Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Why do we need editors? They're our extra set of eyes...

Reason #2 in the continuing series: Why the World Still Needs Editors

Awhile back, I took a copyediting course at UC-Berkeley. It was a great practical class on how to spot problems in a manuscript and how to fix them. For one exercise, the teacher showed a photograph of the rear end of a Honda. This was back before the distinctive H logo, back when they still spelled the brand out.

The teacher didn’t give the photo any introduction, she just put it up and let us look. And it was amazing how much time passed before we realized that HONDA on this car was spelled HODNA.

Someone rearranged the letters. We, however, were so programmed by expectation that we couldn’t immediately see the rearrangement.

It was a light-bulb moment. Our teacher went on to explain that any word in all capital letters is inherently less legible than words in lowercase, but she was likely just trying to make us feel better.

The more important realization was that our eyes see what they expect to see, unless and until we train them not to. That’s just one more reason why it’s so crucial to have an editor or proofreader.

Long into the editorial process for my newest book Hope and Tears: Ellis Island Voices—more than a year after I’d written the text, months after the last edit, and weeks after the first pass on typeset pages—one of the editors at Boyds Mills Press noticed a typo. It was my HODNA.

Without that editor’s fresh and well-trained eye, readers would be wondering if I meant something really, really deep when I wrote:

Suddenly, without evening knowing it, I slip off to sleep.

Um, shouldn’t that be “even”???

The editor was kind enough to think I was being arty: “I can see perhaps personifying evening, but I don't know.”

Nope, I was just seeing what I expected to see. Which is one more reason why we all need editors, especially if we drive HODNAs.

For a few more reasons why the world still needs editors, take a look at the last few posts--and posts to come. Any reasons you'd like to share? Drop me an email.

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