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Monday, June 20, 2011

Eek! Get Me Copy Editing!

As the writer (not the author) of a book, I recently sent the manuscript along to the editor, Judith Jones, at Knopf. The author’s agent commented that we could look forward to the book actually being edited. “So many editors today just send manuscripts straight to copyediting.”

I was not so surprised—we hear this sort of thing all the time—but then I read Ian Frazier’s review of John Darnton’s terrific memoir, Almost a Family. Frazier’s praise for the book was unqualified, but he closed with a paragraph expressing his disappointment with the editing of the book:

“Are books more carelessly edited than they used to be, or is it just my imagination? In general this book is not so bad in that regard. However, I was discouraged to see that Knopf’s copyeditors seem not to know the difference between “poured” and “pored” and “clamoring” and “clambering.” He goes on to note that the copy editors let “eek out subsistence livelihoods” slip by. “Eek!”

There is one obvious explanation: spell check. Whether the publishers are skipping real copyeditors and relying on that function or if lazy copyeditors are to blame, letting the computer do the job is an obvious factor. It isn’t enough. Spell check is great—for spelling—but writers, editors and copyeditors still need to be sure that the word itself is the right one.

Frazier closes with the hope that the next editions of Darnton’s book are corrected. And I suggest that more reviewers help by pointing out at least the most egregious flaws. Or is the age of shame also behind us?

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