Dinged With a Bad Book Review Over Editing?

One of the biggest gripes between writers and reviewers is the subject of editing, or lack thereof. Nothing will get you dinged with a rotten review faster than a poorly edited book, and here’s the thing… some people are out there just looking for a reason to whack your ratings. Nefarious deeds abound in business, and even the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency states that fake negative reviews are on the rise in virtually every corner of the business world, including book publishing.

Sometimes a malicious book review is retribution for voicing your opinion on a topic that has nothing do with the book. You might even become the mark in an extortion scheme, such as a blackmail review scam that targeted photographers.

In all of these scenarios, bogus bad reviews are used as weapons, and these troll reviewers are looking for whatever ammo they can get to fuel the torpedo review. Editing is high on the list. It only takes a single typo — Just One Typo — to provide the ammo for a troll to say, “Gotcha, sucker!”

God help you if he finds two typos, and two grammatically awkward sentences. Just two of each throws open the door for a review that shouts, “Warning! Multiple typos and grammatical errors!” Your book might be flawless otherwise, and the average reader may not notice four errors in a book of 90,000 words, but this reviewer is not your average reader. He is on a mission, and your book is target practice.

If the troll is working on behalf of a competitor, editing will be at the forefront because everything else is subjective. A bad review on your book benefits all of the other books in your genre, because the lower you sink in rankings due to poor reviews, the higher everyone else climbs without ever having to lift a marketing finger. Lack of editing, or even bad editing, is your competitor’s Golden Ticket to Success.


So what is bad editing? That’s when you rely on an unqualified person for editing, and they botch it. Maybe you trusted your best friend who had all the good intentions in the world, but she lacked the expertise of a seasoned editor.

Or, an editor may be fully qualified, but just not for what you’ve written. An editor who excels with romance novels may not be suited for science fiction. An editor who prefers Christian fiction is a poor choice for a book that glorifies witchcraft and magic, or a book that is full of cuss words and gratuitous sex.

Then there’s the issue of style. Editors and authors need to be personality-matched in the same way that friends and sweethearts do. You write in a particular style, and your editor needs to help you refine the book to the best that it can be, without rewriting it in a voice that you don’t even recognize as your own.

The perfect example is Southern dialog. Not all editors understand characters who speak with a Southern dialect. An editor who attempts to correct the grammar in Southern dialog could do the book more harm than good. While the narrative should be grammatically clean, dialog editing needs to be done with care. You don’t want so much vernacular that the book is unreadable, but you want to retain enough of the Southern flavor to make your point, and Southern dialect breaks all spelling and grammar rules:

  • “He ain’t got a lick o’ sense,” Skeeter said. “He’s been out poking his nose where it don’t belong, and somebody’s gonna break it if he ain’t careful.”

Even the concept of where to put the dialog tag varies from editor to editor. If the editor’s preferred style is different from yours, then this editor isn’t a good match for you:

  • Skeeter said, “Mama fixed us some grits for breakfast.”
  • “Mama fixed us some grits for breakfast,” Skeeter said.

Both sentences are correct, as long as you are consistent throughout the book.

Tenses and point-of-view (POV) are another contentious point between editors and authors. If you are determined to write in present tense, you need an editor who embraces present tense, and is comfortable with it. The same goes for POV — if the story absolutely must be written in first-person, and your editor considers first-person to be the Satan of Editorial Blunders, then you need a different editor.

Another issue involves detail. Suppose for a moment that your editor’s name is Einstein, and that your name is Joy. Your writing style creates a light, fun, quick read. You aren’t looking to write a scientific treatise that proves the existence of wormholes. Your audience doesn’t want a heavy thinker.

Along comes Einstein, jabbing his finger at a paragraph, “This witch twitches her nose and disappears? Just like that? No no no! You must explain HOW she disappears! What is the science behind it? Does her body break apart at the atomic level? Does she use a cloaking device? Is the cloaking device magnetic? Is she sucked into a wormhole? How does the wormhole open? Is it multi-dimensional?”

Editor Einstein isn’t technically wrong, but he isn’t right for YOU, or rather, he isn’t right for this particular book. If you were writing science fiction instead of a tale about a teenage witch coming into her powers, Editor Einstein would be perfect. Science fiction readers expect enough technical detail to make the event plausible. That’s why it’s called SCIENCE fiction — because science is involved — ignore the science at the peril of bad reviews. Oh, you forgot about the rotten reviews with all this talk of editing?

The right editor can help you revise a book that is destined for a 2- or 3-star review average into a book that generates mostly 5-star reviews. An editor can guide your manuscript out of torpedo review territory and onto the sunny beach where the happy reviewers lounge.

Note that while “editor” has been given in the singular, the most successful authors utilize multiple levels of editing. Beta Readers are not the same as Proofreaders, who differ from Story Editors, and Line Editors, and Fact Checkers, and… you get the idea.

There are so many errors that can appear in a book beyond the simple typo that when looking for editorial help, you need to know exactly what they’ll do for your book. Spelling, grammar, punctuation, word usage, and capitalization are among the basics. Here are some examples that your spell-checker won’t catch:

  • John went too the store. (too=to)
  • Mary gave birth to a son last tuesday. (tuesday=Tuesday)
  • George said. Congratulations, Mary! What a beautiful boy!” (period=comma, plus a quote before Congratulations)

And what about technical words that aren’t in a standard dictionary? Medical terminology and botanical terminology both have dictionaries all their own.

What if one of your characters speaks Spanish, or French, or Italian, will your editor vet that as well?

What about content errors, such as giving William blue eyes in chapter one, but brown eyes in chapter five? Or Miranda celebrating her sixteenth birthday, but then is said to be fifteen years old in a later chapter? Or spelling inconsistencies such as naming the color grey in one segment, but gray in another? Both are correct, but switching back and forth is a no-no.


What if you use grey for the color, but have a person named Jeremiah Gray? Then what? Do you want your editor to flag the following?

  • Jeremiah Gray has grey eyes.

Do you want editing that points out long, boring segments, so that you can liven them up? Do you want an editor to look for plot holes? Repetitiveness? Redundancy? Wordiness?

There are so many different aspects that go into editing a book, and every error or awkward phrase provides ammunition for a review bomb. Yes, you can find poorly edited books that lucked into 5-star reviews in spite of the errors, but playing those odds puts all of your chips at risk of being moved into some other writer’s wallet.

Every choice you make affects the sales potential. Whose book do you want to promote? Yours, or a competitor’s?

Previous article in this series: Have you read a good book lately?

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So how do you find out if an editor is a good match before committing your book to their red pen? To best demonstrate that book editing services are essential before publishing your novel, some editorial services provide a free sample edit. This is the epitome of “show, don’t tell.” Instead of telling you what they can do for you, some editorial services will show you as a measure of good faith.

firstediting price quote


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