Friday, February 15, 2008

In praise of editors

This in response to Carole’s comments about those mistakes in our books that we only notice when it's much too late ("Book Flaw Meme")

We all need editors (where would Thomas Wolfe have been without Maxwell Perkins?) and good ones, I think, are no longer easy to come by. To have the chance to work with a good one is a matter for much rejoicing. A month of hard slogging on the final draft of my latest young adult historical, in partnership with a skilled and astute editor at a small Canadian literary press, has left me tired but very grateful. I was equally pleased with Paula Guran’s thoughtful, unobtrusive copy-editing of Juno’s Sarsen Witch reissue.

Too often I pick up a book by a well-known author and find it riddled with typos. A recent winner of Canada’s prestigious Governor-General’s Award confused “lie” with “lay” – not once but twice. Clearly the copy-editor had nodded off at his/her desk. A friend reading a novel from a large and respected British publishing house counted something like forty mistakes in the first few chapters. She fired off an indignant letter to the publisher, enumerating the errors. The publisher, with typical British aplomb, wrote back to thank her for the corrections, and suggested that she let them know if she found any others. My friend’s response was, “Certainly – and my editing fee is….”

My first novel back in the eighties got caught up in the publisher’s change of ownership, when apparently there was no copy-editor. When I received the page proofs, I saw that almost every one of my typos had been faithfully reproduced, and a few more added for good measure. On the other hand, there’s the copy-editor from hell, who makes as many changes as possible in order to look productive. I had one of those, years ago. He or she felt compelled not only to correct my mistakes, but to completely change my style. (Fortunately the editor in charge intervened, and allowed me to change everything back.)

So this is a slightly belated Valentine to the good editors of this world – may their tribe increase!