I was not accomplished at self-editing when I started writing my "Rhodes to Murder" series. It took six rewrites under the guidance of a very patient editor before my first book saw the light of day in 1998. That same book underwent further editing when it was reprinted in 2007. Today, after years of striving to improve my writing skills, I'm quicker to catch errors in my manuscripts before my work is published. I'm also quicker to catch errors in other people's manuscripts and published books. I now find myself mentally editing every book I read, and the result isn't always pretty.
I read four novels last week, two published by Penguin and two self-published by authors using Amazon's CreateSpace. All four were amateur sleuth mysteries, all four held my interest, and all four contained errors of one type or another that could have been prevented either by the author in a self-editing session, or by the person hired by the publisher for his/her supposed editing skills.
The Penguin titles were books one and two in a series by a respected writer. The errors consisted mainly of missing words that resulted in confusing sentences. Example: "She sat there, wiping away." Wiping away what? Yes, we were told earlier that the woman in question was crying, but was she now wiping away tears? Wiping away smeared mascara? Wiping away at a drippy nose? It could have been any one of those things. Why didn't the author just finish the sentence and tell us? And why didn't the Penguin editor advise the author to clarify such sentences?
Given the length of time between series releases, readers often fail to notice small discrepancies in descriptions of characters or settings. When you read the first and second book back to back, though, you tend to catch those kinds of mistakes. In the Penguin series, I immediately noticed the heroine's house underwent a color change between the first and the second book. In book one, the home's exterior was beige. In book two, it was white. Sure, it's a small mistake. But again, it's a mistake that the author or the Penguin editor should have caught.
As for the two self-published books, the mistakes were mainly grammatical. Example: Referring to an FBI Special Agent, the author wrote "a agent that...". It should have read "an agent who".
"An" always replaces "a" before a word starting with a vowel. An agent, an apple, an olive, etc. And things are "that". People are "who". An agent is a person, therefore "who" is the proper word to use.
Example #2: The author referred to "the Caribbean Ocean". This is a fact check error. There are five oceans, the Atlantic, the Pacific, the Indian, the Arctic, and the Southern (or as we learned it back in my school days, the Antarctic). The Caribbean is a sea, and a simple fact check on Google would have told the author that.
Example #3: Words like "honey", "babe", "sweetie", "darling", "kiddo" are called terms of endearment and are not capitalized unless they start a sentence. In an otherwise smartly written story, I found it distressing to read terms of endearment capitalized in the middle of sentences.
Joseph Pulitzer wrote: "Put it before them briefly so they will read it, clearly so they will appreciate it, picturesquely so they will remember it, and above all, accurately so they will be guided by its light."
Writers cannot rely on others to catch all their mistakes. It's imperative that we all learn to self-edit our work. Grammar checking is important. Fact checking is important. Clarity of thought and action is important. If we want to be taken seriously by readers and reviewers, and if we want to succeed in the highly competitive world of publishing, we must produce the best work we can.