26 June 2007

REPOST 5/19/05 Who is at fault?

So, back to a discussion that is near and dear to me...and relates loosely to the subject I wrote about earlier... Who is really to blame when a book goes out from a publisher in poor condition?

There are people who will tell you that it's the author's fault. Simply, the author shouldn't let something substandard go out. Others will counter that it's the editor's fault for letting it get out there without proper editing (or the publisher's fault for having incompetent editors). Still others will blame the EIC or other, final line person at the editor who should make sure the product that comes off the line is as close to perfect as it can be.

Who do I agree with? NONE OF THEM!

None of them? Okay...more precisely, all of them...and none of them.

Don't roll your eyes yet. Hear me out.

Why is the author to blame? Because, darn it! Your name will be on the cover. Take the time to make sure the blasted book is as perfect as you can make it. Do your craft and your career mean so little to you that you aren't willing to give a SERIOUS once-over to the book before it goes out? I don't mean thirty minutes on a 75,000 word book and you claim you checked it! I mean "LOOK AT IT." Use ReadPlease or a similar program to read the book to you, so you can find typos that you can't see. LOOK at the formatting on every page. If you hand it back in less than a day, you haven't done your job.

Why is the author NOT to blame? Human beings have the most delightful ability to complete and correct patterns. It's inborn into most humans. When presented with a dotted line picture, you can see the whole. When handed that test where the first and last letter of every word in a paragraph is right and the letters between are scrambled, you can still read the paragraph, can't you? Of course you can! You're human. For authors, it's even worse than that. You know what the paragraph SHOULD say, so your eyes and brain conspire against you to make you THINK you see it on the page, when it's not there. That is why you have an editor in the first place. The editor is going in cold. The editor is supposed to see what is really there. That is why the company pays them. Ultimately, the editor is MORE responsible for spotting errors. No matter how saleable a book is when it comes in, it is going to have errors. There is no such thing as an author presenting a perfect manuscript for publishing.

In addition, there are errors an author cannot possibly catch, errors that occur after he/she has done galleys. Let me share a few.

I had two books release with the wrong file. One released (not once but THREE times) with the pre-galley file. Now, that wasn't MY fault as author. The post-galley file was corrected, checked and submitted for release three separate times. The publisher formatted the wrong file three times and put it out for sale THREE TIMES with the wrong file. Needless to say, that is not my favorite publisher. The other book (a different publisher, who is still mortified to have made this mistake, which speaks highly for them in my book) was put out with my first edit file. IOW, the book went out as I submitted it with the editor's notes for the first round of edits in the margins. I kid you not on this one. I had added two scenes to the book, including a new ending, and done all the edits between. The truly amusing thing was that the book reviewed well in that condition. Miracles never cease!

Sometimes the people formatting CREATE errors that the author doesn't see until the book comes back to him/her as a completed and published whole. I had a dated book and had put the full date on the first chapter. Since the rest of the book took place over 13 weeks in the same year, I didn't put years on the rest of the chapters. Taking this as an error, a well-meaning formatter added dates to the rest of the chapters, only on one of the chapters, when he was no-doubt tired, he typed 2991 and not 2001.

Another? A popular NY author had someone in formatting do a strange sort of find/replace where she replaced every instance of the word blonde with backseat. Ouch! Another? Another popular NY author had someone, after her final galley check, change the word whuffle (a cat noise) to waffle. Her ARCs went out with a waffling cat. Another? One more from NY... A well-meaning individual created a world rule breech in a famous NY author's book by arbitrarily stating that it took 4 blood exchanges (not the three established in her series) to create a vampire. Believe me...readers didn't miss it.

Now, NONE of these errors are types of things that an author could have prevented. So, to those who say that it is ultimately the author's fault...sorry. I cannot agree.

Editors? The first-line folks? I already stated why it WOULD be their fault. Why wouldn't it? First of all, for the same reasons it might not be the author's fault. The wrong file can go out or the final formatting can cause errors that the editor will never see.

Another reason that it wouldn't be is if the author refused reasonable edits. THAT would be the fault of the publisher and EIC for allowing it to happen, as long as the editor let them know it was happening. There are some prima donnas out there. I won't lie. Some authors feel their art is above editing. But, the buck stops here. The publisher must publish with a couple of thoughts in mind: Will it sell? Does it break any laws? Does it offend my core readership, the people we do not want to offend above all else? AND...Is it worthy to carry the company name? The company name will be on that cover as well as the author's. The quality of the offering MUST be taken into account by the publisher. I realize that the publisher may not want to give a popular author walking papers, and that is their prerogative, but in the end, I am not certain allowing substandard books to go out is in the company's BEST interest.

So, to all those who claim it's the front line editor's fault... Sorry, I cannot agree with that.

To those who state it is the EIC or other final-phase person at the publisher's fault... Sorry. You know what I am going to say. Ultimately, this person should be the most accountable for the state of a released book. It is the hand that should hold it last, the one that should safeguard company and author both. But... This person is only following orders, and if the publisher decides to let a prima donna slide, the EIC has absolutely no choice in the matter, besides quitting.

Likewise, few publishers (I mean the OWNER of the company now...) do the final check themselves. While they, like the captain of a ship damaged at sea, are the final person held accountable for any problem at the company, people are strange creatures, and you cannot always anticipate when an editor will decide to slack off, when an EIC may be preparing to jump ship and isn't doing the job correctly, when someone doesn't report a prima donna up the line and tries to handle it personally...and badly.

So, whose responsibility is it to make sure the book makes it out there correctly? No one person. It's a team effort, a (hopefully) well-oiled machine. When the machine breaks down...or if it never worked correctly, the books are going to come out with errors.

1 comment:

Dorothy said...

Excellent post, Brenna. Unfortunately, there was no real team effort in my case. Just a lot of hurry-up-let's-get-this-done-so-we-can-appear-on-Oprah-with-it. Never again.