Re: RARA-AVIS: Fact checkers

From: Ray Skirsky (
Date: 16 Apr 2002

At 12:06 AM 4/16/2002 -0400, Joy Matkowski--appparently a professional copy-editor--replied to my comments on copy-editing with:

><an extended treatise on the responsibilities of a copy-editor, concluding

> OK. I was wound up. Now I'm wound down and can get back to work.
>Joy, defensively

My knowledge of the duties of a copy-editor was based on some guidelines put out by Theresa Nielson Hayden in her NESFA book (whose title escapes me at the moment). It did include fact-checking, at least to query the author. My comment was not a shot at copy-editors, but rather publishers who've done away with copy-editing--and proof-reading--to save money. In the course of my reading, both fiction and non-fiction, I see lots of books full of typos that convert one word into another (e.g. ware into wane), that aren't caught by spell-checkers, but would be caught by any reasonably competent human. Add in tons of duplicated lines, dangling references (see figure below, when the figure is above) and logical inconsistencies that someone should have queried, and my conclusion is that no-one actually read the damn thing at the publishers after the initial draft.

Whose responsibility would this be? In one of the Executioner novels, number 50-something (I won the first 140 in a bulk lot on Ebay), at one point Mack Bolan gives his trusty Beretta to a woman who needs protection. A few pages later, he gets ambushed, and the "trusty Beretta Belle leaps into his hand and spits fire into the night." Or some such horseshit. Later, when the arch-villain is about to shoot our trusty hero, the woman--the villain's wife--shoots him with the Beretta that Mack had given her earlier. Who should have found this logic flaw? The author, certainly, but for the post-Pendleton Executioners, he's probably just a hack trying to make word-count and meet deadline. The editor? The copy-editor? Well, in this case, no one did. My guess is there was no copy-editor, and the editor didn't care because he had to get out one book a month, and this was just hackwork anyway. Obviously the readers don't care, because the Executioner is still going strong, some 300+ books into the series.

But I see these kinds of problems even at big-name publishers, and I suspect the problem is the publisher, cutting back on production costs by eliminating multiple drafts
(with editorial commentary) and copy-editing.


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