Thursday, December 17, 2009

Usage FAIL #2

It's a witty, funny, fast-paced book with some grit and some edge and it's the sequel to a best-seller, but I'm only up to page 77 and it has just failed a second basic screening. I've already come across 'hone in on' for 'home in on', and now we've got 'disinterested' for 'uninterested'.

I know there's been a GFC but you'd think the New York stronghold of Simon & Schuster would still be able to pay for the services of a good copy-editor. You really would.


Anonymous said...

Depends if the author has some clout, I suppose.


Di said...

Oh Goddess! Ain't it annoyin'?

The use of 'disinterested' instead of 'uninterested' seems to have caught on like the plague. People love the word 'disinterested', so one comes upon it often and almost always used incorrectly and just trashing its usefulness to mean 'impartial'.

This kind of thing is getting me down. It makes me feel tired; uninterested even.But it's certainly something book editors ought to be picking up: you'd think they'd have a big red alert sign wagging at them every time these words come up.

(Thanks; I'm feeling better already now I've had a bit of a whinge.)

Anonymous said...

Nobody uses copyeditirs these days. Even trendy young lit'ry agents assert that there used to be typos, that the Klassicks lack them vecause they've been trhough so many editions.

Time was the writer wd have the copy-editor written into the contract. Time was when editors hadn't been laid off and transformed into agents; time was when agents knew the difference between themselves, the editors, the copy-editors, and the publishers.

The Paradoxical Cat said...

Do let us know if you find "mitigate against" - that's my pet hate.

Tatyana Larina said...

Oh dear. I do this sort of work.

Yes, certainly, us battered book editors should pick up these things, and unfortunately they don't always get picked up. But also, and this is something that's not easily appreciated, editors don't have a license to change things as much as they would like. We always work 'with' authors.

When an author writes book, they don't let the editors walk all over it, as a general rule. Possible scenario: Mr or Ms Simon & Schuster Author says to Ms Editor (nearly always a Ms): 'Sorry, I don't think so, I don't like "uninterested" and I really want "disinterested".' Full stop. Ms Editor realises this is ridiculous, but this is what she has to accept: 'bums on seats, money in the bank'.

Of course, many books and magazines are properly edited and copyedited, and many publishers invest into this activity. What has happened is that the nature of the relationships between publishers, editors and agents has also changed. The classics, as someone here has said, are flawless, and this is due in part to the fact that the editors had absolute authority over the manuscripts they were working on, with very little complaint from the authors. We can't do that any more. Editorial corrections in most instances have to be approved by the author, and it's an exhausting process. Some authors take it really personally, even very minor items (some get quite rude, it's quite interesting).

I'd love to be able to write about this, in a blog somewhere, there are lots of anecdotes editors could share, but unfortunately we can't write 'Edit and Tell' stories.

I'll offer one example, though. I'm working on an academic publication at the moment, tearing my hair out. This is what I'm trying to achieve: to change all instances of 'female', when used as a noun, and use 'female' only as an adjective. So, let's not say '99 per cent of "females" who read this blog think editors should be more meticulous', but let's change this to '99 per cent of "women" [...]'.

I have exchanged numerous emails with the author trying to 'institute' this change. I have absolutely no authority to insist that 'women', and not 'females', will go in the final version, I have to use all of my 'tact', 'diplomacy' [buzz words in publishing] and 'assertiveness' [that one not so much] to maybe achieve this.

No wonder I feel bruised and exhaused. And I wish I could bake some gingerbread cookies and switch into a festive mode, and mood, before the end of this week.

Oh, and another thing. This is not absolutely prevalent, but it is quite common: the authors are experts, always, so the amount of arrogance and rudeness we have to tolerate on a daily basis would definitely exceed the limits of many other 'professional females' (sorry, women) working in arts-related disciplines.

So, that's what life is like on the other side of the publishing fence. For some of us. I imagine those guys at Simon & Schuster are probably having a much better time, at least we tend to think that life is so much more glamorous with the Big Publishers in the US or UK. That may not be the case.

At least the book is fast-paced ...

Kerryn Goldsworthy said...

Oh dear. Tatyana, I think you are a relatively new reader here, so you may not be aware that these conversations have come up before.

If you look carefully you will see that I am not attacking editors. Perish the thought. I love editors. There should be many more of them. (And they should be much, much better paid.) No, I am attacking the publishers who will not employ and/or properly pay editors, and as you say, at least some of them don't.

I've never been a book editor, but I edited Australian Book Review, including copy-editing and proofing (before the days of spell-check, not that I would have used it anyway), for the best part of two years. I've also worked with a number of copy-editors, some of whom have been very good and one of whom, John Bangsund at OUP Australia, was absolutely outstanding.

Maybe I have been very lucky, but when I was editing ABR nobody ever questioned the changes I made (some even expressed gratitude), and when I've been on the receiving end of the editing process I've never queried any matters of fact, like 'uninterested', and have only ever argued the toss when the criticism was incredibly vague and more about taste than about standards or usage, or when an editor has wanted to change a word or shift a comma in such as way as to actually change (yes yes, I know, split infinitive) the meaning of the sentence. From the writer's side of the fence, I'm glad I get some say in 'corrections' because occasionally they just aren't.

I also taught Creative Writing on and off for many years so I know exactly how precious and touchy people can be about their manuscripts. So please don't think this is a criticism of editors. Heaven forbid. But I find your comment incredibly disturbing for other reasons. The idea that any author would actually say 'No, you're wrong, I like "uninterested"' (or 'female', or 'hone in on it') without even bothering to look it up -- that any author would be that arrogant and that ignorant and that willing to look like a dickhead -- simply boggles the mind. I am still trying to get my head around it.

Re tolerating arrogance and rudeness daily in the course of making a living, though, ask any female teacher in primary, secondary or tertiary education, and see what she says ...

Tatyana Larina said...

Oh, no, I didn't think this post was a criticism of editors.

I guess I just wanted to illustrate what this work was like for editors who deal with authors and their texts within a publishing setting. I don't think people know enough about our work, the bulk of which is often production-related. I sometimes feel that eighty per cent of my efforts are spent on 'author and production liaison', and then there's twenty per cent that can be directed to actually looking at the texts. Working with manuscripts is great, but getting them to a 'clean copy' stage is difficult. Then there are books that will just never be perfect. (I sometimes wonder whether it's even necessary to edit things to death; we're occasionally embellishing work that doesn't deserve to look as good as it ends up looking in print.)

I absolutely agree that authors should be involved in the editing process, it's always their work, and editing is a dialogue. It's also true that editors can be meddlesome.

And just to respond to this:

'The idea that any author would actually say 'No, you're wrong, I like "uninterested"' (or 'female', or 'hone in on it') without even bothering to look it up -- that any author would be that arrogant and that ignorant and that willing to look like a dickhead -- simply boggles the mind. I am still trying to get my head around it.'

It really is the case that this happens a lot. The 'female' example is something I've dealt with today; I'm still not sure if we'll achieve to call all 'females' in this book 'women'. Sometimes such authors will accept these changes after a long struggle, or maybe at proof stage, when they start getting nervous about how the book will look when it's printed. In my experience they very rarely look things up. These are academic authors, whose regular job is to be accurate.

It's true about women in other jobs experiencing similar sort of treatment; I was indulging a bit. But, I have to say, we sometimes deal with a huge amount of arrogance, rudeness, complete absence of courtesy, and usually have to smile, nod, say, sure, thank you for this, and that's sometimes frustrating.

Anyway, publishing is a great industry, and I never forget this fact: it really is quite wonderful working on developing manuscripts, and seeing them turn into books. But it's not some romantic process where editors have a free run and enough time to work with texts, there's a lot of drudgery. Books are also not perfect, and sometimes they can't be, and editors are not perfect.

As far as ABR is concerned, that's a publication that places a great deal of effort into the editing and copyediting stages of production. The editor there involves volunteers, as well as in-house staff into producing a perfect result. Time is spent on these tasks, and it shows. It's interesting to know about past responses to editorial suggestions from various authors at ABR. It's not surprising. I guess being an editor of ABR and being a publisher's book editor are two different things: the first role is associated with academic and professional kudos, in the second role the editor is sometimes swimming with the sharks, just trying to stay alive.

Anyway, I hope I didn't steer the discussion into some serious territory, I thought I'd contribute with my experience of this work.

Kerryn Goldsworthy said...

No no, it's great -- comment away! Most of the people who come here would be very interested in your take on these things, I think.

Bernice said...

With sad reluctance, have to agree with Tatyana as to author behaviour. Certainly not always and bless them, there are shining exceptions who are an absolute bloody delight but...

As to S&S, they have "got rid of" a huge number of their in-house editorial staff, particularly the senior editors. For a rather depressing take on this, try and track down Tom Engelhardt's novel The Last Days of Publishing. [University of Massachusetts Press, 2003]

However, agents and publicists will happily gossip about the hordes of unhappy authors, frustrated by publishers not providing them with consummate copy editors, appropriate to the inherent brilliance of the manuscript. (The sarcasm is heavy handed but I remain a wee bit puzzled as to why editorial exchanges have become less of a dialogue and more of a skirmish)

Kerryn Goldsworthy said...

Bernice, I can think of some reasons. I think it may be connected to the terrible time I had as a university teacher in the 80s and early 90s (reaction set in after that, thank Goddess) when the crop of kids who had come through primary school under the 'Never mind that you can't spell and you don't know any grammar, just Be Creative!! Express Yourselves!! And Everything You Do is Wonderful!!' banner. And this was in Victoria, where I think that may have been at its worst. Something to do with a half-understood and in any case half-arsed ideologically based conviction that Rules are Teh Bad. Or something. Whatever it was, I met massive and sullen resistance from the 18-year-olds whenever I tried to teach them a few rules of basic literacy simply because I wasn't prepared to be a party to them getting degrees in English without being properly literate (and boy has that horse ever bolted). 'But this stuff doesn't matter!' was the cry. 'They told us at school that this stuff doesn't matter! It's all about how we feel!!'

What this has produced, at least to my observation, is at least one generation of people utterly unable to make a distinction between either (a) style and substance, or (b) their writing and their essential selves. So they perceive any critique or questioning at all of their writing as negative personal criticism.

Obviously the really good writers, the intelligent ones who want to go on improving their knowledge of language and honing (or do I mean homing?) their actual technical writing skills, don't belong in this wild generalisation. But I think a lot of other people do.

Of course, my idea of an inherently brilliant manuscript is one that doesn't need a copy editor, written by someone who understands that 'typo' is not a synonym for 'every stupid mistake of spelling, grammar and usage that I've made in this manuscript, not by accident but out of ignorance'. But I would say that, wouldn't I.

Bernice said...

PC, that's an interesting point about the brown string theory of classroom practice - I'd also add that as 'doin' what feels gooooood is good' is the pervading mantra of our consumer societies where rights are expected and responsibilities ignored, it would be Canutish (but heroic) for teachers to have tried to hold the line on something as barnacled with misplaced values as grammar, usage and spelling.

But as to your your final para [and I'm not quite sure how firmly cheek wedged your tongue is]:

Of course, my idea of an inherently brilliant manuscript is one that doesn't need a copy editor, written by someone who understands that 'typo' is not a synonym for 'every stupid mistake of spelling, grammar and usage that I've made in this manuscript, not by accident but out of ignorance'.

I think it both close to impossible to achieve and not necessarily a good thing to wish to achieve. Even though a copy editor's brief for a manuscript can vary wildly from one to the next, in all situations they are playing the role of the common reader. Usage is but one part of the editing process; polishing the prose (if required) in a dialogue with the author can take the work to a place that astonishes even its maker, finds meanings they were groping for or have understood themselves but poorly explained to the reader. I can't prove or disprove that the best of our writers can deliver the manuscript that requires no editorial input, but an awful lot of self-published works demonstrate what happens when there is no editorial intervention at all. And it isn't pretty.

There are rumblings in the States about big name authors shifting to publishing themselves as established brands from their website - either as POD product or ebook downloads. Publishers are getting a bit nervous BUT all seem to agree that what wont disappear is the need for an editorial relationship. The interesting question over the next few years will be whether editors will shift to having a stronger link to writers than publishers; given the slash and burn bean counter head space of so many of the large US concerns, publishers should, I think, be more than a bit nervous.

Kerryn Goldsworthy said...

'[and I'm not quite sure how firmly cheek wedged your tongue is]'

About two-thirds. Everything you say is, of course, true. Although I've known more than one editor who thought it was her job to find lots of things to "fix" -- it can be very hard to persuade a certain kind of editor that doing their job well is sometimes a matter of good judgement about what to leave alone.

I've got a little list I give to students in an editing workshop I teach once a year as part of a graduate course in Food Writing (which is a fabulous gig; they all know an amazing amount about food, so I learn at least as much from them as they do from me). I give them a handout, a passage from some foodie book or other into which I have introduced various errors and infelicities (triple ls, triple esses, whiches for thats, wrongly placed apostrophes, repetitions of an unusual word within a few lines, wrnogly spelled author's names, incorrect geographical data, badly ordered paragrahping, fatally unclear recipe instructions -- the whole nine yards) and ask them to edit it, and then we go through it and discuss the changes each has made.

I then persuade them (and they do not find this easy) to sort everything they have marked for change into 'Wrong', 'Bad', 'Could be improved' and 'Matter of taste'. The last list always turns out to be the longest, and very few of them can explain why they would make the change they have suggested.

Kerryn Goldsworthy said...




Tatyana Larina said...

The editing workshop sounds great. Also, it’s always interesting for editors to hear what writers think about being edited; it’s important to have these exchanges. I’ve attended talks organised by the Victorian Society of Editors featuring conversations with authors and their editors, discussing their experiences. Editors are really open to these debates.

I think learning about editing in an educational setting is an excellent way to start. Classroom is where a lot of us develop a passion for this work (a potentially dangerous infatuation).

Because the traditional ‘apprenticeship’ path of entry into publishing no longer exists, editors are now more commonly receiving postgraduate training before or while they are gaining publishing experience. I think an increasing number of editors currently working in publishing houses belong to this crop of editors. Many of us wish we could have been trained by experienced editors in ‘trainee editor’ jobs; no such roles exist any longer, publishers want lots of different experience and a ready-made product. (J. Kent’s A Certain Style about Beatrice Davis describes the world of editing few of us know.) Some people think that this ‘traditional’ type of training wasn’t as great as it sounds as it produced editors who were replicating the mannerisms of their mentors and that the education—practical experience pathway creates publishing professionals who are more adaptable, have ‘more formal’ educational and professional experience, and a broader experience of life and work. Hopefully this makes us more able to listen and to hold back.

One of the first things a postgrad student doing a publishing degree will learn is: ‘do not touch things that are related to style’. I recall a wonderful editing teacher Bryony Cosgrove mentioning this: ‘don’t correct stylistic items just because you don’t like them, it’s not your voice’. Ultimately, knowing how to do this appropriately requires maturity. Learning how to do one’s job well is a tricky challenge in any line of work.

I agree that every book needs an editor. I think good publishers recognise this. Now that we are publishing books faster, and there are fewer people involved in their production, an editor overseeing the making of a book (because this is what our job is about) is often the only person intimately familiar with the contents of each manuscript.

A perfectly written manuscript would still need someone to manage its conversion into a final virtual or tangible product. A complex publication with lots of different types of content, or a multi-author publication needs a professional who knows about what to look for during the production process. That person can’t really be an author, and it can’t be a publisher—it has to be some editor-kind of person, whatever that role might turn out to be in the future.

Bernice said...

Tatyana's point about the loss of the Davis model of editoral training raises the issue of craft and quite where it now sits. It can be a conservatising influence but it also brings a nuance that is missing in so much we now do. Ideally, we should have access to both. Sadly, we don't.
Currently experiencing hair loss over the issue of ebooks, specifically academic ebooks. The early delivery models could be comfortably accommodated - produce a web-ready PDF, host it with library subscription providers and aggregators, watch the revenue drip in. But with the rise of the individual ebook consumer, using their iPhone or Kindle, and the establishment of the ePub file format as the dominant reflowable file, the model is beginning to fall apart. And what is most absent from the flurry of comment, info and emerging standards is the issue of editing a text that is literally no longer stable. Here we have no identifiable craft tradition nor structured training; I'm more than a bit nervous that other areas of digital knowledge transference will become actively or passively adopted, without new editorial forms having time to evolve. As always, we clutch onto the new without quite understanding what we may lost in the old.

Bernice said...

And Food Writing course? Am g.r.e.e.n with food colouring...

Bernice said...

By way of demonstrating the bizarre forms of digital text editing, the ABC have kindly placed this on the Just In webpage:

Headline: Oceanic Viking refugees begin resettlement

"Some of the refugees from the Oceanic Viking will begin the resettlement process to places like Australia today."

Takes pencil, tries to write on screen....