Tuesday, August 18, 2009

An editor is not necessarily an expert

No editor knows everything about anything, and certainly not everything about everything.

Despite the use of professional fact-checkers, even major publications frequently publish errors. Newsweek even printed “newsweek,” and is infamous for printing corrections ("Newsweek regrets the error"). Time misspelled the last name of Alfred E. Neuman (my middle name). The New York Times has online and printed correction sections. The New Haven Register once printed different dates on two pages of the same day's paper.

Errors in periodicals can be easily forgotten. Online errors can be quickly corrected. But errors in books can misinform and annoy readers for centuries.

Be a careful writer and choose your editors carefully.

Sometimes an editor will assume that the author must know what’s right and does not correct the author’s error. Sometimes an editor assumes the author was wrong, and then changes right into wrong. The author may not notice, or might assume the editor was right.

In Orange County Choppers: the Tale of the Teutuls, there are several really stupid mistakes that were missed by five co-authors and the support army at Warner Books.

“Paul Senior” said his parents charged people to park in their driveway on Cooper Street in Yonkers when they went to baseball games in Yankee stadium, which was within “walking distance.”

The stadium is about 8.5 miles south. The 17 mile round trip is not “walking distance” for most people. I hope Paul calculates more precisely while building motorcycles.

He mentioned his house in “Muncie,” New York. Muncie is in Indiana. The Teutuls lived in MONSEY (which is pronounced like Muncie). Someone besides me should have noticed.

In Release Your Writing: Book Publishing, Your Way!, Helen Gallagher says that POD printer Lightning Source is owned by Amazon. It’s not. Maybe Helen’s editor assumed that Helen knows her subject better than she really does. Editors should not assume authors are experts. And vice-versa.

Authors should not assume that they are experts either. Back in 1976, I accused a co-author of BS-ing when he wrote about a “baobab” tree. I was sure that there was no such thing. There is. The picture up above shows one. It looks like it's growing upside-down.

1 comment:

  1. As a professional editor, I would like to add that a clear agreement between an author and editor (or production coordinator and freelance editor) can eliminate many of the assumptions that lead to bloopers.

    When it's time to get down to the nitty-gritty of fine-tuning a manuscript, all parties need to know who's responsible for what and feel free to ask questions. In editing, no question is too dumb!

    When bad things get into print anyway, contracts that spell out who was responsible for what will determine which way to point the finger. In the absence of any contract, it's generally considered that the author is responsible for content. (But the copy editor still gets blamed.) This occurs more often now that many publishers no longer have a fact checker on staff or will pay a freelancer for that work.