Monday, June 15, 2009

Tom Lehrer Award for today goes to Beckham Publications Group

Tom Lehrer is one of my literary gods.

Tom claims he “went from adolescence to senility, trying to bypass maturity.” He graduated from Harvard Magna Cum Laude at age 18 and made Phi Beta Kappa. He taught at MIT, Harvard, Wellesley and the University of California, but is best known for hilarious songwriting, much of it political satire in the 1950s and 60s. His musical career was powerful but brief. He said he performed a mere 109 shows and wrote only 37 songs over 20 years. Britain’s Princess Margaret was a fan, and so am I. I can still sing Tom Lehrer lyrics I first heard in seventh grade. See

In 1960 Tom wrote and sang, "Don't write naughty words on walls if you can't spell." That warning also applies to non-naughty words, and books, and signs, and websites.

It particularly applies to companies trying to sell publishing and editing services.

Today's Lehrer Award winner is Beckham Publications Group, which says it's a "joint venture publisher." Costs and profits are shared by the publisher and its author-customers.

Company boss Barry Beckham taught English at Brown University and Hampton University and has written several books published by other companies, and magazine articles. He received a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, is on the board of the Author’s League Fund and has served on the boards of PEN American Center and the Author’s Guild.

It sounds like he should know a bit about writing, editing and publishing. Right?

The Beckham website says: "When you enter a joint venture arrangement with Beckham Publications, you'll get...professional editorial support." and “Our editors are prepared to correct textual matters like grammar, punctuation and spelling,”

They may not be prepared quite enough. The website misidentifies Virginia Woolf as “Wolf” and Stephen Crane as “Stephan.” The Virginia with the extra “o” was a writer. The Virginia with just one “o” is a sculptor.

If you decide to do business with Beckham, I hope you don’t get assigned the editor who worked on their website.

No one is immune from stupid little errors, but companies that promote their publishing expertise and try to sell editorial services, should be close to perfect.

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