I just finished the final edit on my new novel The Abused. Thanks to DB Stearns for lending a hand on this project. Even given his adept input and fixes, I still found numerous mistakes, which just goes to show even the editor needs an editor. I always find it a reflection of either enormous egos or just inexperience when people contact me to publish their books and strongly say, "It doesn't need to be edited. My (fill in the blank with "English" professor, librarian, or best friend who is obsessed with grammar) edited it. It's fine.
These folks either don't understand that I'm 200 percent positive it won't be fine or they just don't want to make the necessary investment to really make it fine. Once I worked with an author who absolutely insisted every mistake had been caught. I challenged her and said, "I promise you there are mistakes. It has absolutely nothing to do with editorial prowess." She still challenged me, and I said, "Okay, I will go through your first two chapters and turn on Microsoft tracking. Once you see the mistakes I find you will gladly hire me." I did edit those first two chapters and found dozens of errors to the author's utter chagrin. She hired me though and her book even scrubbed with hardcore detergent still had a few mistakes. Thus, I have a nugget of wisdom and reality for you.
Pour 50,000 black jellybeans on a white sheet of paper. Now go find the "belly-flops".
I love to use that analogy because inevitably I watch people's eyes light up with a-ha. The perfectionists out there will cry foul to my assertion, but it's just what I call a "literary reality". The human eye is a tricky thing. I can't tell you how many times I have been absolutely certain I saw "that word" - a word completely absent from the sentence. What I'm trying to say is don't go crazy trying to either be a literary "perfectionist" or insisting your librarian knows best. It's just not how it works. Just like a machine is fallible and breaks down, so does a human being.
Editing involves many different levels. Have you ever looked at a masthead, say, on a magazine? You have the editor-in-chief, executive editor, editor, managing editor, copy editor, editorial assistant, and a few other miscellaneous titles including the one I smile about - Chief Storyteller. Each of these positions plays an important role in the publication process. Here is a nugget: just because a person has the title "editor" next to his or her name doesn't mean he or she actually touches copy. How's that for a nice surprise? For example, most managing editors don't touch copy at all. Their jobs involve moving the final document to completion more like a project manager.
Another nugget: in my opinion, the copy editor has one of the hardest jobs on the masthead but is the least appreciated. The copy editor is the real grammarian of the crew. Most excellent copy editors can recite Strunk and White or AP Style rules like it's the Pledge of Allegiance - only more like 50,000 words longer. Excellent copy editors take great pride in knowing every grammar rule and can fully explain its use. Our former copy editor cracked me up. She would argue why those "non-essential clauses" were superfluous. I would venture to say the copy editor is the traditional "geek" on the team. I will also say I want that geek around when I've got that puzzling grammar question that the experts don't seem to agree upon.
In my long career, I've held every position on the masthead. The reason I ended up as a publisher and not an editor in general is because I have the business expertise, too. My degrees in public relations and English are a powerful combination for running a publication. I like to call it the "perfect storm" of skills when it comes to publishing. Fifty percent of this job requires writing and editing skills and the other 50 percent requires marketing and PR skills. Thus, I am the ideal person to hire to publish and promote your book or business.
I hope you are now utterly thrilled to be able to ask your friends, "Do you know the difference between a managing editor and copy editor?" They will be so impressed with your acumen and knowledge. Just tell them this Friend-Os sent you! Now go get a dictionary and read it cover to cover - it's actually pretty interesting.