As a publisher who is also a writer and a creative writing teacher, I do often find myself reading a book published by a big, respected house and thinking to myself What the heck was the editor thinking? I also review books and recently refused to write a review as I had been given an uncorrected proof and in my mind this book was not ready to go: an important plot point had been edited out and the writer had talked of “coals” from a wood fire! What was the editor thinking?
Yet as a writer I think “Woah!” when I read a reviewer of my own work mention in an otherwise friendly review that one more edit would have benefited the work. The clever reviewer had found a couple of avoidable mistakes. Now, that particular work had had eighteen edits by myself, two general edits by readers and two copy-edits. Something similar has been done to its sequel and now as I put the finishing touches to a final (?) edit after the feed-back from the second copy-editor, I find a few more mistakes that no-one had noticed. In fact the first copy-editor prides herself on finding, on average, fifteen typos and at least a couple of punctuation mistakes in every published book she reads. And that’s without trying. If she actually did another copy-edit…
I’ve recently looked at a piece of academic work. A colleague second-marked it and said that the writer should have edited it once more. Though I agreed with my colleague about the types of style weaknesses, the poor expression in places and the common typos and punctuation problems, I disagreed that we can make any judgement about how conscientious or not a student has been. Only they can know that.
The types of mistakes that occur despite the extreme care of everyone involved are a nuisance. Some may make your eyebrows rise. But never, ever do we have the right to judge about the efficiency of or the intention behind another’s editing process. Possibly where mistakes still exist it’s a matter of editing smarter, not more.