Why didn’t you notice that before?

Not that I’ve ever been asked the question, but some clients may have thought it. Picture this:

You, welcomed reader, bring me your literary pride and joy for developmental editing. I examine it, see fairly early on that it has major issues to address, load it down with comments explaining those issues, and send it back to you with the recommendation that you fix them. I explain that it will cost a lot less, and be more reflective of your creativity, if you take a stab at fixing them. I had you at ‘cost a lot less,’ so you then demonstrate to me what a superb and coachable client you are by addressing them. In most cases, you ‘get it.’ Beaming, you ship me the modified ms. I edit it this time, and I include a bunch of comments about stuff I didn’t point out in the first pass (but dealt with this time). And perhaps here you wonder: how’d he miss that stuff the first time?

Let’s use an analogy to a flipper house. The carpet needs replacement. The color scheme chosen was Crazy Cat Lady Provincial. The rose bushes are out of control. The crushed rock isn’t strangling the weeds. The hot water heater has a failing thermostat, there isn’t enough insulation, and some imbecile fixed numerous nail and molly bolt holes in the wall without bothering to sand the filler. The bathroom fan is about to chuck a bearing, and so on. Oh, and no one raked leaves last year, so half the yard is dead. Except for plenty of thistles, dandelions, and morning glories.

If we’re going to turn that house into the cozy, attractive property that it could become, we are going to begin by taking care of the big stuff so that it no longer obscures the small stuff. We restrain the roses and discover that the squirrels planted a walnut sapling at their base. We pull off the baseboards and find evidence that something in the wall has leaked. We rip up the carpet and find that the previous imbecile covered up battered but beautiful hardwood. We pull out the range and learn that someone had a chronic problem with stuff boiling over and running down the sides, rotting out the subfloor.

While we are doing all that, we are not really seeing the smaller but important stuff, because the big stuff obscures it. It’s not that we are incompetent; it’s that we will notice the miniature burro in the room only when the elephant has been herded out of it.

That’s how it is, editing books. Fix the big stuff so that the small stuff can stand out, then fix that, and you have a good book. Because you don’t retexture drywall that you know you will be replacing anyway.

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