Why are there errors remaining after I paid an editor?

In all the writing groups I participate in, I have seen at least one post from an author complaining that they paid good money for editing, yet there were still errors remaining. Some have even gone so far as to say this means they got scammed. While scammer editors—“editors” who have no busy charging anyone for their editing services—do exist, the fact that errors remain after you paid for editing does not mean you got scammed.

The truth is there will still be errors, but probably not as many as you supposedly found.

Not Real Errors

Some of the “errors” readers and authors find in their work are not actually errors.

1) Editing is not an exact science; it is an art, which means there is room for subjectivity. When I edit, I use the Chicago Manual of Style, and one style rule is to capitalize the beginning word of a hypothetical question.

Example: I was so worried the client would ask, Why are their errors still.

Some editors who use a different style guide may consider that capitalization in the middle of the sentence an error. Some may use the Chicago Manual but may choose not to follow that particular guideline, and as long as they are consistent in that choice, it is fine.

Then, of course, some readers unfamiliar with that guideline may consider it an error.

Editors also may choose to leave a sentence alone that technically has a grammar “error” but works for stylistic reasons. It is OK to break the rules for a stylistic reason.

2) You or your readers may follow what we call Zombie rules. These are grammar and punctuation rules that may have been taught by your English teacher that aren’t real rules. One such example is the “rule” that you can’t end a sentence with a preposition. That is not true. You can. There are lots of Zombie rules out there.

3) You or your readers don’t know what they don’t know. For example, do you see any errors in the following sentences?

One of the pencils is broken.

I lie down when I don’t feel well.

I appreciate your taking the time to read this article.

Not a single one of those sentences contains an error, but you or your readers may think that “pencils is” sounds wrong and it should be “pencils are,” or it should be “lay down” instead of “lie down,” or it should be “you taking the time” instead of “your taking the time.” In all cases, you or your readers would be wrong.

Errors Remaining

With that said, actual errors will remain after the editor is done with your manuscript.

In traditional publishing, a different professional edits the manuscript at each stage.

  • First, one editor does the big-picture edits.
  • Then another editor does the copyediting. Sometimes they have more than one editor do the copyediting. They may have two editors do different copyediting passes, or they may break the copyediting into two types—stylistic and error based—and have a different editor edit for each type.
  • After the book is arranged and designed, the proofreader edits for remaining errors. Sometimes they have more than one proofreader go over it.

At the very least, every manuscript has three different professionals edit it, and often times, it is more like four or five. And even then you will find errors in traditionally published books.

So you absolutely cannot expect one editor to reach perfection.

According to scientific research, the best one can do is a 95 percent detection rate. This means if the original manuscript had a 1,000 errors in it, the best the editor can do is fix 950, which means 50 errors would remain. And that is the absolute best, so the editor may fix 900 and miss 100, and that is still a good detection rate.

Detection rate goes down the more they have to edit for. So if they are doing strictly copyediting and only looking for actual errors, they will be able to find more errors than an editor who is including stylistic copyediting (editing for sentence structure, word choice, etc.), and that editor will be able to find more than an editor who is doing both a developmental edit and a copyedit in a combined package.

Personally, when I am doing a combined edit, I feel good about an 80 percent or higher detection rate because I am editing for a lot. This isn’t to say I aim for 80 percent (I aim for 100 percent), but it just means, I am not going to beat myself up for an 80 percent detection rate when I am doing a combined edit.

Your Options 

In order to ensure a near-perfect manuscript, you need to do what traditional publishers do: have a different set of eyes on your manuscript for each stage.

Your options for whom you hire and for what services are listed below in order of quality you can expect. You will get the most quality from the first option, and the least quality from the last option.

  • Big-picture editor, line editor, copy editor, proofreader (all different people, so 4 people)
  • Big-picture editor, copyeditor who includes line editing, proofreader (all different people, so 3 people)
  • One editor does the big-picture editing and copyediting but does it in separate rounds, proofreader (2 people, but first person is only editing for one type at a time so they can narrow their focus, and they get a break in between to look at it again with fresher eyes)
  • One editor does all the editing in the same round, proofreader (2 people, with first person doing two types of editing at once, giving them a lot to focus on)
  • Only use an editor, no proofreader (1 person)

Essentially, the more professional eyes on your manuscript, the better. But I appreciate you don’t necessarily have deep pockets, like publishers, and you can’t afford to pay as many professionals as you would like.

You just need to go into the editing process with realistic expectations. Pay what you can afford, but then understand you can’t demand perfection. Perfection requires time and money; it just does.

These blogs can help you reduce the cost of editing:

If you need help understanding the different types of editing and need an idea for what the cost will be, check out this blog: 4 Levels of Editing and Their Pricing Explained.


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