Sunday, December 29, 2013

Proofreading pickles

I've been reading a lot this last year. But not only books that I've wanted to read for my own pleasure. I've also had to read an incredible amount of material for my studies and my job as an academic and business writing teacher. I've accumulated stacks of books about teaching writing to ESL students and researching on all manner of topics. My special interest is in peer review and self correction - mainly because I'm just a tad tired of doing all the marking myself and would love to hand some of it over to them! - but also because I'm interested in techniques for peer and self correction on my own behalf.

Actually, I notice that all the writers among us are very passionate about achieving quality in editing and production. Even so, errors slip through. I've seen it in my own books, not only the ones I've self-published and had readers proof-reading for me, but also those that have been professionally edited. It drives me to distraction and I threaten to go into deep depression when I hear of or see a mistake that hasn't been picked up after publication. But then I read my text books on academic research and journal papers on my chosen topic and I see the same types of errors cropping up in these supposedly erudite and high quality works too. This is when I have to ask what is the problem? And why is it so difficult to produce flawless books these days if even well-known publishers like Cambridge and Oxford University Press, Routledge or the renowned Michigan Press in the US cannot get it right?

I don't actually have the answer to this, but I have a suspicion it has to do with everything being digital these days. No longer do we have armies of proofreaders sitting with rulers and pens making proofreading marks on paper printouts of the books. Perhaps the style sheets of the past are no longer used by copyeditors and proofreaders. Maybe everything is done on screen with MS Word track changes and minor details just get overlooked. After all, we all know the screen is very different from the printed page, don't we? To make a personal observation, I don't think I've read a book in the past six months without a single error in it (except perhaps the Donna Leon novel I read a few months ago - big name, big budget?). It might only have been an extra space between a comma and a word, a misplaced speech mark, a missing preposition, or a fallen 'cap' at the beginning of a chapter, but there's always something. In my study books, there have been worse errors like fused clauses, unfinished sentences and seriously misspelt words. 

It doesn't trouble me in other people's books quite so much now because I've come to accept it as part of modern publishing. I'm certainly not in a position to criticise, but boy oh boy, I would so love to be totally sure my books were word and punctuation perfect, so it troubles me very much about my own work. A fault free manuscript is something I still aim for. That said, I now have my own wonderful group of proofreaders who being language teachers are justly critical, but I find it fascinating that barring a few overlaps, they all find different mistakes or points to comment on - a little worrying too. 

I'm currently nearing the end of my editing phases with Harbour Ways, the sequel to Watery Ways, so I'm praying we've got it right this time (I say 'we', because it really is a team effort). It's tricky as there's both Dutch and English to check in the book, but the 'girls' have been amazing as has Koos, who did the first read through. One final check from another proofreader friend, and then we'll see…but I do hope that in contrast with all my academic reading, and my previous books, this particular volume will be - well, if not perfect in all ways (what is that anyway?) at least consistent and finally fault free!



I don't have a release date for Harbour Ways yet, but I hope I'll be able to announce it soon. For those who don't know my books, it's the sequel to Watery Ways and recounts the story of how I convert my own barge, the Vereeniging, from an empty hull to a liveaboard 'faring' barge. The image above is the concept cover.

For now, though, Happy New Year to all, happy editing to my writing friends, and of course, lots of lovely good wishes to you all!


20 comments:

  1. Oh lovely Val .....mistokes happen. I have read and re-read and have had re-read all my books and there are still tiny typos. It is a shame and I get annoyed also, but I think the mind readjusts and kind of mentally corrects. And people don't see them.(well, a few do..)

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  2. Aah, dear CarolStar…mistokes (I'm adopting this word) happen to me more than most! And my only comfort is that not everyone sees the same mistakes, so at least half of them will go unnoticed by half the readers :-) Hugs!

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  3. I think the culprit is the autocorrect features now automatically available whenever we type into word processing programs or even social media. I've found that despite eagle eyes and repeated editors, autocorrect adds or reverses words in a way that is unintended after you attempt a legitimate correction, therefore changing your text without your even realizing it (and quite often gets it wrong!). I was shocked that the latest Elizabeth George novel had a couple of typos, then realized it must be the same all over now with the autocorrect features,

    That said, it doesn't excuse the fact that it took your eagle eyes to remind me that a sunset is not a sunrise! x

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  4. Oh chuckle, Anne Marie. I remember that one! Bless you! But I've done similar things. I've had spring flowers growing in the autumn, and if you remember Alan became Adam in the same dialogue! But I think that's a good point about autocorrect and typos, and it gives me some comfort to know what exalted company we're in if Elizabeth George books also have errors!

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  5. It's easy to err, even in blog posts, which are short, and so we should not beat ourselves up too much about this. We know how advantageous electronic editing can be and also how easily it can produce problems. An occasional blip doesn't matter, I think, as long as it doesn't compromise the reader's willing suspension of disbelief. Perfection, we may strive for, but it's worth remembering that, for example, adults who claim that children 'don't know how to spell these days' are equally likely to mis-spell when challenged. We're human after all.
    I've encountered mistakes in books published decades ago; it's not a modern thing. That you personally take so much care and trouble and also get others to double-check is what you should be proud of. :)

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  6. Dear Val, I know exactly what you mean. It seems that the digital world has indeed led to a lower standard of excellence in editing, which is ironic. Like you, I spot the mistakes in the books I read, but then, I find them in my own blog, much to my shame. I agree with Anne-Marie that autocorrect is a lot of the problem, and I get quite frustrated when I don't notice what it has done to my work! Happy New Year, Val.

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  7. I'm there with you, especially as I consider myself a proper apostrophe geek! I hate finding great worksheets to use in a classroom and then finding the mistake, not so good on literacy worksheets! I wish you and your family very best wishes for the New Year and I really really hope that this is the year we finally get to meet up xxxx

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  8. Oh Val how I identify with this. Those wretched speellings that creep past the spellcheck and repeated words words that we just don't see however often we read. We're writers - we're meant to be able to do this stuff.

    And - as a pedant - they drive me bonkers!

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  9. Fault free seems impossible these days, I agree with Carol...the mind readjusts!

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  10. Christina, thank you for giving me a thumbs up even about my mistakes…sorry, mistokes :-) I am very lucky to have friends who are used to being critical and marking papers to help me, so they catch practically everything. What they cannot help is the mistakes I make by correcting the previous mistakes. Now I have secondary readers!

    Paatricia, I also find mistakes in my blogs! So annoying, but yes, I'll have to watch that autocorrect too! Happy new year to you too!

    Fran, dear, it's lovely to see you here again! Ha! Yes the dreaded apostrophe! And yes, I've also found mistakes in worksheets and workbooks. Funny how the students always think it's your/my fault too :-) Lots of love and lets make an NY resolution to meet in 2014!

    Jo, that's my feeling too! We should be able to do it, but it seems it's normal that we need someone else to do it as well. Another reason I'm so in favour of peer review!

    String, the lovely thing about writing for music is that mostly we hear the lyrics and don't see them. Music is a wonderful medium for writers. Thank you for dropping in again!

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  11. I really appreciated this post. I have wondered about all the editing oversights in books nowadays, and I think you are right. It has something to do with digital vs. paper editing. I just had my first book published and I feel my stomach knot up at the thought there is going to be an error somewhere in its midst.

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  12. Thanks for coming by Kristien! You'll find proofreading is an issue that will continue to occupy you with every book you write! Good luck with your first novel!!

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  13. I was instructed once to disengage the auto correct feature, I think it was something to do with formatting and I find the computer has been having less fun without it. It dosn't seem to be able to get up to as many tricks as before.
    Do we even need this feature? I mean, we are writers and supposed to be able to compose material without a rogue machines interference.

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  14. As you said Val even the powerful and mighty have mistakes in their books. Your readers don't care,it's the story that counts. I must make so many gramatical mistakes in my blogs and reviews you must cringe.

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  15. Jay, yes, I think that's a good idea and I'm going to do it myself from now on, but what it won't help with is when I write 'principal' instead of 'principle' or 'feat' instead of 'feet.' I make stupid mistakes like this pretty often, and it's not because I don't know what's correct; it's that my fingers do their own thing and don't listen to my brain :-)

    Anne, I honestly don't notice it in blogs. I think everyone writes blog posts or comments with mistakes in them. It's just the feeling that we need to try and make books people are going to spend money on worth every cent. But thank you for saying the readers don't notice. That's so you to be so kind!

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  16. Hi Val .. Good luck with all the proofing etc and then the publication and marketing - 2014 should be a fun year for you .. cheers Hilary

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  17. Wishing for much success for you in 2014!

    Nas

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  18. I'm always surprised when I come across an error in one of the professionally edited and published books I am reading. Maybe also because I actually notice it when I'm usually the one creating loads of errors in my own writing :p

    Strangely I've noticed it in a few Terry Prattchet books.

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  19. Thanks Nas! And Stu, it's a known thing that you notice errors in other people's writing and not your own :-) Interesting to hear you say that about TP's book!

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  20. Good stuff that you have shared here. We will have more informative and helping news from you.
    Proofreading

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