The Los Angles Review of Books blog has a grammatical error.
“Unlike Nancy, who’s mother died when she was three, I had a mom, and my mom had read Nancy Drew when she was my age.”
The contraction “who’s” stands for “who is.” The writer wanted the possessive form of “who” (whose) and failed to find it. No one caught the mistake before the article went to print, or in this case was posted online.
I am not a grammatical wizard (anyone who reads my blog will have caught typos), merely a well read person who is a naturally bad speller, ignorant of rules, and not afraid to admit it, and one willing to look up what I do not know. Usually, I know when I am unsure, but sometimes I am mistaken even about that.
One thing I do know, when I find writing in a journal as eminent as the BLARB, I expect someone will proofread the copy. I hope someone might.
That would assume that there was someone on staff to do the work of editing. Years ago, every publisher had fact-checkers and line editors. We are none of us perfect, and most writers are blind to their own errors, which is why working with a really good editor is such a treat. That doesn’t happen often, and most writers today are left entirely to their own devices as far as editing goes.
Today, there are merely readers who are supposed to weed out the genuinely bad writing and narrow the list of submissions to a readable number. The actual editors come in late to winnow the list to the pieces that might see print. Among writers this is the process, largely invisible, of submission. I send a piece of writing to a journal, a reader (usually an undergraduate volunteer at literary journals produced on college campuses) gives it a yes or no, and it passes on to the next reader. Some journals use multiple readers and incorporate multiple rounds of reading, and many include the Editor in Chief in the final round that decides what will be printed. On the masthead will be listed names of the Editor in Chief as well as Editors for fiction and poetry and nonfiction. The layout artist and covers designer might show up. There are often Assistant Editors, and at the bottom of the pages, sometimes, a list of the Readers.
The only time I have seen a Proofreader listed in the masthead of a literary journal was nearly twenty years ago when I found a typo in Tin House. She did not thank me for pointing it out.
No one wants to hear about their mistakes once they have gone to print.
A California executive secretary applied for a job with the Oregon high school where I worked. The Head Secretary whose job she was applying for was so incensed by the applicant’s notations about typos that she threw the letter out. Imagine if someone who actually understood perfect grammar and spelling had been hired! I, for one, would have stood in line at her desk asking for an edit.
“The Case of the Perfect Girl Detective’ is well worth the read. The error is trivial, no worse than you might find here in every post. I was not confused as to the author’s meaning. I might have found the error reassuring, in fact.
5 thoughts on “TO BE SURE”
Every time I have suggested a correction to my favorite publications I have been ignored…I am always very gentle going about it, but I never get a reply and the mistakes always remain…I cherish edits and suggestions, because I am still not over the horror of a book I wrote going to print with an artist’s name misspelled (only one time out of the 50 or so mentions, however once was enough to ruin what should have been a nice moment).
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You can be incredibly careful and they sneak in when you glance away. And a book . . . so many words, so many opportunities. (I was the academic adviser for a high school yearbook for 12 years. There were always 2-3 typos that slipped through—we did not have time and I got over it after the first year.)
I’ve been wary of self-published books mainly because so many of those authors do not employ editors. Every one makes a mistake or two. We are only human, but I lose patience when I buy a book, even an ebook (self-published ones can be quite inexpensive), and find grammar and punctuation errors galore. One time I included my complaint about typos and errors in a book review. The author contacted me directly, wanting evidence of his transgressions as he had employed an editor. I sent him a list. Some of my writing friends insist on glossing over writing errors but I just can’t when it goes beyond a couple of typos. I know writers generally are blind to their mistakes (I definitely am) but all the more reason to engage a REAL editor, someone with experience editing and proofreader.
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I have edited others’ work—and like most people, I am much better at finding errors in work I have never seen before than in my own. Last year I offered to edit the back matter of a book, and they used several of my suggestions for the body of the book, not to mention the actual typos I found (which were rare). They held up publication to allow me to finish, and I worked all night.
One of my great fears is factual errors because sometimes they ruin the book for me, though other times I do not mind. I forgive Mary Karr putting the Seattle World’s Fair in the wrong year because she is up front that she is recalling her story as best she can. If that memoir were new today, someone, some editor might have Googled and caught it. There is little excuse for getting the facts wrong these days. On the other hand, few publishers have editors anymore, as I understand it.
My experiences working with professional editors have been wonderful—in fact a friend was just visiting and commented on the same thing. She’d worked with an actual professional editor recently and said the experience was revelatory. Perhaps people who have already worked with a professional editor are more appreciative, more willing to hear? On a few occasions I have pointed out errors in grammar and punctuation and even plot holes that remained uncorrected at (self)publication. Sometimes people just do not want to know.
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Yes, I’ve been working with an editor on one of my novels and a few short stories. I appreciate that he finds and corrects my errors but I love his constructive feedback even more. He doesn’t hesitate to point out where a scene might fall flat, for example, and give me suggestions for improvement.
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