Master the Craft of Writing

Paintbrushes* Why It’s More Important Than Ever

I could be wrong, but I believe we’re moving into an era in which high quality, intensive pre-publication editing is going to be harder and harder to come by. While many publishers are still doing a tremendous job in this area, others have cut their editorial staffs and are spending less time and money on editorial. On top of that, many of you will be going the indie publishing route, in one way or another, within the next few years. The amount of editing you can get for your work will be limited by what you can afford or are willing to pay.

All of this adds up to more books getting into readers’ hands without benefit of the level of tender loving care that used to be considered normal.

Why does it matter?

Because readers can tell the difference.

They may not be able to identify why they’re not compelled by a book. Maybe they can’t point out there is too much narrative and not enough action and dialogue. They might not be able to articulate that the story is boring because the protagonist’s conflict is all internal and isn’t balanced by compelling external conflict. Your reader might not be able to point out that your paragraph structures lack variety or that you often use passive constructions that deaden your writing.

BUT.

They know when a book is good enough to not only finish, but recommend to their friends. They know when a book was amazing or “meh” or awful. They may not always know why, but they know.

They also know when there are typos or elementary mistakes in grammar or punctuation. And in those online reviews, they’re vocal about these kinds of mistakes.

So this means the burden is on you to keep working on craft. Keep studying plot and structure, character building and dialogue. Proofread carefully before delivering a draft—whether to an agent on submission, to your publisher, or to the file you’re uploading for your e-book. And get the best editing and/or proofreading help you can afford.

The quality of your writing IS going to determine if people want to read what you write. And more and more, the quality control will be your responsibility.

How much do you think writing quality and editorial excellence determines readers’ response to a book?

Posted in

Rachelle Gardner

Literary agent at Books & Such Literary Agency. Coffee & wine enthusiast (not at the same time) and dark chocolate connoisseur. I've worked in publishing since 1995 and I love talking about books!

74 Comments

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  5. Lori on October 20, 2011 at 11:13 AM

    how do writers choose an editor when they themselves aren’t savvy enough to edit their own work? how do they know their book has been edited well?



    • Victoria Mixon on October 20, 2011 at 1:10 PM

      That’s an excellent question, Lori.

      There are a zillion folks out there right now advertising themselves as ‘editors,’ but only a small handful actually have the experience and expertise to edit. I can list the ones I know of personally on one hand.

      I’ve been asked this question so many times I put it in my FAQ series. The short answer? *Research.* Read the ‘editor’s’ blog, read their books if they’ve written them, ask them questions about craft on Twitter or in their comments. And–hot on the heels of the Terrell Mims debacle–always be sure to read their About page! Lots of people with backgrounds in sales are marketing themselves as editors and writing mentors these days. Marketing themselves is what they’re good at. But if they’ve never written or edited professionally, they’re still just salespeople.

      Be aware, also, that editing is not only catching grammar and typos. Typos make it into everyone’s manuscript, and proofreading is extremely low-level work.

      The ‘great storytelling’ everyone’s talking about is developed over multiple drafts, and, yes, an excellent developmental editor can make all the difference between a story that’s pretty good (or even bad, as Anne Lamott has pointed out that we all write ‘shitty first drafts’) and a story that lives forever in the reader’s imagination.

      Rachelle is always a pleasure to read, of course, but when she summarized this complex issue so succinctly she really outdid herself.



  6. Dave Bricker on October 20, 2011 at 11:12 AM

    Thanks for your valuable post. I’m a self-publisher and publishing educator and greatly support the need for top-quality editing. For many self-publishers, the $25/page (and higher) fees for a professional editor are a barrier to entry, especially in cases where the book is unlikely to ever earn back its costs of publication. From the perspective of simple business metrics, foregoing a professional editor may not be a matter of choice. From the perspective of the value of excellence, foregoing an editor isn’t an option. How to reconcile this? I offer some suggestions on my publishing blog at http://onehourselfpub.com/self-editors Comments are welcome as this is an important issue for writers.



  7. Writing on the Ether on October 20, 2011 at 6:03 AM

    […] agent Rachelle Gardner who also places the burden of craft where it belongs, on the writer, in her Master the Craft of Writing: More books (are) getting into readers’ hands without benefit of the level of tender loving care […]



  8. Janet on October 18, 2011 at 1:09 PM

    A manuscript needs numerous types of editing – even one written by the best of authors. When I am the person pounding out the words, I already know at least the bare bones of the story and what words I intend to put on the page. However, that’s no assurance that I am conveying all that accurately to my reader. There’s a nasty little trick the brain plays, however: I tend to see what I meant to write instead of what is actually on the page, making self-editing an imperfect process.

    Instead, I swap editing favors with a couple of other authors. We look at things like content, flow, pacing, formatting, grammar, spelling – anything, really, that interferes with our enjoyment of the read. Then we swap manuscripts and go back to work making edits and rewriting. A couple of rounds of this and the work starts really coming together. It’s actually easy to accept this type of criticism because we each have the other’s success and best interests at heart, so we know the comments we receive are intended to polish our respective products.

    After this process is completed, I think it’s worth the investment to get a professional eye on it for that final touch. I hate nothing more than to be disappointed by a poorly crafted book – and I love nothing more than being thoroughly absorbed by an excellently written one.

    This may be an old-fashioned view, but I think as authors we owe it to our readers and to future generations to produce extremely well-written literature. We really don’t want the standard of excellence to be set so low that acceptance of bad writing becomes the new norm because of technology, do we?



  9. JenniferB on October 18, 2011 at 10:48 AM

    As a reader, I want readability.

    I’ve checked out a few promising looking self-published ebooks, and I’ve been mostly disappointed. The three I’m thinking of as I write this had good stories and characters – the writers had talent. However, awkward sentence structures and phrasing and odd word choices made two of the three unreadable. Grammar and spelling were actually okay, but these ebooks definitely needed the skilled eye of an editor. The story was promising, but the writing was just too green.

    So, it isn’t just grammar and spelling (but numerous errors on this front put me off, too).

    Formatting is also an issue. It is distracting to have large white spaces in the middle of the ereader screen, misplaced chapter headings, etc.

    I think I would forgive a writer more for a well crafted novel with a good story than a poorly crafted novel with a great story. I don’t want to work that hard to read a novel; there are way too many books to read.



  10. Jodi Janz on October 18, 2011 at 1:34 AM

    I have been struck lately by how many books I have read with simple spelling or grammars errors in them. I don’t remember seeing this trend in the past so much as I do now. As a starting out writer I don’t knock the system – only that is seems more prevalent than before.



  11. Jenny Hilborne on October 18, 2011 at 12:03 AM

    This is so true. While I’ve read some pretty amazing independently published books recently, the last few were littered with errors and poor character development and clearly lacked proper editing. I’ll not be reading those authors again, and it does make me a lot pickier about the types of books I want to read. Those that don’t take the appropriate time to properly prepare a book for publication make it harder for those that do.



  12. Cecelia Dowdy on October 18, 2011 at 12:02 AM

    Yes, quality editing is extremely important, especially in fiction. I know readers won’t always know WHY they may not feel compelled to read a book, but, proper editing is just further insurance that your book will be a winner among more readers. Thanks for sharing this insightful blog post.
    ~Cecelia Dowdy~



  13. Roger Floyd on October 17, 2011 at 11:01 PM

    Good point. With the rise in self-publishing, we’re going to get inundated with books that the authors think are good enough, but that, without the effort of a good editor, are really trash. I’ve been working at learning the craft of writing for over ten years now, and perhaps I’ve mastered it, perhaps not. I’ll send it to an agent or editor and find out. I’d send you a query letter but you don’t do sci-fi. You’ll just have to read my book when it comes out.



  14. Brian on October 17, 2011 at 10:16 PM

    If I have to pay for my own editing services, then I’m going to self-publish. Paying for cover art isn’t that much more, and laying out a book in Adobe Indesign is not rocket science since novels are all text.

    The economics stop making sense if I don’t break out as a NY Times Bestseller. And what bookstores will sell my print copies? I’ve heard of writers that I can’t even get their books into Barnes and Noble. It’s not like they stock a lot of books.

    Why deal with the frustration of NY publishers insanely slow process? Plus, amazon is starting their own imprints, and since amazon has real sales numbers, they can help out authors out a lot more.

    NY publishing is a sinking ship.



  15. Kristin Laughtin on October 17, 2011 at 8:47 PM

    So true! Even my friends who read 1-2 books a year can recognize bad writing when they see it. They may not be able to articulate what’s wrong with it, other than it not being believable (which has led to some interesting experiments), but they sure do mock or shy away from it.

    Besides, it’s a competitive world out there. We’re going to need all those craft points to make it, if not to maintain some pride in our work.



  16. Gael Lynch on October 17, 2011 at 8:39 PM

    Whoa, Matthew. Nobody’s throwing the baby out with the bath water anywhere that I’ve seen. I teach in New England, and we’re still very attached to the Columbia Writer’s Workshop model, Nancie Atwell and Linda Reiff. I wouldn’t say any of us are so enamored with the high stakes testing that’s been put on our plate, but we are required to play by the rules.

    I stopped by to simply say I do agree whole heartedly about the need for the grammar check! The kids in my classroom get a lifesaver for every error they find in a book. I do expect them to prove that the error was not a practical use of author’s license in demonstrating their character’s distinctive voice. They’re not exactly Random House ready, but more and more, I’ve noticed they’re either getting better, or the payrolls in publishing houses are getting worse! Great post, Rachelle. Thank you!



    • Matthew Kreider on October 17, 2011 at 10:03 PM

      Gael — Thanks for adding your comment. It’s not my intention to make a hasty generalization. Financial or professional, limited resources can choke education into unbecoming behavior. But this certainly is not always the case. The larger point, though, is that there are factors at work choking both writers and publishers. We all need to concentrate more on our writing — in order to keep breathing.



  17. Matthew Kreider on October 17, 2011 at 7:09 PM

    This message also speaks to me as a high school English teacher. The current worship of standardized testing has been revising our hymnbook. Not only are teachers spending less time on verses of fiction, they’re paying less attention to the old refrains of grammar.

    More and more, an emphasis on decoding cross-curricular nonfiction now commands their vision. In the process, the actual writing process, for students, runs the risk of becoming stamped and standardized into submission.

    We can argue merits and misfortunes until they fit into boxes. But there is a greater test for our culture: Will we keep writing sacred? Will we maintain a sense of writing as a form of worship? Because when we learn to listen closely, we hear a compelling voice — until we are moved, as writers, to seek craft AND kingdom first.



  18. Melissa Pearl on October 17, 2011 at 7:05 PM

    Amen to this post!

    I couldn’t agree more. It is so vital. The one thing that worries me most about indie publishing, is that people are able to put stuff out there, which should not be out there.

    I am determined to ALWAYS present my absolute best and may my friends slap me if that ever changes 🙂



  19. Sue T on October 17, 2011 at 6:28 PM

    You know, pretty much everyone is saying that for them, lack of proofing/editing matters. I’ll bet it does but I suspect that most of us are writers so we are “trained” to notice this stuff whereas as average reader does not. And I’m not disparaging readers – I’m just saying that while I’d like to think that books/authors who have poorly edited books will (I don’t want to say fail but that is the right word for now) fail, I don’t believe they will because readers aren’t always nearly as discriminating as we author/readers are. I don’t know if I’m making any sense – I’ve read/heard of these poorly edited or not edited at all books and yet they still sell well. And, then, you have a well-known author, Lauren Dane, who apparently is putting out books that are really bad (not story-telling but editing, etc.) and yet, she’ll continue to be published and readers that love her will continue to buy her. If it really mattered, books that are that bad would never see the light. Yet they do. I hold the author AND the publisher/agent responsible.



    • Joseph Baran on October 17, 2011 at 6:35 PM

      Yes, you’re making plenty of sense.



  20. Joseph Baran on October 17, 2011 at 6:22 PM

    Was anybody ever asked for help by a foreigner who only spoke broken English? Would we not try to help the person instead of just ignoring them? Of course we would listen to them!

    I believe the same applies to a good novel. If it is an emotional story, it will draw the reader in despite its occasional typos or errors. The reader will read it because he or she will care about its characters and what happens to them in the end.

    If we like the book, we’ll put up with its mistakes, just like we put up with our friends and neighbors whose English is less than perfect but we still like to socialize with them.

    On the other hand, what do all those typos and errors say about the publisher? Isn’t their name and reputation going to be tarnished in time to come?



  21. Jonathan on October 17, 2011 at 6:18 PM

    I find that the editing is important because of exactly what you mention. An inexperienced reader may not know it was bad (or lack) of editing that made them not like something, or even that good editing made it better, but they do instictively know that it was good or not.

    Personally, I have written to more than a few authors, including Clive Cussler and Arthur C. Clarke, to point out bad editing in their books and had them both write personal letters back to me apologizing for the bad editing (obviously it’s been a few years since I did this).



  22. S. Wiersma on October 17, 2011 at 5:27 PM

    Before I knew much about the craft of writing, I could tell when a book rubbed me the wrong way, but I couldn’t put to words why. Now I have a much better idea! Grammatical errors and what-not bug me, but I’m an editor. 😉



  23. Kristy Ks on October 17, 2011 at 5:27 PM

    YES! At this point, I’m more of a reader than a writer, and I have stopped reading certain books because the writing just stinks! While it’s nice that we have access to more books via ebooks and self-publishing, it’s obvious that the quality of writing is suffering.



  24. Jill on October 17, 2011 at 3:44 PM

    We are entering strange times, for sure. I wonder if, after time has allowed most self-pubbed and traditionally pubbed books to fall into the universal rubbish bin,the lasting works of art will be found in self-publishing. I say this because there’s a certain rawness to the self-pubbed artistic vision because it hasn’t been plasticized for mass marketing. Granted, the poorly edited works will most likely be forgotten (except maybe by linguistic historians). But those that are artistic and well-crafted might just rise to the top of the heap. Maybe not. It’s just a thought.



  25. Martha Carr on October 17, 2011 at 2:00 PM

    Great post – I’ve been editing manuscripts for years and often the fixes for a good writer aren’t complicated but they take a good story and bring it into a really good read. Good editors have also taught me to be a better writer from the first word.



  26. Charles Specht on October 17, 2011 at 1:56 PM

    I have just been offered a contract by a small publishing company and this is one of my concerns…editing. I’m not overly concerned about things like punctuation (hopefully I won’t need to), but their ability to suggest quality changes to things like plot and restructuring paragraphs and/or chapters concerns me. I have been researching them and the books they’ve put out seem pretty good, so hopefully their editing team will be good to go. We’ll see…



  27. Dianne Liuzzi Hagan on October 17, 2011 at 1:49 PM

    I’m fortunate to have an ex-sister-in-law who is a top rate editor, and she edited my work very carefully and I was so appreciative. I’m a very careful self-editor, but you still need that other eye and someone who can say “This didn’t make sense,” “I don’t believe this sentence.” I ended up restructuring two chapters, too, based on her feedback. It is so helpful, and I know my book is ready, no matter which path I end up taking.



  28. TC Avey on October 17, 2011 at 1:25 PM

    I know errors/typo’s occur, they can slip by the most careful of eyes, but when I am reading a book and encounter some form of error I tend to judge the book harshly. That is not fair, I wouldn’t want my book to be judge harshly, but I still find myself doing it.
    However, there are some books that are SO good I can overlook a typo(s).



  29. Mike Duran on October 17, 2011 at 1:11 PM

    Rachelle, this post is timely for me. It is startling how many aspiring authors challenge your basic assumption: that craft matters. They cite subjectivity. “Mediocrity is in the eye of the beholder.” They point out how much (what they consider) crap makes the best-seller list. It just seems like a poorly-veiled smokescreen to avoid criticism and justify their own writing.



  30. Lindsay Harrel on October 17, 2011 at 12:58 PM

    Thanks for the post, Rachelle. It was very informative. I wasn’t aware that some publishing houses were moving away from the normal emphasis on the editorial role.

    As a professional editor myself, I can’t read anything without seeing the errors in it. I admit that I think less of the publisher who produced the book (not necessarily the writer, because it’s hard to edit your own work and find mistakes in your own writing) and lose a bit of respect, which then affects my outlook on the book as a whole. I’m not saying I can’t enjoy a story if it has a few typos or errors. But if they are pervasive, it just seems sloppy and distracting.

    Does anyone know what a good professional editor charges for editing a novel? When I finish mine, I’m considering having it edited (because, again, it’s difficult to edit your own work!), but wasn’t sure how much money to put aside.



  31. Daniel F. Case on October 17, 2011 at 12:45 PM

    Craft is extremely important, but craft without a great story is like a master chef putting a finely-crafted sauce on an old shoe. I’ve read books that were mediocre in terms of craft but still told a compelling story–a story good enough to overcome the lack of good editing. How much better could that story have been if told with excellent craft?

    Just as important, IMHO, are accuracy and authenticity in the details of the story. When a reader is familiar with a setting or situation and it doesn’t feel real, it’s easy to lose that reader forever. Example: My wife recently told me of an Amish story she read that has a scene where a husband helps his wife with her zipper. Anyone who’s been through ‘Bonnet Fiction 101’ should know that the Amish don’t use zippers. Completely threw her out of the story.

    Yes, she finished the book–but only to see if the author displayed further ignorance of the world in which the story was set so she could tell her husband the writer. 🙂

    D.



  32. Alisha on October 17, 2011 at 12:23 PM

    This is a timely post! I am currently reading the newest offering from a secular YA author who is numerous books into her bestselling career. As I read it, I am truly puzzled at the completely evident lack of good editing throughout the book, put out by a fairly prolific publishing company. As was mentioned above, the type-o’s have slowed me way down and I’m having a hard time enjoying the story. But not just that, it is full of the kind of writing issues you mentioned in the post, Rachelle. I keep wondering, how do multitudinous problems like these, in one book, make it past so many checkpoints to hit a shelf? It didn’t make sense until I read what you shared today. The saddest part about this book is that it’s for teens and young adults, who don’t always notice that kind of stuff, and they are fueling it’s rise to bestseller status. It makes it seem like writing poorly, and bad editing, are not important because you can still be a bestseller. I believe, as a hopeful author for the YA market, that modeling not just good storytelling, but excellent mechanics and writing skill, are so important for young readers of Generation Text. Thanks for keeping us in check about honing our craft!



    • Alisha on October 17, 2011 at 12:26 PM

      And of course, I used a “it’s” where I was supposed to use a “its”! See! SELF-EDITING is a MUST!!!



  33. Sarah Thomas on October 17, 2011 at 12:18 PM

    Writing quality and editorial excellence are crucial to a book’s success. I’ve encountered great ideas poorly executed that I just had to give up on. There are RARE exceptions–e.g. The Shack–that succeed in spite of mediocre writing/editing. But those are very few and far between. I cringe a little when a book with little editing does well. It becomes a flag for everyone who wants to just write the book and be done to wave.



  34. Maril Hazlett on October 17, 2011 at 12:06 PM

    I completely agree. It takes an enormous culture of care to produce a good book, and I don’t think many writers realize the extent of it.

    And editing – well, it can happen in so many layers, too. There is content and developmental editing, for the structural issues. Copy editing and line editing. And then, after all that is dealt with, the proofreading… books are art on many levels, and they benefit from many eyes and a team approach.

    I agree. Quality requires attention and hard work.



  35. Casey on October 17, 2011 at 11:47 AM

    I think it is very important when it comes editing our work. It’s my biggest fear about submitting (which I have yet to do) is making sure my work is as good as I can possibly make it. And until that day comes I won’t be sending my work out to anything but contests. Content and the value of it is too important to me.



  36. joan Cimyotte on October 17, 2011 at 11:32 AM

    This is such an important post. For me, it is very important. If I read something that is loaded with mistakes and typos, grammar to begin with, I instantly loose interest. I read a lot of Lee Child and James Paterson. The writing styles are so precise.
    However I found in “Worth Dying For” a few small errors. Lee seemed a little tired towards the end of the book. I felt that maybe his editors were tired also. I wonder if I would be a halfway decent editor. I’m a slow reader because I have to read every word. After reading “The First Five Pages” by Noah Lukeman I am currently editing my novel again. I’m finding so many things to improve the manuscript.



  37. Gina Burgess on October 17, 2011 at 10:40 AM

    I don’t know if this will help anyone else, but it sure helps me to read what I’ve written out loud to myself. I catch so many mistakes that way, and I often realize I can improve sentence flow, remove extraneous words, etc. when reading aloud. Just a thought…

    Gina :,) (dimpled smile)



  38. Bertha Grizzly on October 17, 2011 at 10:34 AM

    When I was in middle school, I read a book that had the term “one another” three times in the same sentence. It made my teeth itch, and I determined then and there that I would learn everything about punctuation, sentence structure, and grammar. As soon as my book is finished, it is going straight to an editor.



  39. Adam Porter on October 17, 2011 at 10:32 AM

    Editing is the vital counterpunch to a knockout novel, so this development is distressing. I have noticed several errors in reading recently published novels. Typos, grammar mistakes, misspellings…but never made the connection to empty editorial desks.

    While financial necessities are, by definition, necessary, this makes me wonder if the publishing industry will repeat the fatal errors of the music industry in failing to adapt to the digital/Internet Age. Production, self-promotion and distribution are getting cheaper and easier almost by the day. And the POD industry is making quantum leaps.

    It will be interesting to see which publishers successfully adapt and overcome.



  40. Serenity Bohon on October 17, 2011 at 10:29 AM

    I hadn’t really looked at the changes in publication this way. It’s really good insight and actually very inspiring.



  41. Wendy on October 17, 2011 at 10:26 AM

    It matters greatly. In fact, it’s the foundation upon which word of mouth was (and still is) built. Quality produces talk. My husband just bought me The Language of Flowers because of all the positive buzz I’ve been hearing about that one. (He earned points for that). 😉
    This post is such a motivator.
    ~ Wendy



  42. Jeanne T on October 17, 2011 at 10:21 AM

    This is a good post. The reminder to make my ms as complete as possible with edits, simple and more complex is good. Knowing that the publishing world has changed and doesn’t offer the services it once did is important.

    I’m new on this writing journey, but I ask friends and read blogs to find out what books will teach me craft. I also attend retreats, and eventually conferences, as I’m able to.



  43. David Teems on October 17, 2011 at 10:13 AM

    Bravo, Rachelle. I spoke at a writer’s conference a few weeks ago and I had three words for them: craft, craft, craft. Okay, four words: craft. Story is important, certainly, but execution is king. And caress the details, the divine details [Nabokov]. We live in tone deaf age where mediocre has become the new “good.” This is, at best, an unhealthy and threatening state for literature. The pool of writers is growing as well. So my appeal is that it is not a time to settle or be safe. It is a time for GREAT. And GREAT comes only at a price. Simplicity and splendor, rhapsody and clarity is the prize for going the distance. That, and deep contentment.



    • Clarice James on October 17, 2011 at 11:04 AM

      “STORY! STORY! STORY!” I’ve been assaulted by this loud cry so often over recent years that I was beginning to think no one cared about the craft anymore. Finally–vindication! I will continue to caress and smooth and choose to add details. Thank you.



    • David Todd on October 17, 2011 at 12:49 PM

      For me, story is king, though there is some minimum acceptable level of craft. A few faults in the craft of the book are overcome by the excellence of the plot, but no perfection of craft can save a bad story. In my mind, Story is commander in chief of the publishing battleship, and Craft is the executive officer.



  44. Jennie Coughlin on October 17, 2011 at 10:13 AM

    Definitely! Typos drive me absolutely crazy, so a book without basic proofreading and copyediting is something I won’t read more than a few pages of.

    But it’s definitely the content editing and craftsmanship that sets the great books apart. I’m fortunate to have an editor who has an exceptional sense of these and can flag places that need work — and I’ve been writing for long enough that when she can tell me why a section doesn’t work for her, I often can come up with how to fix it. Finding somebody who can do that is KEY to putting out the best book possible, IMHO.



  45. Beth MacKinney on October 17, 2011 at 10:13 AM

    English skills in the populace have taken a nosedive for some time now, but you’re right. In many cases, the reader will often at least spot the typos and grammatical errors. Even with a lesser understanding of the story flaws overall, he will still feel that things aren’t quite right and will dislike the book.

    When I see a lot of typos and grammatical errors in a person’s writing, I know this person hasn’t taken the time to learn the basics of English. I’m amazed at how many writers, even those claiming backgrounds in English, exhibit poor English skills.

    As little fun as learning English may be for some people, it is part of the craft of writing, and readers expect a writer to be proficient or even expert with English usage. Any writer who takes the time to learn will put herself well ahead of the pack, because most writers simply aren’t willing to invest the time to do this.

    Polished writing should be akin to the performance of a gold medalist ice skater who makes what she does look easy, but is backed up by skills honed through years of practice and discipline.

    English skills aren’t everything, because you can be mechanically perfect but still write a boring story, but they are the gateway to excellence in writing which will perfectly frame and accent your story and voice, allowing the reader to enjoy your “effortless” performance.



    • Laura on October 17, 2011 at 12:14 PM

      Don’t just learn English from standard English classes. Take some linguistics classes as well. Standard English classes don’t teach you how regular people use the language, only how some committee a few hundred years ago things the language should be used. I find that some people complain about ‘errors’ they read that they’d ignore or accept if they heard it in a conversation – even that they use such constructions/words themselves. Understanding how the academic/literary societies use the the language as well as how ordinary people in ordinary conversations/interactions use the language is useful. Purely academic use of English will make your book sound stilted and foreign.

      For native speakers of English, taking extra English classes does not necessarily improve the quality of your writing. It’s all about how regular, average people use the language. And proofreading, of course. Perfect (if vernacular) grammar is useless if your proofreading stinks. Down with typos!



  46. Debbie Moorhouse on October 17, 2011 at 10:11 AM

    With my reading hat on, I feel profoundly depressed by the suggestion that editing will decline. The editor, usually unsung and probably nameless, can contribute so much to a book. Every mistake in a book throws me out of the narrative. Too many mistakes and it’s the book that gets thrown.



  47. Jane Steen on October 17, 2011 at 10:10 AM

    I ALWAYS notice writing and editing quality. I’ve often commented in my book reviews that the novel needed a good editor.

    But an editor’s only part of the picture. You’re right, Rachelle, writers should be paying attention to their writing and trying to improve it. There’s really no excuse when we’re surrounded by resources.

    One of the best ways to improve our writing is hardly work at all–read good books! I always have a book or two on the go, and the more I write the more I thirst to read. Trying to become a published author is time-consuming, but I feel that if I don’t keep reading I’ll become too enmeshed in my own writing habits and the result will be poorer quality.

    Now, if only I had the time to review the last five books…



  48. Robin Patchen on October 17, 2011 at 10:02 AM

    The reader doesn’t notice great editing because they get pulled into the story. Poor editing, like Kathleen said above, pulls the reader out of the story and reminds them that there’s an author, a publisher and an editor behind it–and not very good ones at that. Poor editing can ruin a good book.



  49. Susan Bourgeois on October 17, 2011 at 10:01 AM

    I’m doing all of the things you suggested.

    Every point you’ve made is critical to the success of a novel.



  50. Kathrine Roid on October 17, 2011 at 9:50 AM

    If it’s the first printing and I see a typo, I don’t freak out, even though it does jolt me. (Grammar Nazi here.) But if I see a second or third one, I begin wondering about the typos I miss, and will make some assumption about the quality of work behind the book. It doesn’t actually ruin my enjoyment of the story unless there are so many typos I get jolted every other page.



  51. Sue Harrison on October 17, 2011 at 8:26 AM

    I’m particularly frustrated when a book touted by many is poorly written, more aggravated at the people who are praising than the author! Grammatical errors/spelling don’t bother me as much as poor quality writing, perhaps because I’ve been an editor for college publications and know how difficult it is to catch every error.

    However, I’m reading Jane Eyre for about the 5th time – love that novel – the first time on my Kindle, and I’m frustrated with the typos, which I don’t recall seeing in other editions. (Not enough to make me quit reading!)



  52. Peter DeHaan on October 17, 2011 at 8:11 AM

    I’ve lately noticed an increased frequency in errors in traditionally published books. This is likely due to shrinking editorial staffs and publishers streamlining processes to get their books to market at a lower cost. The result is that readers are being conditioned to accept errors as normal.

    I’ve seen this scenario happen twice in the telecommunications industry that I cover. First, experts said the people would never accept mobile devices as their primary phone since the quality and reliability of landlines had unmatched superiority. However, these issues are now being accepted as normal and people are ditching their landlines.

    Currently there is a push to move phone calls to the Internet. The quality is inconsistent and reliability is an issue, but business are flocking to the technology to save money.

    I see publishing following this same path. They will save money, publish quicker — and quality will suffer — but ultimately the public will accept it as the new normal.



  53. Dina Santorelli on October 17, 2011 at 8:09 AM

    Excellent post! Quality! Quality! Quality!



  54. carol brill on October 17, 2011 at 7:32 AM

    I think back to my early writing and how little I knew about craft. Done well, the things you mention Rachelle – internal vs. external conflict, sentence and paragraph variety and passive constructions – are transparent yet so critical. It took me years to grasp show don’t tell. Ultimately I learned by dissecting writing that drew me in, by learning to read as a writer



  55. Timothy Fish on October 17, 2011 at 7:30 AM

    I think the quality of the writing is important, but ultimately it is the story that determines reader response. There are some stories that no amount of editing can fix and there are some stories that no amount of editing will ruin.



    • Gina Burgess on October 17, 2011 at 10:28 AM

      Timothy, I have to disagree with you. The story can be really good, but bad grammar, poor choice of words, and simple punctuation mistakes can make that story a worthless time-waster.

      Story depends upon the presentation in order for the flow to continue. Bad grammar is a dam that stops the flow (unless it is in dialogue, of course). Some very poor editing, and poor fact checking can kill a story.

      Gina \o/



    • Heather Gilbert on October 17, 2011 at 1:37 PM

      I’m with you, Timothy, and I’m a “grammar nazi” myself. Yes, it’s distracting when puncuation is off. I love the Jesse Stone TV shows, so I decided to read Robert Parker’s books. The punctuation was all over the place, many times using a ,” instead of ?” when a question was asked. At first I wondered if it was experimental, or for a faster flow of reading…but I found some spelling errors, too (this is by a major publishing house!). I wouldn’t recommend the books b/c of the language/scenes, but the STORYline is sound, so I wanted to keep reading.

      My opinion is that if the story itself is sound, you can suspend your deeply-ingrained awareness of grammar/punctuation errors just to get to the end. In this case, I’d rather watch the TV series, which cuts the language/scenes substantially. But the guy is a GREAT storyteller, that much is undeniable.

      That said, I’ve hired an editor for my first 55 pages and she opened my eyes to what’s expected in the publishing world, and to what was working/not working in my novel. She was worth every penny. I think after we get that debut novel published, we have a more internal sense of how to write/what’s marketable NOW. And an innate sense of grammar/spelling/punctuation doesn’t hurt anyone, either.



  56. otin on October 17, 2011 at 7:09 AM

    I’m pretty sure that my content and flow is good…..punctuation however….not so sure.

    Hey, give me a break, I’m a heavy machine operator! lol



  57. Consty on October 17, 2011 at 6:06 AM

    I hired an editor when I thought I was done and she helped me to realize that I wasn’t close to calling my novel, a finished novel yet.
    The benefits of hiring an editor is something I have tasted and I can put my money on.
    Try it and you’d see the benefits.
    This is certainly one of the best articles I have read.



  58. terri patrick on October 17, 2011 at 3:48 AM

    Writing Quality and Editorial Excellence should be capitalized for their importance. That the above became less important to publishers in recent decades has fueled the rise of the independent, small press and electronic publishers in America.

    Readers have always been able to tell yeah or nay in a few paragraphs, no matter who publishes the book.



  59. T Denise Clary on October 17, 2011 at 3:29 AM

    I recently had a guest blogger on my site, Editor Jennifer Moody. She blogged about “The Importance of Editing – From an Editor’s Viewpoint” http://tdeniseclarybooks.blogspot.com/2011/10/guest-blogger-editor-jennifer-moody.html

    Although I’m sure most know how important editing is, I think many “indie” authors are not aware(me included at one point in time)…so just thought I’d share.



    • Jeanne T on October 17, 2011 at 10:18 AM

      Your post was interesting, thanks for sharing the link!



      • T Denise Clary on October 17, 2011 at 1:26 PM

        You’re welcome Jeanne!

        T Denise Clary 🙂



  60. Ilima on October 17, 2011 at 3:02 AM

    Totally agree that readers will notice — and respond — to substandard writing, even if subconsciously. If you really need the help go ahead and hire a professional editor, but I think what’s more important is to really take your craft seriously and get yourself to the level where you don’t need to outsource basic editing tasks.



  61. Botanist on October 17, 2011 at 2:27 AM

    I think if either of those are missing, it shows. I can only speak for myself, but poor writing and/or editing is a big turn-off.

    I hope the majority of readers really can tell the difference too, because what you describe could have a silver lining. It means that those who do pay attention to quality and good ol’ TLC have more chance of standing out from the crowd.



  62. Lisa fender on October 17, 2011 at 2:23 AM

    I will definetly hire a prof editor when I feel my book is done. Get to know people in the writing field and use your networking and support to find an editor that is affordable. They are out there.



  63. Kathleen Roush on October 17, 2011 at 2:02 AM

    I get so distracted by grammatical errors that it removes my suspension of reality and I become hyper-critical of the whole book… if I finish it at all. Grammar checkers are often a laugh. Unless you really know what you are doing, you can make a mess of perfectly good, well-written English sentences.