Monday, June 15, 2009

You get what you pay for

A pertinent post from Linkmeister asks "Have publishers fired their copy editors?" He headlines his post "Sloppy, sloppy, sloppy." I'd have called a similar post "Predictable, predictable, predictable."

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

Labels: , ,

13 Comments:

Anonymous Elisabeth said...

I sometimes think they've not only fired or laid-off their copy editors but their editors as well. A number of the contemporary novels (crime fiction and otherwise) I've read lately could have benefited from the judicious wielding of a blue pencil. Is there anyone who, for example, is a contemporary Blanche Knopf (editor to Hammett, Chandler, Macdonald, etc.)?

June 15, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I don't know enough about book publishing to judge what role a good editor can play. Nor do I know how recent slashing and burning in publishing has affected books. I do know that one editor who had signed a number of fine crime writers at Harcourt lost her job because of a merger.

For that matter, I'm not sure how the recent changes have affected copy editing. If newspapers are any guide, copy editing will be one of the first areas to be dispensed with as a luxury. I'm not sure publishing houses had copy editors to lay off, since I have heard all but the very biggest farm out such work to freelancers. Whether they now spend less and demand more of these freelancers, I don't know. The results of any cutbacks will be visible, as they are in newspapers. The question is, will anyone care?

June 15, 2009  
Blogger Linkmeister said...

"will anyone care?"

Well, I wouldn't have written a post about it if I didn't care; you wouldn't have felt pointing to my post was worthwhile if you didn't care, and so on.

But are we in the minority?

June 16, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

You may know that I am a copy editor by profession. We copy editors who care about our craft (as opposed to caring about our jobs) are made to feel at worst like cranks and at best like tolerated, patronized luxuries. This does not fill me with optimism.

June 16, 2009  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

Peter, I commiserate with you. I'm a research database indexer (3 on our editorial team) whose jobs (craft, thank you) require proofreading, copy editing, and fact checking (hasn't the latter also gone the way of the dodo?). In employing what we know are basic bibliographic standards, we too are patronized, accused of having impossibly high expectations, and, of course, anal retentiveness.
I'm not certain, but do publishing houses nowadays expect some of their authors to handle their own copy editing as they (often) expect them to do their own indexing (or hire an indexer with their own money)?
I'm not optimistic, either. But we're preaching to the choir here, I guess.

June 16, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I probably ought not to discuss my newspaper's attitudes toward copy editors in a public forum such as this. I differentiated between job and craft not to exaggerate my own importance but to highlight a subtle shift.

A wise observer of organizational behavior once suggested that the most ardent complainers are the most engaged workers. Suffice it to say that this is no longer the case where I work, if it ever was. These days, exercising one's craft gets in the way of doing one's job, the jobs we are increasingly told we must be grateful for. Give utterance to this thought, though, and one is shouted down -- and that's by one's colleagues. Don't even get me started on management.

June 16, 2009  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

What I do is just a job. In my mid-50s, I am, as my father would say, winding down my clock. But in my job I employ some craft (or skill). As do you. No, it isn't rocket science or creative/artistic work; it's a trade/tech kind of occupation. I don't think it's a question of blowing one's own horn to call it a craft.
Could I write a crime novel? No. But copy editing and fact checking can help make novels better and the seeming elimination of these positions in publishing is a disservice to readers more than anything else.
The advent of easy self-publishing has magnified the problem of poorly written, poorly edited books, too.

June 16, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

The advent of the Internet has magnified the problem. I noticed this when the Daily Kos published an elementary mathematical error and refused to correct it or even acknowledge the mistake despite two polite notes from me. That it was precisely one of the mistakes that copy editors are taught to look for highlighted my frustration. Boosters of the Internet's liberating potential don't often mention such instances as these. (The Internet is not inherently more prone to mistakes than print is, of course, and if writing on the Internet is ever accorded the same editorial care that professional writing in print once received, it will be just as clean.)

When I consider the matter philosophically (that is, without worrying about mortgages and pensions and the slow erosion of my profession), I recognize that English flourished before the standardization of spelling in the eighteenth century and will do so even after that progress is reversed.

June 17, 2009  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

I guess I'm more pessimistic. English will exist. But flourish?
Just received my daily digest of The Rap Sheet blog. What do you make of JKP's comment: "On this side of the pond, we are used to a certain amount of polish and finish. If we encounter a run-on sentence or a dropped semi-colon, we head to a writing forum and bemoan the fact that editors no longer edit. We have a certain -- I’ll just say it -- expectation of gloss."
To me, that's like saying editors don't know the difference between style (hip and cutting-edge in Cole's novel) and "poorly written."
I'm probably old-fashioned... but when I my attention is too-obviously drawn to an author's style ("look at me, Ma, I'm writin'") it's like watching a jiggly photographed movie -- my eye is on the "how" instead of the "what." Isn't that gloss ("highly reflective surface quality")?

June 17, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Flourish? Well, I don't expect that English will go the way of Cornish, Gothic or Tocharian any time soon.

I have not yet read that comment, and I don't know its context. Still, it will be fun to offer some thoughts of my own. I take it to mean that we (whatever side of the pond we're on) educated, literate readers and speakers expect good writing and a certain elegance of expression. We prize it as good in itself, and we like to think such elegance (or aptness) of expression can be considered apart from the subject about which the author is writing. Whether this is the case, I'll leave for another time.

As it happens, this issue arose in a recent discussion on this blog, during which a comment took me to task gently for an imprecise defintition of style. You might want to have a look.

June 17, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

"A wise observer of organizational behavior once suggested that the most ardent complainers are the most engaged workers. Suffice it to say that this is no longer the case where I work, if it ever was."

To demonstrate the necessity of editing, I'll clarify something I wrote a few comments back. The highlighted portion of the precedeing paragraph ought to read "that this is no longer accepted where I work."

June 17, 2009  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

Ouch! I feel I've been put firmly in my place. Maybe _my_ problem is one of inelegance of expression. I didn't mean to claim that subject trumps style (prose style); I read the recent discussion as you suggested. Detective fiction has always struggled to be accepted as literature partly due to the plotting requirements of the genre (usually about the resolution of a crime). Within these constraints, I wonder if style in detective fiction really can be, as you wrote, "considered apart from the subject about which the author is writing"? Certainly this can be true for other fiction genres. I suppose I've taken too much to heart an observation made by Dashiell Hammett towards the end of his life: "It is the beginning of the end when you discover you have style."

June 17, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

The beginning of the end when one grows excessively conscious of the style, perhaps. I take it for granted that there is no such thing as a styleless style. Someone cited Elmore Leonard as an example:

"Elmore Leonard is always quoted as saying the writer should disappear, and he does it better than anyone I have read. To me, that's his style."

But yes, a style that draws a reader in without calling constant attention to itself probably works best. Some styles are more distinctive than others. Bill James' style is a delight to me, and I am quite often conscious of that style as I read.

June 17, 2009  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home