I enjoy cozy mysteries, especially if they have cats as main characters. The Crazy, VA (Lil & Boris) series by Shannon Hill is a great example. Over the past week, I started reading two new mystery series.

The first takes place in the Roaring Twenties. I enjoyed the mentions of that era’s celebrities: Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, etc. I enjoyed the description of luxurious, first class train travel from New York to California. I even appreciated the nod to social inequality and lopsided gender expectations, because in August 1920, women had just received the right to vote, and there were yet many more inequalities in U.S. law and social traditions restricting what women were allowed and not allowed to do. Touches like that add verisimilitude.

What I did not like about the story was that the heroine didn’t actually do anything. She ping-ponged from one scenario to the next without design or intent, doing as she was told by her boss and other people, until she solved the mystery by sheer happenstance. For a sleuth, even an amateur sleuth, that’s unforgivable. To be credible as a sleuth, the character must act with intent to sold the mystery.

After finishing the book, I deleted it from my Kindle with no desire to read any more in that series.

The next book I opened was a 3-book set featuring a supposedly helpful feline character. The first page delighted me with a clever turn of phrase. By the end of the second page, I’d detected a distinct lack of editing. Before the end of the chapter, I had deleted the file from my Kindle, disgusted with many misspelled words, incorrect words, punctuation errors, and grammar errors riddling the content.

Both books failed to meet expectations.

The first was an expectation hinging on the mystery trope: a character who acts with intent, however clumsy in manner, to solve a mystery (usually a murder). Perhaps I’ve been spoiled, but I developed a taste for mysteries from reading Dick Francis, Robert B. Parker, Lindsey Davis, Robert Crais, A. E. Maxwell, and Karen Kijewski. The work by these authors ranges from hardboiled detective stories to genre-spanning mysteries blended with romance. The main characters in these books solve their mysteries through intent; they don’t just bumble around and somehow figure everything out. This is a structural issue that a developmental editor could have helped the author remedy. It’s not something any editing software would have been able to detect.

The second book failed on an even more basic level: copy errors. While running the unpublished manuscript could have fixed many of the spelling errors, it might not have necessarily corrected the malapropisms. Just because a word is wrong doesn’t mean it’s misspelled. In addition, editing software knows rules, but it doesn’t understand context or nuance. The author failed to employ a human editor to clean up the manuscript and it showed … blatantly.

Authors who self-publish rely on cheap, fast software rather than pay a professional editor fail to consider the sales they lose after disappointing their readers. Sure, they made the inititial sale, but a disappointed reader won’t be a repeat customer. There’s no way for the author to count the sales lost due to readers putting him or her on the “do not buy again” list.

I have no formula that can calculate the return on investment for competent editing. Great editing is invisible: your readers won’t notice it. However, they will notice poor editing or a lack of editing … and that notice quickly turns to distaste and disappointment.

I’ve said it before and I’ll continue saying it: if your book is good enough for people to spend their hard-earned money to purchase, then it’s good enough for you to invest in its quality. Hire a professional editor.