Picking the Last Nits

When I say we’ve been poring over every word of “Chrissie Warren: Pirate Hunter,” over and over, I really mean it. This photo shows the detritus from the latest, and final, round.

Fortunately, what we’re seeing in this last go-round is minor, a missing space here or there. Tiny stuff. And we laughed every time something was found. “Got another one!” my wife, Tori, will say. I’ll pretend to groan, although really I’m relieved as I go in and root it out. One less thing to annoy a reader.

Writers, especially writers who are about to self-publish, are encouraged to hire editors. Sometimes it’s just for copy editing, or line editing as it’s called in the publishing world, sometimes it’s someone to take a look at the story and plotting and make suggested revisions. Those can be very helpful. Hiring an editor is a very good idea.

Here’s why I didn’t.

First, I’m an editor. I’ve made my living as a news writer and editor all my adult life. News editing and the kind of editing a novel needs are different. My novel is NOT written in AP Style, which has been my Bible for more than 30 years. But I know my way around a sentence and can pick the flaws out of bad grammar better than most people I know. Those of my acquaintance who are better at it are almost all newspaper copy editors.

Second, I also married one. Tori isn’t a professional editor. She’s a middle school English teacher, so she knows her stuff. She was an English major in college, and those two things combined give her both a deadly eye for spelling and grammatical errors and a keen nose for sniffing out problems with plot and story. (Plot and story are not the same thing, but that’s a topic for another day.)

Look, there’s only so much money. I’m spending quite a bit of money on the cover. I paid for the editing by taking my wife out to dinner lasat night. It was a very good deal, and a very good meal. (Drago’s Seafood in Metairie. Char grilled oysters. Mmmmm.)

Still, I am not denigrating the value of a good editor. When my friend Mark Summers and I had our book, “Pirattitude,” published by New American Library, our draft was turned over to an in-house editor, Cherilyn Johnson. The poor woman was really good at her job, and didn’t know what to make of us. She sent sent us reams of questions and suggested corrections, stuff that had never even occurred to us. After all, we made up a bunch of the “facts” and words, starting with the title, so line edits and fact checking seemed sort of superfluous. For instance, she really wanted us to come up with a consistent, standardized spelling for “Aarrr!” But the whole nature of the word, which can mean almost anything depending on how you say it, fights the concept of standardization. It’s not so much a word as a sound indicating a state of mind. So she had to give in on that one, but we put in a note at the end of the book absolving her from all blame.

With “Chrissie” I’ve also had the help of Eddie the Agent, who picked it apart twice, calling for rewrites and closer editing before he finally started pitching it to publishers. It also went through someone at his agency, who offered some trenchant observations that I adopted.

Whether you use a critique group, hire an editor, or marry one (I recommend it!) having multiple sets of eyes on your final draft is important. There’s not much that ruins a book more than a host of typos and grammatical errors. Readers have to trust you. If they get a few chapters in and start thinking, “My eight-year-old writes better than this!” you’re in trouble.

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