Editors Are Not Fairy Godmothers

Written By: Jackie Weger - May• 06•13

There are three wonderful innovations from the last century that made my life easier. Liquid Paper (1951), Velcro (1955) and fitted sheets (1959).  However, three other innovations from the last century have often made my writing life utter misery: WordStar and Word Perfect were turned loosed on the public in 1979. Microsoft Word came along in 1986. I did not find WordStar or Word Perfect user friendly. I had no acquaintance with Microsoft Word until I was in college in 2002.

You’re wondering what innovations have to do with writing novels?  Well, I’ll tell you. Last week I came across a blog by an acquisitions editor. She was lamenting the typos, misspelled words, jerky line spacing and crazy uneven  indentations she found in above a hundred submissions she’d read over the past week submitted by aspiring authors. The tone of the article was acidic. I mean that editor was annoyed  beyond measure. She was insulted. The reason: Word processors have burned into the brains of editors that writers could now create a manuscript free of errors, free of typos and structurally correct.  (Some of you may, but I sure don’t. I wish.)

Editors today are far less forgiving than in the past century.

Editors have always been gods  reigning their own fiefdoms. 

It’s best to keep in mind editors are not fairy godmothers.

Back in the day I wrote my first drafts on a non-electric typewriter on pink newsprint. Once I had all of the cut and pasting done, I retyped the thing on gray newsprint. Next I hiked the manuscript to a print shop and had it run out on good quality paper with a watermark. I read the manuscript again for errors the old-fashioned way: I used a wooden school ruler beneath the line of type I was checking. It kept my eyes from moving too fast. In the olden days it was acceptable to strike out errors and make corrections in pencil.

Yet, unless a writer was functionally illiterate, and even if a manuscript was rife with typos or misspelled words, most editors would read the manuscript for story content (at least through the third chapter) and pass it to a second reader. If the hook grabbed both editors and the story stayed true and the writer was willing to do revisions, the manuscript found a home.

The acquisition editor vented too, about the misuse of their and there, it’s and its, ems and ens. All I know about ems and ens is they are printer’s measures.  Oh. Ellipses. Those little dots . . .

Some publishers want a forth dot if the ellipses are at the end of a sentence. Some don’t. My Students’ and Writers’ Guide in the Living Webster Encyclopedic Dictionary of the English Language tells me to space out the ellipses . . . However, I don’t see them spaced out in e-books.

Microsoft Word alerts me to passive sentences. Those must be changed to declarative is a passive sentence. Change passive sentences to declarative nixes the passivity. You’ll fine Readability Statistics alerts you to passive sentences in addition to the Reading Ease and the Flesch-Kincaid Grade level of your manuscript . (Grade Level 9.4).

The above paragraph has a Flesch Reading ease of  46.6%. That is not good enough for your book. Word is telling me to change Flesch to flesh. Ain’t gonna do it. I’m adding it to the dictionary.

The above paragraph has a Reading Ease of 82.7%  Here’s an eye opener: Type a page of a best seller and run it through Readability Statistics. Most novels have a range between sixth and eighth grades and a 75 % – 85% Reading Ease.

I hate to tell you this: Even when your manuscript is word perfect, structurally sound, commas used correctly,  no dropped quotation marks, and you had the good sense to delete every adverb, the acquisition or line editor may have quirks.

I have an editor I adore but she hates ‘said’.

“I’m leaving!” said Mary-Clair. Nope. Unacceptable.

Mary-Clair grabbed her keys off the table. “I’m leaving!” Acceptable.

I once had an editor who was a vegetarian. She got queasy when my characters ate fried chicken.

A character in one of my books was desperate for money and sold some trees to a logging company. The line editor assigned to the book had just saved a whole dang forest!

A sister author just e-mailed (that) her editor told her not to begin a sentence with ‘she’. One of mine told me to delete ‘that’.

So. What does a writer do when an editor vents her spleen?

A smart writer LISTENS.



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