The Blessing of Good Editors and Proofreaders

I read a couple of really nice reviews of Sweeter than Birdsong today. I was so grateful to the readers, as I always am, for taking the time to write such thoughtful comments.

I was also overcome by thankfulness for my editors and proofreaders.

Sweeter than Birdsong had a long and challenging composition history, chiefly because it went through two significant rewrites over the course of three years. Without my editors, Ami McConnell and Meredith Efken, and my copy editor Becky Monds, it would never have reached the vision I dreamed up for it. But with their help, it made it through and is now a shiny, polished creation. It's so rewarding to see readers respond to the book as a whole, readers who haven't been through two or three drafts like my wonderful critique partners! I get to see the novel again through readers' eyes, now, and this is an amazing feeling after such a long development process. Plus, this was the first novel I ever wrote, and there's something particularly precious about seeing that first manuscript realize its potential.

I want to tell you how terrific the copy editing/proofreading team at Thomas Nelson is. Here are a couple of examples. At one point, I had made a passing allusion to something classical(I won't name it, so you won't get distracted if you're reading the novel). The proofreading team is SO good, and so detail-oriented, that they came back to me and asked whether that thing I named existed in 1856, citing a reason why it might not have. While it did, in fact, exist, their care for accuracy was just wonderful. The proofreaders also suggested that I switch the order of two chapters, and when I went back and looked at it again, I thought they were absolutely right. That's a big deal, and not necessarily something they had to mention to me at that point in the proofing process. But because they cared about producing the best work, they were looking for anything that might need changing, and their contribution was huge.

Here's another example that's even better, because I can give specifics. As some of you know, my books are based on real people. In the afterword of the book, I use Kate Winter Hanby's full name, Mary Kathryn. I spelled Kathryn in that way because I have visited the Otterbein cemetery in which her gravestone bears that name. But the proofreaders checked the spelling of her name, and discovered that one reliable source lists it as Katherine, not Kathryn. (How great is it that the proofreaders even checked her NAME!)

I went back to the director of Hanby House and asked her what she thought. She said that in her opinion, the more reliable of the sources is correct with Katherine, because the gravestone was erected by later admirers, not by Kate's family. And here's another complicating fact: on her marriage license, Mary Katherine Winter is listed as Mary C. Winter!

So the proofreaders who read the novel checked everything, taking nothing for granted. And the result was excellent, which was especially important because we had a fast, fast turnaround on the line edit and missed a few things before galleys. I can't imagine better proofreaders, copy editors, or developmental editors than the ones who have blessed my work. And I don't even know my proofreaders' names! So, proofreaders, if you're out there, know that I would LOVE to thank you in person some day. Maybe I can worm your secret identities out of Becky. :-)

Did you know that novels went through this many edits? I didn't, before I went through the process. If you had all the time in the world, you could possibly do all these edits yourself, though even then it would be impossible to match the combined expertise of five professional readers at the top of their professions! But once authors go under deadline, there just isn't always the time to catch everything personally.

How do you catch your errors in the editing process? Do you have any tricks to recommend?