Book Wrecks

Visit www.cakewrecks.com – but make sure you visit the toilet first 😉

Okay, so maybe you don’t need a literature degree to ice a cake. But you’d expect some sort of qualification goes into being a copyeditor.

I’m hearing rumours, that the big publishing houses aren’t willing to spend the money on highly-paid copyeditors now. If you’re Robert Llewellyn, for example, you’re still smarting from the time your precious manuscript was sent abroad for copyediting and typesetting, and your lovely, articulate, descriptive prose came back with ‘c*nt’ jokes unwittingly inserted, by non-English-native-speaking subcontractors. Maybe even Sir Terry Pratchett still eagerly awaits the anticipated spelling errors that appear in his books, after delivery of his manuscripts.

To be completely honest, it’s not just rumours. You’ve only got to open a book from a shelf in Tesco’s or Waterstones and read a few pages. You’ve only got to Google ‘Australian cookery book pasta recipe typo’ to find what has been listed as an ingredient instead of ‘black pepper’.

The problem, it is being assumed, is automated computer spell-checks. Doesn’t the author care enough to check the proofs thoroughly? Well, maybe they’re suffering from word-blindness – when you know your own book word-for-word already, maybe a certain degree of skimming goes on, even thinking you’re reading, when you’re not.

Robert Llewellyn recommends reading your drafts aloud. I know a number of authors who use this method – it also helps address clunky sentences, and grammar issues. In my teens, twenties and even early thirties, I was of the ‘write something, leave it six months and do something else for a while, then read it again’ school. I’ve got verbatim memory though, so I found having a professional proof-reading partner was better when actually publishing – otherwise I’d have gone with approving my very first proof copies, which had never been edited. I’d corrected only two words out of 250,000 in the three years since my first draft, in one case. My brain was still skimming, every time I read it.

For me, the work started when seeing my first published book in real book form. Your brain jumps up a gear and responds to it as you would a real book from a bookstore – not just words on a screen, or a print-out on A4. It wasn’t a side-effect I’d anticipated of seeing my words bound and typeset in print for the first time, but it meant I spent several weeks revising and polishing, breaking up longer paragraphs and tackling ropey split infinitives. Definitely worth the extra effort.

But at the moment it seems everyone I know is seeing copyediting cock-ups and mentioning them. My mum opened a knitting magazine the other day and saw the word ‘semi-colon’ written in the middle of a paragraph. My writer friend Pat was reading a very famous contemporary crime thriller not long ago, and saw in a paragraph loaded with tense, heart-in-the-mouth literary build-up, the words (not necessarily reproduced here sic) ‘BREAK IN NARRATIVE FOR DRAMATIC EFFECT’.

Now, if that had been written by a comedy genius, such as Terry Pratchett, you’d chuckle and think he was pulling your leg. But serious top-of-the-range crime thriller? Even CSI don’t resort to postmodernist one-liners that strong. Not yet, anyway. (Nick Stokes, call me!) 😉

We seem to have passed the point where a publishing-house book was at the zenith of production-value achievement, and are rapidly sliding down the other side on a greased toboggan. High-end returning authors, it seems, can’t even trust that their manuscripts are being thoroughly read before transcribing and typesetting.

My own personal example is from the adorable chick-lit pen of Lindsey Kelk, in the novel I got for Christmas, I Heart Vegas. (I’m really sorry, Lindsey, and HarperCollins!):

P.144 …my phone buzzed into life on the cleverly placed table right by the bathtub. “Hello?” “Hey, it’s me…”

P.145 “I’m in the bath.” … “You’re calling me from the bath…?”

Er, no… nobody called anybody from the bath. The person in the bath received the call. Look at the previous page. And then…

P.234 ‘He’d either he’d gone mad, drunk fifteen Red Bulls when I wasn’t watching, or he really, really wanted to get married.’

I got lost after the second “he’d”. Too many Vegas cocktails, perhaps? 🙂

Guys, we’re not children. People who read can actually read. We notice things like continuity errors and editing under the influence. Maybe under the influence of a limited pre-release budget. Do you think we’re buying books as wall insulation or to look busy on the London Underground? I remember when all you needed to look busy on the London Underground was a red vigilante beret and a bomber jacket with lots of badges on. That’d be like buying Haribo just to look at the wrapper. We are going to open it, and consume the contents.

And like sweets, and cakes, it’d be nice to know that the contents are fit for literal consumption. Not just bashed out with no consideration for quality.

Now, go and look at cakewrecks.com, until you are ashamed of yourselves.

L xxx

Advertisements

9 thoughts on “Book Wrecks

  1. On page 165 of The Snowman, by J Nesbo, paperback Vintage – description of footsteps in the snow leading to a window but not away . . . ‘pause in text for dramatic effect’.

    • Hey Pat 🙂 Yes, that’s the one I was thinking of… I have a mental image of the author/editor dictating their edits into a machine, thinking a human will interpret them appropriately into the manuscript – only to have another computer wizard program transcribe the instructions verbatim AS part of the manuscript 🙂 xx

  2. Brilliant blog on the future of copyediting and the printed word in general. I even hate seeing mistakes in marketing materials such as billboards when the spelling is not only wrong, the idea is pants too. A fresh pair of eyes is always best for anything! Get someone, anyone, to read it over. Especially when you have been working on that once sentence for the past hour like I often do. I’ve re-read pieces from stories I’ve written and won competitions for, and still see mistakes or something that is terribly worded. CRINGE. But I guess we are only human and are allowed to make mistakes. I do totally agree however, that if we are to consume and possibly appreciate something as literature, then mistakes such as the modern typo are unforgivable. The importance of proof reading has certainly become lost and is encouraging a lazy technology generation. Don’t get me wrong I am for the use of social media such as Twitter because that is the unstoppable development of language, but why should it escalate to make mistakes in all types of literature acceptable?

    • Hi Laura 🙂 Thanks for reading and re-posting! I’m hearing this kind of thing more and more as a ‘reason NOT to go with a publishing house’ at the moment. Maybe the publishers need to divert some of that income from not-dead-yet celebrity biographies into professional copyediting and proofreading services?

  3. Reblogged this on look-up-at-the-stars* and commented:
    Brilliant blog on the future of copyediting and the printed word in general. I even hate seeing mistakes in marketing materials such as billboards when the spelling is not only wrong, the idea is pants too. A fresh pair of eyes is always best for anything! Get someone, anyone, to read it over. Especially when you have been working on that once sentence for the past hour like I often do. I’ve re-read pieces from stories I’ve written and won competitions for, and still see mistakes or something that is terribly worded. CRINGE. But I guess we are only human and are allowed to make mistakes. I do totally agree however, that if we are to consume and possibly appreciate something as literature, then mistakes such as the modern typo are unforgivable. The importance of proof reading has certainly become lost and is encouraging a lazy technology generation. Don’t get me wrong I am for the use of social media such as Twitter because that is the unstoppable development of language, but why should it escalate to make mistakes in all types of literature acceptable?

    • Hi Lisa, just found these, Vintage paperback again, the first is sprinkled consistently so far – Henning Mankell, ‘Sidetracked’ – investi-gation,
      preco-ciousness. There are quite a few partially completed lines too. Makes me, as reader, double-take and think that the publishers don’t really care. Sloppy.

      • That sounds like something to do with parallel margin justification in the original manuscript. Sometimes words are split, either manually or by an automated setting. If the document is then copied or transferred over to another template or file type, especially if the hyphenations were set manually, the words appear separated like that in the middle of a line. Previously they’d have been hanging at the end.

        Can’t believe you’ve spotted partially-completed lines as well. I think the work ethic minimum number of tea and toilet breaks must be increasing the frequency of attention deficit in the workplace.

  4. You make a great point here Lisa, but I’m still rolling around on the floor laughing at the ‘BREAK FOR DRAMATIC EFFECT’! I think I’m going to incorporate that line in my everyday life from now on. Hilarious.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s