Before I begin, a word on Muphry’s Law: “If you write anything criticising editing or proofreading, there will be a fault of some kind in what you have written.”
Yeah, well pick the bones out of this one*.
During a recent chat with friends-who-write, the conversation turned to mistakes. We all agreed that errors are proliferating. Not only online but also in respectable printed material. One of my companions said, “I don’t mind a few errors in a book. Somehow it makes the author human.”
“Bollocks!” quoth I.
At what other profession would you smile indulgently and overlook the fact the delivers of the service/product have ballsed up their core competence because they’re ‘human’? Plumbing? Fire-fighting? Banking?
Well, anyway, back to books.
- He stiffened for a moment but then she felt his muscles loosen as he shitted on the ground. From ‘Baby I’m Yours’ by Susan Andersen. (One wrong consonant and a whole shift in tone. Tsk – everyone knows the past tense of shit is shat.)
- In the weak light of dawn, I tugged on the gown and sleeves I’d discarded like a wonton last night to fall into John’s arms. From ‘The Queen’s Governess’ by Karen Harper.
- The cats nestle close to their kittens
- The lambs have laid down to sleep
- You’re cozy and warm in your bed, dear
- Please go the fuck to sleep. From ‘Go the Fuck to Sleep’ by Adam Mansbach.
- From a debate in Publishing Perspectives about paper versus digitization: But digital contents allow us to correct the errors much faster, just updating them and this is a huge advantadge.
Why are there so many mistakes in modern books?
One theory is the whorey old chestnut: standards of education are declining. But it’s been traditional for every generation to say so since the dawn of thyme.
Some say the way we write is to blame. “Use of the word processor has resulted in a substantial decline in author discipline and attention.” Geoff Shandler, editor-in-chief at Little, Brown.
Or it could be the pressure of commerce. Big publishers have slashed their costs to a minimum, cutting copyediting jobs and reducing the stages from manuscript to publication. Publishers’ focus is now on marketing and agents want to make you marketable. What of the roll of editor?
♦ Who will pounce on your punctuation problems and explain the difference between an en dash and a hyphen? Where can you glean grammatical expertise on the difference between as and like? What kind of buffer stands between you and a sentence such as this:
Overhanging her precarious body was a jaundiced face whose skin resembled a sheet of parchment paper punctured by two emotionless eyes. From ‘Deception Point’ by Dan Brown.
Sue, owner and curator of this fine blog, previously put forward an articulated argument of why an independently published writer should invest in quality cover design. She’s right. And a writer has a similar obligation to insure the content is the best it can possibly be. This will involve at least one other pair of eyes.
♦ Even if a huge publishing company waves large cheques at you, a smaller concern assures you of its keen editorial eye, if your brother-in-law swears your ms is error-free, invest in an professional editor/copyeditor/proofreader. If that is beyond the budget, ask fellow writers or swap favours with a teacher. Some people thrive on grammar, spelling and punctuation; others are more interested in the message behind those little black marks. If you’re one of the latter, team up with one of the former. Because there are certain things a writer cannot see.
Homophones. No, not Rick Santorum, he’s a homophobe. I’m talking about content distortion which makes you look stupid. Hmm, let me try again. Words that sound the same but look different.
Whale: large marine mammal which swallowed Jonah.
Wail: what Gwyneth Paltrow did at the Oscars. Pore/pour/paw. Peddle/pedal.
Example: I rained in my language after her rebuke. Don’t reign on my parade.
Spacing. Spaces matter. Ask John Smith who featured in ‘The Irish Times’. John Smith, the rapist, as opposed to John Smith, therapist.
Omission. The brain is hard-wired to fill in the blanks.
Thou shalt commit adultery. 1632 King James Bible. (Historical note: this omission resulted in the invention of wife-swapping, a phenomenon revived in the 1970s.)
Automatic patterns. Sticking to bibles, the cookbook cock-up: add salt and freshly ground black people. From ‘The Pasta Bible’.
Spelling. This one worries me. She could see the bugle in his pants.
Word confusion. We all do it, when the mind is concentrating on something else. Vaginal thrush is easily remedied by using a peccary. From a pharmaceutical company Powerpoint presentation.
Get expert help and aim for ‘professional’.
Don’t add to the growing heap of ‘human’ waste.
*If you found five, you’re Hawkeye. If you found more, you have a wonderful career ahead of you – do you have a business card?
JJ Marsh: writer, teacher, journalist, blogger and pug-whisperer.