I used to edit books for a living. I only did it for about 9 months, and I hated every minute of that 9 months (it was because of the working environment and not the work itself; I loved the work), and I’ve not gone back to the publishing industry, mostly because I can’t afford to do so.
Anyhow, I only mention that because every so often I read a book and I have to throw it across the room because they didn’t have a very good copy editor (or perhaps content editor). Over the past week or so I’ve been rereading a series by Anne McCaffrey that starts out good and then by book four is just not worth bothering with (The Freedom series, in case anyone cares). This is the most recent example I can mention, but it happens more frequently than I’d like.
(I’m not talking about minor things like a page ending with a hyphenated word (even if it does piss me off when they hyphenate the word to the next page and didn’t bother to include an entire syllable on the previous page, eg sh- -utter) or an orphan/widow or a few typos – these are things that editors and freaks like me notice, but things that normal people probably would not.)
It’s not rocket science, editing. Keeping character names, races/species, personalities and relationships shouldn’t be that difficult to do from one book in a series to the next – if it is, you’re George RR Martin or Melanie Rawn and you have hundreds of characters that are all interconnected (and in that case, you probably keep some kind of database or something to keep everything straight – these authors do a great job, btw). I’m not talking about minor inconsistencies here – only the diehard fanboys are going to notice most of those. And sure, some authors essentially write the same book over and over using their own mad libs (Piers Anthony, Jonathan Kellerman) – but in that case, you’re EXPECTING the book equivalent of InTouch or USWeekly or Star Magazine. You don’t expect it from Anne McCaffrey.
But Jeebus. When I pick up books 1 and 2 and enjoy the hell out of them (except for her damn inability to keep the species of her non-human characters straight – Coo and Pess are Deski, dammit, not Rugarians), and overlook some minor inconsistencies in book 3, it’s OK. When I YELL OUT LOUD at Book 4 that McCaffrey has somehow managed to change several characters’ personalities, relationships, changed a major character’s name from book 3 (there are Eosi in book 3 named Ix, Se, and Pe; Ix is the important one, then in book 4 suddenly Pe is the important one) and Bored Me To Death in the reading of damn book, not to mention the egregious homophone errors like using the word palette where the word pallet should be used (no the boxes of stuff were not put on artists’ paint-mixing thingies) – well, if all these things happen, than SOMEONE was asleep at the wheel.
Whether you’re a prolific, well-known author, or you’ve only written one book, there’s no excuse for inconsistency and bad editing. If you’re bad at that kind of thing, get SOMEONE ELSE to do it for you. It really pisses me off that pubishing companies, particularly ones that specialize in sci-fi/fantasy rather than “literature,” prefer to churn stuff out for publication as fast as possible rather than just having someone edit the damn thing before it’s in print. I mean, c’mon. The McCaffrey book to which I’ve been referring was out in hardback first, and I read the paperback copy. That means there was TIME TO FIX THE STUPID ERRORS before the paperback edition.