Tuesday, August 16, 2011

When a Good Book goes Wrong


We've all heard horror stories about books that have gone wrong. Editing errors. Pages and sometime whole chapters left out. Just a lot of bad problems. So whose fault is it when things like this happen? The author, the editor or the publisher?

Yesterday I read an interesting conversation on a loop about this very thing with many chiming in on the subject so I thought I'd share my thoughts on the issue. As an author, when I sign on with a publisher I expect a number of things. I expect an editor to make sure my work is presented at its best, cover art, and support and promotion from my publisher. I expect my checks will arrive promptly when promised and that I will be treated with a businesslike respect. My job as an author is to make sure my work, when presented, is polished and as error-free as I can make it. Now let me say right off the bat that I have been so so very fortunate in having fantastic publishers and editors. I have zero complaints but I know many authors have trouble and let's face it, we often find our books 'downgraded' by review sites for editing or formatting mistakes. This isn't fair because it's not the authors job to edit. Our stories go from our editor (who has been hired by the publisher) to final line editors and then, ultimately to the publishers desk before a book goes out into the world to be purchased by readers.

So if a good book goes BAD, who is ultimately responsible? Well now, that is the million dollar question. Is it the author? No, probably not. If she has made a good faith effort to correct and polish and follow the advice of her editor she has delivered on her promise. Is it the editor? Maybe, but ultimately she was hired by the publisher for her expertise and it is the publisher's job to ensure she knows her stuff. I personally believe that anyone running a company has an obligation to make sure the cogs in the wheel are well-oiled and, for a publisher, that is to make sure each book that launches is as good as it can be. Yes, there are many bad editors and tons of shoddy publishing companies out there. It is my belief those folks won't be in business long. Word gets around. My best advice to writers is to talk with other authors, network like crazy until you find the perfect 'fit' for you and your work. There are plenty of pitfalls out there. As an author, you need to do your homework!

28 comments:

Harlie Reader said...

Morning Regina. One of the loops I'm on is talking about this very thing right now. There is no mention of the publisher but I have noticed it more in print than in ebook.

Dréa riley said...

YAY REGINA, you are so right IMO! and you already know how i feel on the topic

Molly Daniels said...

Yup...this happened with my 2nd book. I did not do my homework and the person who recommended me did not warn me in time before she and others left.

chirth7 said...

Hi Regina! You almost took the words right out of my mouth. lol It should never fall on the author that's for sure!! If the publisher is the Top dog, I sure hope they read their Editors work often to make sure it's still up to par. Or else they are going on blind faith. Of course New writers coming on probably (just guessing here) means they need more editors and how can the author be sure that editor is great at what they do? It's not their job, but I would hope the publisher and a group of other's should be reading that first book and everyone making sure the new editor didn't screw it up I guess.

I have 2 questions:

Is there a small group of readers who work for the company & give those opinion's one might find on a review site? Before the book hit's shelves?

I can't remember the second one now. maybe I'll come back if I think of it. lol

Thanks I loved talking on the subject, it's interesting. I read reviews before I buy and I see these type all the time. I think most of those are just super picky! Or I've just never read a Book gone wrong before.

Christine

Tess MacKall said...

Hmmm...I monitored that discussion yesterday. Very interesting. Was too sick to chime in. But I'm feeling better today. lol So expect a long long long comment from me. LOL

I honestly believe, unless there is hanky panky involved (I'll explain that later), that the publisher and author must share equally in the responsibility for a badly edited and formatted book.

An author should know enough about the writing craft to realize they are getting a shoddy edit. That the publisher has hired a less than qualified individual to edit. And as a result, yell loud and clear. Yep, an author may have to deal with that edit and have their book released with the shoddy edits because of being contractually obligated--BUT!!! That's where being a savvy author comes into play.

It's not just a matter of learning the writing craft--the general mechanics of writing. An author needs to be aware of the business end of things as well. Research publishers! KNOW which publisher gives a thorough edit and which one doesn't.

Newbies? "Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me." BEEN THERE, DONE THAT!When a new author gets screwed, they should figure out how it happened and not let it happen again.

I know that sounds harsh. But hell, do we let people take advantage of us that way in our everyday lives...OR is it just in the publishing industry that we roll over and play dead?

As for publishers, of course, it's ultimately their fault. Either they are unscrupulous, or unqualified to be in business in the first place, or they are plain old not taking care of business. All of which is simply inexcusable.

AND? What about hanky panky?...Yep, sabotage happens. Had it happen to me. I proved my editor wrong a few years back. Did it in a nice way, but still...I could NOT allow her to have it HER way. HER way was wrong. I knew what I was talking about and stuck to my guns. As a result? Well, my book went through edits, proofing, etc. But the editor had the last word. My book came out and there were ALL kinds of mistakes. It had to have been done AFTER proofing. And it was NOT a formatting issue at all. For instance, would I repeatedly type "sock" instead of "cock"? NOPE.

Everyone should keep in mind that not all publishers and not all editors are created equally. That's a fact.

Amber Skyze said...

This is such a great post. Authors have to do a great deal of research before signing on with a publisher.

Elece said...

Good morning, Regina!! That a heck of a question you ask. I'm a nobody in the writing world (as of yet ;0) ), but I'll still put in my two cents. I think as a writer, you should have a pretty darn good idea how to write "technically" correct and make sure what you send to your editor is, as you said, as error proof as you can make it. IE: crit partner and your own scrupulous eyes. I don't think it's fair to send it to the next phase, the editor, to "fix" shoddy work that the author didn't have enough respect for their editor or the readers who will eventually purchase it.

Once the editor has it in there hands...well, now it's their job and the job of the publisher to do what they should ultimately be good at.

All in all, I think if you're in a good fit for you and everyone takes pride in their work, the story the public reads, they'll love!! (Given it's a great story ;0)) There will always be mistakes...we are all only human. But striving for perfection is what separates the best from the rest!!

chirth7 said...

love reading everyones opinions and I think everyones sounds right. lol :)

Jen B. said...

I have wondered about where to place the "blame". The thing is, with the exception of hanky panky on purpose, I think the responsibility falls a little bit on everyone involved. The thing is, mistakes happen. Someone needs to step up to the plate and work toward fixing the issues. What galls me is when the errors are massive but the publisher says "oh well". Huh? I just paid for a book your company published and that's your answer? Or, equally bad, the publisher site has a statement saying go see the author site. Really? Again, you are the publishers. I shouldn't have to jump through hoops here.

What really intrigues me about this question is self-publishing. At that point, the author takes on the full brunt of errors. If an author really does their research and finds a good editor then it can work. But, my decision is still out about the concept. I think the publishing industry is going to have to change in order for self publishing to work. I have read some self published work that was really well done and some that hurt my eyes to read!

Great topic.

Desiree Holt said...

This is a subject that goes on forever. I have seen it more and more in print boosk altely, maybe because in that part of the industry they have become less conscientious or feel they need to be? In any event, sometimes it's just errors of human nature. A book seen by FIVE PAIRS OF EYES can still release with some minor errors. Because we are all human and all we can do is our very best. As long as we as authors do our best to turn in a clean manuscript and trust our editors and publishers I think that's all we can do.

Maria said...

I agree with Tess -

That said I think authors need to realize publishers, at least print authors, are under tremendous pressure to create profits for their stockholders and are making some business decisions which ultimately damage them in the long run, they are cutting back on staff and expecting them to do more and more work for the same amount of money. There is also the issue of "jobs" that are done at printers and not the publishers and some of those have been outsourced which is another problem on its own. I'm not exusing the publishers but I think some authors (not giving names) have gotten lazy or have always been allowed to get away with a certain amount of shoddy grammar issues and now it's gotten out of control. As a reader - I know I expect to at least be able to read a story and follow the plot without having a "what just happened" vibe.

anny cook said...

And I would point out one other issue...just because you start with a "good" publisher, doesn't mean that publisher/editor/etc. will maintain the same high standards. It's up to the author to be constantly aware of their business relationships. All things change over time...

Ashlyn Chase said...

Great post, Regina.

I couldn't agree more. I read a reviewer's POV on a blog yesterday where she came right out and said she hated bad editing and hated it so much she took it out on the author's rating in the review! How is that right?

I always go over my final product (as final as they give it to me) but there are still changes made after that.

Regina Carlysle said...

Wow...just came home to lots and lots of comments! yay! Ya'll rock.

Hey Harley! I think this problem exists with both ebook and print publishers.

Regina Carlysle said...

I DO know how you feel, Drea and thanks for commenting. We agree on this topic. Others may have opposing views on the matter but in the end, if an author is troubled by how her books are edited and how her publisher reacts to the 'hot mess' then she needs to shop around for a new place.

Regina Carlysle said...

Molly honey, most of us have either 'been there, done that' or have friends in this kind of mess. Best thing is to learn from those mistakes and in the future ask lots and lots of questions before signing on the dotted line.

Regina Carlysle said...

Christine, I'm so glad you came over to play. I think basically it is up to the author to investigate various publishers before even subbing a manuscript. Once she is satified the pub is top notch and is accepted, then she is placing her trust there that the editing will be good. Often even great publishers will have editors who fall short but if the publisher is on the ball, the author can always contact someone for a 'heart to heart' and see if another editor might be a better fit for her. IMO good publishers are very open to these kinds of discussions. They want things to go smoothly for the author (and for themselves).

Regina Carlysle said...

Tess, I agree with you. I DO think that if an author is writing the best work she can, fixing errors and polishing THEN following through with edits that are suggested, then mistakes that happen afterwards are not necessarily her fault. Yes, we have to be diligent and on top of things but if a pub releases a 'freak show' into the public on your behalf then BAD ON THEM.


I very much agree with you about sabatoge. I know there are lots of publishers (small ones) who are very new, low on money and simply can't afford to pay much for editors so they hire editors who are also authors. I don't really believe this is a good practice. It's unavoidable for many of these small publishers but DAMN. How is a new author to know this woman really knows her stuff. I am a multi published author yet fully realize I am NO EDITOR. I want someone who knows what the hell she's doing. I believe the practice of hiring author/editors is bad news. Sometimes it works out but it's hard to know.

Regina Carlysle said...

Amen, Amber! New writers? Old writers? Do your damn research and ask questions. Get to know other writers and if you are on a loop, simply ask the question...Does anyone have any information on publisher XYZ? If so, please email me privately. You are sure to get some valuable information. Authors are generous people and willing to share.

Regina Carlysle said...

You are so right, Elece. Hunker down and write your best story. Find critique partners who honestly care about seeing you succeed. Fix that baby up, polish it until it shines and then carefully decide among the sea of publishers out there who will be great to work with. Mainly do your research. Talk to other authors. There is more to being a working author than simply writing a great book. Learn the business end of things. How to promote, what to expect, how to deal with thorny issues, etc. It all works hand in hand. For a new writer, it's a scary big world out there but you'll get by with a little help from your friends. Yes...just had to quote the Beatles here! LOL

Regina Carlysle said...

Jen, I firmly believe that if an author has done her job and still after numerous run-throughs in the editing process have happened, the responsibility lies with the publisher. That old phrase "the buck stops here' is true in publishing as in any other kind of business. I know of several instances where a mistake was found in a 'just released' book and the publisher would immediately address the mistake and fix it. This is easily done in epublishing and not so easily fixed in print. Yet another reason why ebooks are so awesome.

As to self publishing, many of us are checking this out. When something is self published I believe the author is the Master of her Own Ship. She chooses her editor (and she'd best choose wisely). If there are mistakes, it's on her shoulders. Buying self pubbed stories? I would think readers will still follow their tried and true favorites. Every brand new writer still has to build up a following and readers are ultimately taking a chance on each new writer they buy. So new writers have the extra burden of writing a totally top notch book and promoting the hell out of it. That is the best way to gain new readers.

Regina Carlysle said...

True, Desiree. Minor errors HAPPEN. Nobody is perfect here. I believe errors might be harder to fix when a book goes to print with a big NY publisher. Most recently we've talked about the big name author whose book was released with missing scenes and even chapters. How on EARTH does something like that get by a publisher? Crazy. I've also heard (and don't know if it's at ALL true) that there are big name authors who aren't even edited...they are just released as is. Hmmm. Sounds pretty janky to me.

Regina Carlysle said...

I agree to an extent, Maria. Publishers have all KINDS of issues to deal with and still try to turn a profit. Bottom line is this, if they can't handle these issues and still oversee the product they are selling, they need to shut their doors.

Regina Carlysle said...

You're so right, Anny. Things DO change and the author needs to be cautious if she senses things are not working for her. There are lots and lots of options for writers these days. If I had a longtime hairdresser who I liked personally but failed to deliver what I've asked for, then it's time to find a new hairdresser. This is true for any business. If there are problems or your publisher isn't listening, then simply take your work where the fit is better.

Regina Carlysle said...

That stuff ticks me off too, Ash. It happens every day where an author has done everything right. She has polished to the best of her ability, cheerfully gone through the editing process, etc. yet a small error (usually chalked up to editing) will cost the author on a review. It's not right. Not fair. When I see an author marked down for an editing mistake I often wonder if the reviewer is even qualified to assume there is an editing mistake? It has been my experience that no two editors are exactly the same.

Once I was marked down for an 'editing mistake' and roughly an hour after the review was posted, the 'reviewer' wrote me a private email to pitch her 'editing services'. Ohhhh boy.

Billy London said...

An author can do as much as possible, but proofreaders and editors are there for a reason. Even when an author self publishes, an editor is hired to make sure that work is up to snuff. Its only ever the author who gets blamed because its the author's name on the front of the book. A publisher should take note that its their name and their reputation too, so they should be just as concerned as the author to put out the best product possible. That's what I think anyways.

Regina Carlysle said...

I agree, Billy. This is why it's so important for an author to do her homework before sending something to a publisher. There are so damn many horror stories out there about bad editing, late checks, delayed releases and bad covers. When your name is on the book don't you want to find a publisher who'll work hard on BOTH your behalves? I think so.

Casey said...

I agree with Tess in saying a good finished product is the responsibility of both the author and publisher. I also think authors need to be able to back up their work. I have a friend that wrote a historical with an Irish heroine during Prohibition. When her editor came back saying this and that was wrong, the author fortunately had documented and kept her research to prove she was right!