Troubleshooting Your Manuscript

July 16, 2010

Most writers know what they expect of their editors–grammar, spelling, punctuation, capitalization are the minimum.

For a little more money, they can expect content editing where the editor looks at clarity, conciseness, redundancy, flow, etc.

But what about troubleshooting? What about pitfalls? What about those things that impact author credibility? After all, the author, not the editor, is responsible for providing original content.

No reputable publisher knowingly publishes material that involves copyright infringement, plagiarism, hoax, libel, obscenity, or even examples that could hurt author/publisher credibility.

In our publishing company, Expert Publishing, I’ve suggested authors reconsider using examples of Toyota, Enron, etc. that were good examples when the manuscript was originally written, but not so good for the duration a book is in print. I’ve also required authors to change words that were potentially offensive to readers. Better to have readers excited about your book than concentrate on one or two negatives and talk just about those.

Add the cost of litigation (because you pay the lawyers to defend you whether or not you win the case), and it’s just not worth not troubleshooting your manuscript for potential problems.

So, who’s responsible for the troubleshooting? You, as author, are ultimately accountable. When Doris Goodwin Kearns faced plagiarism charges, the media wrote about her, not her editor. When James Frey’s A Million Little Pieces was exposed, Frey, not his editor, faced Oprah.

If you have an editor who suggests potential trouble spots to you, you are fortunate. Be sure you consider any warnings or suggestions offered because your published work is around a long time.

Here are some things to correct in or eliminate  from your manuscripts.

  • Words or terms that offend a specific group of people
  • Incorrect dates
  • Words consistently misspelled
  • Mislabeled photos
  • Unattributed directly quoted material
  • Incorrect names for people
  • Incorrect spelling of people’s names (if you’re sloppy on spelling their name, how sloppy is the rest of your research?)

I understand anything humans do won’t necessarily be perfect, as none of us is perfect. However, the more we strive to eliminate trouble in our manuscripts, the more errors we catch.

Happy writing!