Every time time I mention a publisher’s “editorial process,” invariably multiple commenters will mention the “fact” that publishers no longer edit. Others will talk about the terrible mistakes they find in published books, and decry the publishing industry’s lack of standards.
A typical example is David A. Todd’s note on May 2: “…publishers no longer do careful line editing of the book, nor careful proof-reading.”
From my perspective, having been in the trenches for 16 years now, I believe this is an erroneous generalization.
Publishers vary widely in their approach to editing… and they always have. There are publishers who spend an incredible amount of time and money on editorial excellence, even these days. I know because most of my authors have had to sweat through rigorous edits. Many books go through a content edit, a line edit, a copy edit, and then not one but two or more rounds of proofreading. That’s a lot of editorial attention! Among my clients and other authors I know, this isn’t the exception. The exception is when this doesn’t happen.
There are other publishers who give a manuscript a quick once-over and call it good. Authors who are with these publishers might have an easier road, but it can be a disappointment in the long run. They want someone to help them shine, and they don’t always get it. Most of the publishers that operate this way have always done so. It’s not a new thing.
And of course, there are publishers who are somewhere in between.
Have budget cuts affected editing?Many publishers, regardless of where they started on the “editorial spectrum,” have had to cut their budgets, and so there may be less attention to detail. It’s an unfortunate by-product of the difficult financial structure of publishing. But in my experience, the publishers that have always had a commitment to editorial excellence (which is most of the publishers I work with) retain that commitment even today, even amidst budget cuts.
You’re always going to find a mistake here and there in a published book. As Michael Hyatt said on his blog:
Even proofreaders don’t catch every typo. We use multiple proofers on every book at Thomas Nelson. Still, those pesky little errors hide in the shadows and only show up once the book is printed. (I swear!) How much proofing is enough? Most of us can’t afford perfection.
What about mistakes in published books?As for those of my readers who bring to our attention all the terrible errors you find in books, I can just say, (1) I’m sorry you have to suffer through this; (2) I read a LOT of books, and aside from a small typo here and there, I’m not seeing what you’re seeing. So it’s hard for me to speak to something I haven’t personally observed.
In any case, most authors who are publishing with commercial, advance-and-royalty-paying print publishers would report that they’ve gone through one or more rounds of editing with their publisher. And many of them went through an editing process with their agent, too.
So is it true that “publishers no longer edit”?I don’t think so. Many are needing to spend less time and money on editing than they used to. But overall, I think most publishers’ level of commitment to editorial excellence has remained stable, regardless of where they started on the spectrum.
Contracted/published authors: Tell us about your editorial experience with your publisher.
Readers: If there’s something that makes you think “publishers no longer edit,” what is it? What have you personally observed?
Rachelle is a literary agent, voracious reader and lover of books, a mom, a firefighter’s wife, and a huge fan of Starbucks (as well as local Colorado coffees like Firedance and Serranos). She's an agent with WordServe Literary Group based in Denver, founded by mentor Greg Johnson. (Click to meet the other members of the WordServe team.) She never gets tired of talking about books and publishing, and working with authors is her dream job.
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