Book Wrecks

Visit – but make sure you visit the toilet first ūüėČ

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!) ūüėČ

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?¬†ūüôā

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, until you are ashamed of yourselves.

L xxx