Wednesday, October 02, 2013

A Crying Shame: We Don't Have Good Copyeditors

We recently read a few pages of an anthology, one in which our short story was published. Then we put the book down and winced. Winced because there were a lot of mistakes, that even the most underpaid sub-editor (a tribe of which we used to be a member) would have discovered. We wondered if the copy has been "subbed" at all. That hurt us because it was our book, one we made our debut with. It made us feel like dirt. To our horror, we discovered later that these days publishers don't employ the tribe called "su-editors" or "copyeditors". They do an editing online and then it goes to press. There is lot of difference between editing online and correcting proof on paper. Online you tend to scan and not really read, many, many, errors thus get overlooked.

We think this was the horror story which was waiting to happen, putting the computer to work where it couldn't be of any help. A story that has killed the demand for good copy editors, which, partially, contributed to our downfall. The copy desk, once the privilege of well-read, all-knowing, grammar-proficient sub-editors who really controlled quality is now dead, as an institution or otherwise as a profession. That's why Indian novels turn out to be of atrocious quality, you turn away in disgust at the mistakes. Pick up a Bhagat or a Trivedi and you are spot on. Combined with this is the fact that there aren't anything called fact checking or research and the book becomes a poor cousin of those produced abroad.

In the mad scramble for releasing titles, publishing houses are forgetting a very important ingredient of the publishing process, the copy desk. No, this is not self glorification, this is the plain truth. Everyday we have to wince through the growing number of mistakes in newspapers and magazines and, believe us, the online media isn't free of them either. You don't have to skim deep enough, you will find the bloopers floating on the surface itself. I have a novel before me which begins "Only one death reported in the press," in the second line. It seems as if one death rose from some graveyard and reported itself to the newspapers concerned.

Don't worry, the meaning is clear, no? Why bother with grammar or syntax as long as meaning is clear? True not all writers (including us, yes, we need a lot of editing) are perfect, but a second opinion is what the publisher must seek and what could be better than the in-house second opinion of the sub-editor? I have worked under brilliant Chief sub-editors (the leader of the copy desk) who could point to a mistake though the entire team might have overlooked it.

Ah, those were the days! Could we bring them back please!

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