The Watcher Cat

The Watcher Cat

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Confession of Errors

So, the thing about writing a 500+ page book is that, even with the best editorial review and will in the world, a few typos and errors will creep through. Listen, it's even happening at the major houses these days:
Book publishers used to struggle mightily to conceal an author’s errors; publishers existed to hide those mistakes, some might say. But lately the vigilance of even the great houses has flagged, and typos are everywhere. Curious readers now get regular glimpses of raw and frank and interesting mistakes that give us access to unedited minds. Lately, in a big new memoir from a fancy imprint, I came across “peddle” for “pedal.” How did it happen?

Editors I spoke to confirmed my guesses. Before digital technology unsettled both the economics and the routines of book publishing, they explained, most publishers employed battalions of full-time copy editors and proofreaders to filter out an author’s mistakes. Now, they are gone.

There is also “pressure to publish more books more quickly than ever,” an editor at a major publishing house explained. Many publishers now skip steps. “In the past, you really readied the book in several discrete stages,” Paul Elie, a senior editor at Farrar, Straus and Giroux, explained. “Manuscript, galley proofs, revised proofs, blue lines. You marked your changes at each stage, and then the compositor incorporated them and sent you the next stage. Now there are intermediate stages; authors will e-mail in ‘one last correction,’ or we’ll produce intermediate stages of proof — the text is fluid, in motion, and this leads to typos.”

Authors, too, bear some blame for the typo explosion. As Geoff Shandler, the editor in chief of Little, Brown and Company, told me, “Use of the word processor has resulted in a substantial decline in author discipline and attention. Manuscripts are much longer than they were 25 years ago, much more casually assembled, and beyond spell check (and not even then; and of course it will miss typos if the word is a word) it is amazing how little review seems to have occurred before the text is sent to the editor. Seriously, you have no idea how sloppy some of these things are.”
Well, and even the Times itself isn't exempt. But there's no point in whining about it; errors happen.

Still, the number of typos in Phineas at Bay is pretty small. There are a handful of blunders, though--one sentence fragment hanging out on a page, a few missed commas, and one place where I accorded the Countess of Brentford the wrong title.

Also, as a discerning and quite kind reader from England gently pointed out to me, there are a handful of errors in forms of address, particularly in the case of titled ladies (OK, pretty much Lizzie Eustace, who is not entitled to be addressed as "Lady Elizabeth" but only as "Lady Eustace." Like that would stop her, but, no--my narrator should know better.)

Although my reader was far more kind, I rather felt like I deserved a Trollopian version of the classic Rupert Giles rebuke:

So, all of this is to say that these errors are being tended to--the great thing about self-publishing is that they can be fixed, because the book is being printed by the order, and not as a full edition that would need to be withdrawn and pulped, or superseded, at least, if changes were required. All of you lovely people who have generously shelled thus far out will own the rare collectible copy with the printer's errors--not unlike the highly valuable, error-laced first edition of Huckleberry Finn, with the illustration in which somebody's fly appears to be open. That goes for $25 K, so you may yet be the winners on this deal.

Although I did manage to keep everyone's trousers zipped--in public, at any rate. So I've got that going for me, anyway.

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