The other day, someone posted this in one of the editors' Facebook groups I belong to:
That's got to be one of the weirdest #writingANDeditingfails I've ever seen. Unless the author did it on purpose, but his response suggests otherwise.
This incident can teach us two important lessons about writing.
First, when Googling a question, don't just go with the first result that comes up. Make sure you're getting your information from a trustworthy source. (I'll talk more about this in another email.) For widely known facts, such as the starting and ending dates of World War I, you can usually get away with checking one credible source. For highly specific or sensitive details, such as the number of abortions performed in the US each year, I recommend checking at least two or three reputable sources to back yourself up.
Second, when working with your editor, specify whether you want them to fact-check your manuscript. (This article has a great description of what fact-checking might involve.) This tends to be more important in nonfiction than in fiction, and for best results, you'll want to find an editor with a background in your subject. But in any case, fact-checking is a lot of work. So if you choose to have your editor do it, be prepared to pay an additional fee and to give the editor extra time to complete that step.
Personally, I don't do fact-checking unless a client specifically requests and pays for it. But regardless of what type of editing I'm doing, I'll look up things that strike me as odd. In a few cases, it's probably saved my authors from fallout ranging from minor embarrassment to serious incidents.
For example, I once edited a book about navigating cultural differences in international business. In one chapter, the authors used Argentine as the demonym for someone from Argentina. I wasn't sure that was right, so I looked it up. While there's some debate on this issue, argentine is also a synonym for silver. So for that book, I decided to use Argentinean instead.
In another case (which some of you may have heard about in previous emails), I was editing a book about using American Sign Language (ASL) with young children. In ASL, people invent signs to represent specific individuals' names, and the manuscript recommended that teachers do this for the children in their classes.
However, I have a friend who was born Deaf (the term is capitalized within that community), and he'd told me that hearing people can't just give themselves or others a name sign. A name sign is a special gift from a member of the Deaf community, and it's only given once two people have become close.
I knew we could deeply offend readers from the Deaf community if we published the manuscript with the author's recommendation intact. I explained the situation to the author, and she revised the section to explain the significance of name signs, emphasizing that hearing teachers should not invent them for their students.
The bottom line: getting your facts right is crucial. If you'd like some help figuring out whether you need fact-checking, or if you know you need it and are looking for someone to do it, book a call with me here so we can get started.
(Thanks to Bradley Howington for sharing their work on Unsplash.)