Castration By Drapery, Or, The Importance Of Good Editing

November 27th, 2006 · 12 Comments
by Kassia Krozser

What with one thing and the other, we were seriously underbooked as we left town for the Thanksgiving holiday — luckily, we were able to borrow from the lending library run by the BS mother (as she doesn’t reread books, borrowing books from her is a kindness). We settled on a fairly recent J.D. Robb novel; it seemed appropriate.

But as we settled down to read, things grew uncomfortable. A typo here, a typo there. Then things moved to downright frustrating: the wrong word here, the wrong word there. And out-and-out angering: sloppy scene changes, poor editing. Mistake after mistake, and that makes for a lousy reading experience.

Due to sales and whatnot, the Robb books are now being released in hardcover. This is significant only because, well, hardcover costs more for consumers. Let’s just say that elementary school librarians aren’t highly compensated, and the mother is an elementary school librarian. She deserves better from publishers (hello, G.P. Putnam!). The odd typo? That we can excuse. Out-and-out crappy editing? Not so much.

Example (as published):

…But this time she waited until he passed out, then cut off his dick with a pair of sheers.

Setting aside the improbability of this sort of violence being committed with drapery, it’s like the third major editing (copy editing or otherwise) gaffe in the first 48 pages. There was a weird extra paragraph break. Then a sloppy change from dialogue tense to narrative tense (present tense to past tense). And, of course, our violent curtains.

Less than fifty pages into the story and the errors were enough to drag us out of the story and to our keyboard to rant. Nora Roberts (aka J.D. Robb) is a notoriously prolific writer, and the mistakes read as if the manuscript were rushed. The final product felt like a fairly polished third draft — something you might turn in to your editor, but not something that should go to press without fine-tuning.

It shows a real lack of respect to the consumer when words like sheer and shear (or vice and vise) are used interchangeably. When changes between dialogue tense and narrative tense are missed. When characters have a discussion about a framed photograph…and then 30, 40 pages later, discuss that very same photograph as if it were something new and different to the story.

These mistakes can, sure, be placed squarely on the shoulders of the author, though, if the author is totally responsible for a spotless final manuscript, what roles do editors and copy editors play? Roberts did her job by crafting a tight mystery. She took a group of familiar characters in new directions. She, happily, let two characters face the possibility of bringing a cute kid into their lives without taking the expected route. She did her job.

So, yeah, we’re putting this on the publisher. This book read like it was written fast and submitted just as quickly. Sure the Roberts/Robb franchise is lucrative, but the onus is on the publisher to either edit the work into polished format or tell the author to tighten up the manuscript…because paying hardcover prices for sloppy work isn’t a great way to build consumer confidence.

File Under: Square Pegs

12 responses so far ↓

  • Deidre // Nov 28, 2006 at 12:33 am

    The problem of course is that no one actually edits it as much as they just hit spellcheck which is useless in this sort of situation. It has long been my theory that in the future the creators of Microsoft Word’s spellcheck and grammar check functions will have as much to do with the course of the English language as the creators of the first dictionaries.

  • Thomasina // Nov 28, 2006 at 3:55 pm

    The greatest/worst typo I ever read in a book (the title now, sadly, forgotten) was when an author left the ‘f’ in ‘shift’ out of “He shifts in his chair.” More feasible than castration by drapery, but only marginally more comfortable.

  • KathyF // Nov 29, 2006 at 1:34 pm

    I’m pretty sure that in the not-too-distant future the word “it’s” will be accepted usage for the possessive form of “it.”

    And by the way, my mother-in-law who knows something about these things informs me that draperies are never to be called drapes.

  • Cindy Procter-King // Nov 29, 2006 at 1:37 pm

    LOLOLOL. I can’t comment, just laugh hysterically at Thomasina’s comment.

  • Deb Smith // Nov 29, 2006 at 5:37 pm

    As a lowly semi-peer of Nora Roberts aka J.D. Robb, I recall talking to Nora’s agent years ago and being informed that “No one messes with Nora’s process,” and that, on average, Roberts had six-to-twelve pre-pub books in the pipeline every year. Wowser.

  • ktwice // Nov 30, 2006 at 9:04 pm

    While I would agree that nobody should mess with what is clearly a successful process (heck, I find it a struggle some days just to write two paragraphs, I can’t even comprehend having that many books in the pipeline.), even the best need editing. I once heard that there is a certain echelon of authors who feel they are above the editing process. Nobody is that flawless. This is the first time I’ve seen so many errors in one book. It was bit surprising to me. And I think it does have a negative impact on consumers.

    Thomasina — nothing depicts of the importance of a careful proofreading like that story. It’s hard for the author to explain that one to his or her mother…

  • Nora Roberts // Dec 1, 2006 at 5:29 am

    Let me say first that draperies can be very dangerous things.

    However, I have no excuse and no explanation as to why there were so many mistakes in the book. It shouldn’t happen, and it falls on me, my editor, the proofer, the typesetters, the publisher. We’re all to blame, imo, when something like this happens. I can only go on record apologizing for all of us.

    And also go on record as saying I’m not one who feels I’m above editing. I believe, strongly, that every writer needs an editor. I value mine very much.

    While it’s true no one messes with my process, my editor is very much part of that.

    As far as books in the publishing pipeline–twelve?? At the moment I have four novels and a novella in house for publication next year. That’s about par for me.

  • ktwice // Dec 1, 2006 at 1:52 pm

    Nora — having been on the receiving end of dangerous draperies, I can agree. I appreciate that you took the time to comment (please don’t think that I was suggesting you were one of the “above editing” authors — the story was about someone of an entirely different gender). I have noticed increased grumblings from readers for several years now when it comes to the close editing of books; I don’t know why this seems to be happening more and more often. It clearly didn’t stop me from reading the book (nor did it stop me from stealing the next in the series from my mother — if I didn’t take books, she’d have no room to turn around in her house).

    And I’m glad you clarified the number-of-book-in-the-pipeline question. Twelve books in various stages would leave absolutely no time for a person to shop.

  • Nora Roberts // Dec 1, 2006 at 2:08 pm

    ~Twelve books in various stages would leave absolutely no time for a person to shop.~

    Oh well, my God! My heart actually stopped for a moment at the thought.

    I wish I knew, and could speak to authoritatively regarding the typos and missteps that seem to be more of a problem lately. Partially, I think it’s the e-copies of mss that go in–though I send hard and e. And I know that now and then I’ve caught or corrected something in galleys that hasn’t made it into the finished copy. But then I’ve missed corrections that have.

    After the holiday madness, I’ll talk to my editor/publisher and see if we can work on the problem. Honestly–and no sucking up as she doesn’t surf the net–I have one of the hardest-working and smartest editors in publishing. But shift happens.

  • ktwice // Dec 1, 2006 at 9:43 pm

    I wouldn’t disagree with the electronic copies being part of the problem theory. Proofing is such a painstaking process that sometimes you need to do it manually. Mistakes happen — I certainly make enough to know that.

    By the way, you’ve been incredibly gracious about this. That alone would make me a fan if I wasn’t already.

  • The Aforementioned Mother // Dec 3, 2006 at 10:15 am

    First, I must thank you for taking those two books and giving me the room to turn around. Secondly, I am supremely proud of you and the exchanges I’ve just read, but then I read your last comment. Please, my favorite oldest child, remember when one uses the past subjunctive of the verb “to be”, one must use the plural verb “were”. (…if I weren’t…) How’s that for editing. Love ya.

  • ktwice // Dec 3, 2006 at 12:14 pm

    Dearest Mother, I believe I am correct in my use of the word “was”, though this is one of those things that I could, if inclined, argue either way.* Doesn’t the subjunctive mood imply that if something were to be the case, then you would use the word “were”. But if something is indeed the case (the “were” implying that the case is actually false), then you may use the “was” form of the verb? Because I am indeed already a fan. Of course, my use of the word “would” might tip the scales in your favor, though the more you twist it, the stickier it gets. I actually spent more time considering which form of “to be” to use than I did on the shoes I wore that day. And I always carefully consider my shoes.
    * This is why the husband often suggests that I disagree with everything as a matter of course. Because I do.