#SaystheEditor: A Mistake’s a Mistake


With two degrees in creative writing, I have long struggled to break into the world of publishing. Back in grad school, we were expected to submit our writing to publications — usually literary magazines, as most MFA students focus on short stories — and were even offered free postage (as this was in the Dark Ages, before online submissions). When self-publishing began to be recognized as great for niche works, I turned to it for my own fiction. After all, Rock Fiction historically doesn’t sell well, according to the agents and acquiring editors I spoke with at the time.

Of course, self-publishing continues to be looked down on to this day, although usually by the establishment and readers who are so  burned out on poorly edited books, they can’t see the redwoods in a forest of weeds. I get some of those arguments; I daily see errors that wouldn’t have been made if the author had hired me to work on their book.

Maybe it’s because I’m an editor that keeps me attuned to the small stuff, even when reading books published by the big publishing houses. The one I’m going to pick on now was put out by Grand Central Publishing, which is an imprint of Hachette. It’s a print copy and I have no idea where it came from; it’s been on my shelves for well over five years. Possibly ten. All I can tell you is that it looks like it’s never been read, even now after I’ve read it.

It’s the details we’re focusing on today, so let’s get started. Like when the female lead gets into her friend’s Acura and slides over into the driver’s seat. This actually happens more than once, and both times, I wanted to scream. Would have, too, except it would scare the cats and then I’d have Scared Cat Toenail marks in my legs. Blood usually accompanies those, so … forget it. No screaming, no matter how frustrated I got.

Here’s why: I have had four Acuras in my life, dating back to the 1997 model I leased in ’96. I’ve got two right now. My family and friends have owned Acuras since the original Integra debuted in 1986. And I have never been in an Acura that had a front seat configuration that let a passenger slide across the seat. Hell, I’ve done the climb from bucket seat to bucket seat and let me tell you, it’s hairy, even for a short, flexible woman like myself.

Small? Stupid? Sure. But you know what else? The author could have easily checked this for herself by going to an Acura dealer and trying to slide across the seat in all the models on the showroom floor. She could have researched how Acuras are different from Hondas and realized that the Acura line benefits from the race care technology the company has developed. Race cars are built with cockpits that protect the driver. Sliding around in a race car is a bad thing. Sliding around on a car going around a tight turn is a bad thing. See how that works?

It’s the small details. The romance features a Secret Service agent. You really think that if she were my client, after reading the gaffe with the Acuras, I wouldn’t shoot an e-mail to a buddy of mine who is former Secret Service? Because, frankly, I doubt that any Secret Service agent who wants to keep his job would be given the slip by the president’s daughter. Knowing the author’s already been sloppy, I have a harder time suspending disbelief for the sake of the story.

Oh, and someone should tell both the author and her editor at the big fancy publishing house that Phi Beta Kappa isn’t a sorority. It’s not a fraternity, and it’s not something a person can rush. It’s an honors society, formed at the College of William and Mary in 1776.

THAT mistake reveals more about the author and her editor than I think either wanted the world to know…

And we’ll leave it at that, except to say that yes, mistakes happen. Every publisher, whether it be a big corporation or an author him/herself. We all make mistakes.

Just don’t go vilifying an entire subset of the publishing industry for something endemic across the industry.


Now, all this said, mistakes do happen. Yes, I’d have caught these sloppy attempts at research, but I’m sure there are other details I’ve let slip. I do trust my authors to a degree, and as an editor, I make no claims to catch every mistake you make. I’m not liable if something you say isn’t true, and I’m pretty up front about that. However, I’m also not a big publishing house with the funding — one would assume, although in today’s climate, all bets are off — to hire fact checkers. Because you’d think that a company interested in earning millions would care enough about the quality of the work they put their name on. I sure do.


1 Comment

  1. Dana Griffin

    October 16, 2014 2:09 pm

    Don’t get me started when there is a book that has aviation in it. Almost always things happen that COULD NOT or WOULD NOT in a real airplane.

    I agree with you on the editing. I try to support the indies by making my reading choices fifty percent an Indie author. There are some authors that hold me captivated through out and I read more of that writer’s work. There are some I never finish before moving onto another. But its not just Indies. If I give a traditionally published authors I’ve never read a chance, sometimes their book goes to the never finished pile for lack of story engagement.

    I can overlook a few misspellings, or wrong tense issue, but when the author tries to pull me along on a ridiculous journey, I too wish their editor had worked harder with them.

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