Re: RARA-AVIS: Fact checkers

From: Joy Matkowski (
Date: 20 Apr 2002

1. In the old days, a typesetter typed galleys from copyedited paper manuscripts. Some of them added lots of errors, but most were good at catching errors and asking questions. Then a proofreader read the galleys against the manuscript. First pages were styled from the galleys, and a different proofreader read first pages against the galleys. For a second pages proofreading, usually only corrections to first pages were checked, but if first pages were messy, then second pages were often read straight through. Sometimes there were third pages. So many sets of eyes ought to catch "affect" that ought to be "effect" every time.
    Now there are books that don't see paper until they go to the printer. There's no typesetter; essentially, copyeditors are often creating the equivalent of galleys on screen from the author's Word files, and then a graphics person coaxes the files into pages, which may be proofread in .pdf
(which I find very difficult) or not at all. It's amazing that so few workers do such a fine job by and large.
    In my opinion, a careful paper proofreading is necessary when technology is involved because so many things can go wrong unintentionally--paragraphs moved to a different chapter and not deleted from the first location, global changes that shouldn't have been made globally, that sort of thing. Scanning is done a lot in some areas of publishing and always creates problems. A lot of your ware-wane errors came into print there. The classic scanning error is "m" vs. "rn." I suspect too many people think scanning is the same as photocopying.
    However, the Internet certainly makes fact checking easier. I can look things up now that would not have been feasible 10 years ago--for example, spellings of names that are too obscure to be in dictionaries and standard reference books. (I have a reference book that has the state bird of Pennsylvania as the ruffled goose.) Then again, 10 years ago I didn't have to copyedit URLs. 2. The good old days of perfect books is mostly myth. Maybe 15 years ago I worked on reprints of Grace Livingston Hills, sort of Executioners for nice girls 50-75 years ago. The originals were littered with typos, worse than I've seen in any recent professionally published paperback fiction. (Some racist bits were edited out of the new printings, but the nasty classism remained.) Other old books I've read are not so hot. 3. Women's lib brought problems to nonfiction. All those secretaries who used to type all those books for their bosses are just about gone, and all those bosses have to rely on their own knowledge and skills. I'm just guessing this point, based on my corporate experience when the bosses were switched from secretaries taking dictation to word processors transcribing tapes. The secretaries actually wrote the memos; the WP people merely typed what they were told.

Joy, who'll bring this back to proper list topics by noting that she was listening to a rerun of the C-SPAN F. Scott Fitzgerald show while typing this and learned that the St. Paul Fitzgerald Theater, where Guy Noir works, was named after F. Scott

Ray Skirsky <> said:
> My comment was not a shot at copy-editors, but rather publishers who've
> 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
> 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
> queried, and my conclusion is that no-one actually read the damn thing at
> 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
> 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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