How the Editor Can Make (Or Break) a Book
The best editors are the kind readers never notice. Chances are that if you're reading a book and have actually noticed a clear, defining line between the author and editor, the editor is unpolished.
Editors are human too, and I've got a decently keen eye for typos (especially when I'm reading work other than my own), so I don't get too riled up over the occasional typo. But there are a handful of books where the editor has made their presence known and it's negatively affected my reading of the book.
Actually, I can only think of two examples that fit this category. The first is especially egregious: I have a copy of Tigers In Red Weather by Liza Klaussmann in which her name is misspelled as Lisa at the top of every other page, literally. And I'm not talking about a first edition in hardback---my version is paperback, which means that mistake slid by TWICE.
The next example is a book I read more recently. I don't normally read memoirs, but I read Greg Graffin's memoir, Anarchy Evolution, because he's the lead singer of the band Bad Religion. So his memoir is about the making of the band, how he got his PhD in evolutionary biology while being the frontman of a successful punk band, and how atheism influenced him since it's the lens through which he sees the world. How could I resist!
Obviously, Graffin is an intelligent fellow, but intelligence alone does not a writer make. A good writer has to be intelligent, but an intelligent person can't just get by on that to be a compelling, successful writer. I appreciate that Graffin seemed aware of this since he worked with a co-writer.
A co-writer should make any editor take extreme caution. The last thing you want is two different writers with completely different voices trying to form one cohesive voice and missing the mark entirely. That, along with the knowledge that most celebrities aren't writers, should warn the editor that she'll have to be even more vigilant than usual.
Unfortunately, I think Graffin's editor missed the memo because I noticed several things that needed smoothing over, such as
- An abundance of unnecessary "that"s.
- Unnecessary gendering, like "women's makeup." There's no men's makeup aisle at the drugstore. Even if a man is wearing makeup we can deduce that he got it from the makeup aisle, which, surprise, is geared toward women.
- Sentences like "...best we ever saw on our entire trip." Just remove "ever." Graffin might have lived in LA during high school, but the man is not a hipster or surfer bro. We can do without the "evers," especially when the sentiment is adequately summed up by "entire."
There could be any number of reasons for these oversights---lack of experience, lack of senior editor mentorship, or maybe the original draft was a lot worse and she just did the best she could. Who knows. It's impossible to say without inside knowledge.
Editing is a difficult job, I get that. But I hope for Graffin and HarperCollins' sake that other readers are just able to enjoy the book (the content itself is fascinating!) without mentally editing the text.
They say every writer needs an editor, but, more importantly, every writer needs a good editor.
And should anyone from HarperCollins be reading this, here's a link to my Contact page in case you're looking for editors. :)
And if any aspiring authors are reading this, I suggest hiring an editor. (Such as myself!) But read some of the previous books they've edited before you do.
Have you read a book where you noticed the editor in a bad way? Let me know in the comments below!