Tag Archives: editing

Proofs and Three Parables by George Steiner

Michael LaRocca of MichaelEdits.com

The Wikipedia entry on proofreading includes four works of fiction in which one of the characters is a proofreader. The novella Proofs and Three Parables is one of them. The professore is one of the more memorable protagonists I’ve encountered in a long time. His skill as a proofreader is unrivaled. No mistake escapes him, however tiny, in the most trivial printing jobs. His eyesight has been damaged by years of exacting work, exacerbated by self-neglect, and he may be going blind.

Alas, this is a subplot.

The novella deals mainly with the fall of Communism. It’s the most readable thing I’ve seen on the topic, brief yet illuminating, simple without being simplistic, not as boring as I’m making it sound. The author is also passionately concerned with the tradition, culture, and fate of Judaism.

But I’d rather dwell on the professore’s character as a proofreader because, well, you do know what I do, right?

Now the burn seemed to smart behind his eyes.

Thirty years and more a master of his craft. The quickest, most accurate of proof-readers and correctors in the whole city, perhaps in the province. Working every night, and throughout the night. So that the legal records, deeds of sale, notifications of public finance, contracts, quotations on the bourse, would appear in the morning, flawless, exact to the decimal point. He had not rival in the arts of scruple. They gave him the smallest print to check, the longest columns of figures to justify, the interminable catalogues of lost and found to be auctioned for the post-office and public transport. His proof-readings of the bi-annual telephone directory, of electoral and census rolls, of municipal minutes, were legend. Printing works, the public record office, the courts of law vied for his labours.

But now the sensation of burning, just behind his eyes, felt sharper.

With an opening like that, the reader must read on. I know I did.

(For the record, I’ve only been editing for 28 years, and I use Word to zoom in on small fonts all the time. No phone books, but I’ve done some awesome work with sales catalogs.)

He hated litter. Waste paper struck him as the very waste of waste. At times, if the winds blew a piece towards his feet, he would pick it up, smooth it, read closely and make any correction needed. Then he would deposit it in the garbage receptacle, feeling obscurely rewarded and saddened. Any witness to this rite would have thought him deranged.

I’ve never done this, even though I do pick up litter. The professore is “a man whose obsessive scruple in respect of the minutiae of print, whose bristling distaste in the face of the approximate and the loosely mistaken, were magisterial and pedantic to a degree.” He’s also the kind of man I’d debate the Oxford comma with, but I fear I’d lose in the face of his stamina.

Since I mentioned Judaism, let me quote the professore.

Do you know what the Kabbala teaches? That the sum total of the evil and miseries of mankind arose when a lazy or incompetent scribe misheard, took down erroneously, a single letter, one single solitary letter, in Holy Writ. Every horror since has come on us through and because of that one erratum.

When his replacement replies that proofreading a hand-bill for an auction of used farm implements and manure sacks isn’t important enough to demand perfection, the professore disagrees.

It is just here that it matters more than ever before. To act otherwise is utter contempt. Contempt for those who cannot afford to look at a fine book, at quality paper or crafted type. Contempt for those who have a right under God, yes, under God, to have a flawless hand-bill, also for a sale of manure! It is just for those who live in rural holes, in slums, that we should do the best work. So that some spark of perfection will enter their wretched days. Can’t you understand, how much contempt there is in a false accent or a misplaced serif? As if you spat at another human being.

Technical editing since 1991. Business editing since 2006. MichaelEdits.com

© Michael LaRocca 2018



Why It’s Critical to Outsource Editing

Kim Staflund: founder and publisher at Polished Publishing Group (PPG) and author of the PPG Publisher’s Blog

With the introduction of hybrid publishing, today’s authors have so much more creative control over their books. They ultimately have the final say on everything from conception to publication, but some fundamentals remain. Professional editing is one of them. 

Professional Authors Use Professional Copy Editors 

Why do some greenhorn authors resist having their work copy edited by a professional? Perhaps, three underlying reasons are the cause: one, they fear that their work might be stolen if they share it with a stranger prior to publication; two, they fear that the context of their work might be changed during the editing process; and three, they fear the price. Let’s address each of these concerns one at a time. 

1. Fear of Copyright Infringement 

First and foremost, the chances of anyone having his or her manuscript stolen and published by someone else—particularly an editor—is next to nil; however, writers can give themselves peace of mind by protecting their copyright ahead of time. Doing so will help to alleviate this fear.




2. Fear of Changed Context (Loss of Personal Voice) 

It is important to understand that a copy editor’s job is simply to enhance a writer’s story as it is—to offer helpful suggestions that might have been overlooked or not considered at all. 

Simple copy improvements: 

A second set of eyes will catch those unobvious errors—such as transposed words and letters, punctuation issues, or improper word usage—that an author is simply blind to after reading the same thing over and over again (and that electronic spell checks sometimes miss). 

Story development improvements: 

Have you ever been trained for a new position by someone who knew the job so well that he or she unconsciously went about many of the details and neglected to discuss them with you? He or she had been doing it for so long themselves that they were unaware of everything they were doing. As a result, you received only part of the information, which made it difficult to follow the entire process from start to finish. In much the same way, writers can sometimes see a scene so vividly in their own minds that, when they transfer it to paper, they unwittingly leave out important details that the reader will need. A good editor will point this out and ask the question, “How exactly did we get from ‘A’ to ‘B’ here?” This type of commentary gives writers an opportunity to go back and fill in the blanks that they didn’t realize existed beforehand. (This is more common than you might realize!) 

Professional copy editors work with writers to enhance their stories while keeping the original voice intact, and the smartest and most successful writers all take that advice seriously. It’s important.




3. Fear of the Price of Copy Editing 

There is the price of something—and then there is the cost. The price of editing can seem excessive to some. However, you should consider two important things here: the upfront financial investment that ensures a quality, saleable product (the price); or the loss of sales on the back end that stems from an unprofessional product, riddled with errors (the cost). The best writers know the value of a professional copy edit, and they make sure to have it done on every book they publish. The price is worth it because it will reduce unnecessary costs down the road. 

Outsource a Copy Editor to Polish a Book

The reality is that self-publishers’ books are competing in the marketplace with trade publishers’ books. Trade (traditional) publishers always have their books professionally edited. Always. This is why they can boast such high quality. If you want your book to stand out from the crowd and represent you as the business professional you truly are, then it’s best to outsource a professional editor. You’ll get the best result if you do.

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