages, skipped entire paragraphs then pages, then skipped to the end.

    I agonized over whether or not to write a blurb because I would be using my author name, and I didn’t want to do anything to damage that because I’ve worked hard to establish my author name.

    I finally decided I should write one for him because I had said I would. I studied what authors had written for other books so tried to do something along those lines then submitted two to him. I guess my lack of enthusiasm showed because the guy didn’t use it for any of his promotional materials or in the front cover of the book.

    After the book was published I found out that he had some big names in the “dog” book genre who did write a glowing blurb. I couldn’t understand why those other authors wrote such glowing blurbs until I realized it was for free publicity.

    What is strange is that the book has over a hundred glowing 5 star reviews along with a few 4 star reviews, but has a ranking of around 250,000! Something fishy is going on with all those reviews.

    So…I feel your pain when someone asks for a review of their book. I’ve learned my lesson not to do something sight unseen for an author I have no connection with. For ones that I know then, yes I will help them with a nice review. If the book is decent then I’ve helped other readers make a decision to read it. If it’s not decent I don’t think the review matters because it won’t be read regardless.

    • Eric says:

      Man, do we feel YOUR pain. Those are some ouchylessons to learn.

  8. rhonda says:

    I love this, and not because I’m a copyeditor looking to make a fortune helping authors diminish their levels of suckyness. 🙂

    I have a theory that demographic of authors who try to skip the professional editing step has GOT to be primarily comprised of those who’ve never done it, because once you’ve put your manuscript through a the professional editing process, I can’t imagine ever turning back. Sure, it’s expensive. But I imagine the first time you see your beloved manuscript all marked up is a real eye-opener. It always surprises me how much I can mark up what seems like a pretty clean manuscript at first glance. I imagine the gut-wrenching horror a first-time author must feel when they open up their first professionally copyedited manuscript, expecting to find a few minor things they need to revise, only to find a manuscript so marked up they don’t even know where to begin getting it all pretty again. Then, once they dry their eyes and clean up the vomit and apologize to everyone they told to go far to the south of heaven, they start trudging through the revisions and comments and suggestions and realize the field of tulips they almost tip-toed through with their un-edited darling to the land of publication is really a landmine ready to blast them and their darling manuscript with bad reviews and rotten tomatoes.

    Okay, I got a little carried away. Anyway, the “I can’t believe I almost published that” feeling that’s bound to follow a first-timer for professional editing is probably a lesson that would stick with ya for a while. I can’t speak from experience on the author side; everything I’ve ever written is locked away with a password I can’t remember. 🙂

    I can only speculate from over here on the dark side. 🙂

    Oh, and thanks for the kudos, and for letting me be your copyeditor. It is truly an honor.

    • This blog post is wonderful and I love Rhonda’s reply even better since her information takes the post one step further.

      I feel cheated when I get a book (even if the book is free!) and the book is without editing or copy-editing. I want to love a book but I love stories and writing too much to suffer through suckyness. When I first read those books, I needed to break a habit I used to have of always reading till the end. But sloughing through till the end was impossible… the suckyness was too overwhelming.

      And then I sent my ‘perfect’ manuscript to a professional editor and, just like you said Rhonda, when I received the manuscript back I felt like a two ton block had dropped on my head. “But, but… my writing is perfect. How did you find so many things wrong…” And of course, fixing all that was wrong made my manuscript cleaner and even more perfect. (Please forgive errors in this post!)

      With the advent of e-books and self-publishing, it is so easy to get published. And, “Oh yes, you can make all this money by publishing and be the next J.K. Rowling”. But authors don’t know what needs to go into their book before throwing their baby out into the world. This post and reply are excellent reminders. Thanks to you both.

      • Eric Hutchins says:

        Very well said

    • Eric Hutchins says:

      That was perfect Rhonda.

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