A Particular Typo Problem

As several readers have noted, there were more typographical errors in Fairhaven Rising [which, if you haven’t picked it up, came out almost exactly a month ago], and, when I read those comments, I wondered why – for about a minute.

That slowness on my part was because of the length of the publication process, and it took me that minute to realize what had happened. Over the course of 2019-20, Tor was completing the process of making the entire production process electronic. Now, to people familiar with computers, this would seem simple and quick enough. When you’re dealing with a major publisher, nothing is simple, and history helps explain why.

When I first started with Tor in the early-mid 1980s, the process was almost entirely paper-driven. I submitted a printed manuscript. My editor read it, sent me back marked-up pages and a sheet of editorial suggestions and requests and asked for revisions. I made the revisions and sent a clean manuscript back embodying what I hoped would satisfy the editor. Sometimes, there were several go-rounds. Then once Tor accepted the manuscript, it went to a copy-editor. The copy editor marked-up that manuscript and sent it back to Tor. Another set of copies was made, at least one for the editor and one for me. The editor sent me a copy so that I could make sure the copy-editor’s “corrections” didn’t do violence to the book [usually not, but at least twice, the copy-editing was so bad that I said I never wanted that copy-editor to touch my books again. At Tor, at least, authors aren’t usually told the identity of the copy-editor, which is probably best for both author and copy-editor]. Then I would change incorrect corrections, address inquiries, and swear a lot.

My “corrected” copy-edit went back to my editor, who then smoothed out any differences and forwarded the final paper copy-edited manuscript to production for typesetting. Sometime later, I’d get the printed first pass galleys for proofing to make sure that production didn’t screw up. I could still make small corrections [essentially ones that didn’t change the basic format of the book] and I sent back only pages with corrections.

This process lasted until using the internet became feasible, at which point, roughly in the late 1990s, I could send the manuscript electronically, but not all editors liked electronic manuscripts, and often the first thing those editors did was print out the manuscript, because, back then, laptops were cumbersome and expensive, and publishers didn’t supply them to editors, and also because editing on paper was easier than lugging around heavy laptops. My editor, and many others, often edited on their train commutes, because most editors with families couldn’t [and still can’t] afford to live close to work.

As editorial computer skills improved and tablets and laptops became affordable, publishers moved more and more into handling manuscripts electronically, but the one area that lagged was in handling copy-editing. I don’t know why, but I suspect that setting up common codes and symbols electronically was a problem because almost all copy-editors are free-lancers, and they work for a number of publishers. Since there 30 different publishing imprints that publish ten or more F&SF titles annually, and since many publishing houses have differing requirements and electronic systems, all this makes any transition time-consuming.

Then, COVID-19 hit, and Tor, as well as other publishers [I assume, always dangerous], had to finish setting up copy-editing electronically – in a hurry. I won’t go into the gruesome details, but Fairhaven Rising was my first book that was produced entirely electronically, and the process didn’t quite go the way it was supposed to. I had to go through all sorts of electronic contortions to make corrections, and in some cases, I couldn’t make them at all, and had to resort to the equivalent of electronic margin notes. And frankly, I made some mistakes as well in dealing with a new system, mistakes that, unfortunately, I wasn’t aware I’d made until they showed up in print.

And that is why there just happen to be more than a few additional typos in Fairhaven Rising.

3 thoughts on “A Particular Typo Problem”

  1. R. Hamilton says:

    The quality of the copy editors has sadly seldom been what it should be – since perhaps the 60s if not earlier. In a much earlier book, they didn’t spot the erroneous substitution of one (fictional) name for another, for example; even when that’s passably obvious from context.

    That suggests to me that many follow a practice of understanding the least possible of what they read to more or less do their job – which might catch spelling errors, even syntactic or stylistic errors, but not inconsistencies. That can be done when revising a computer program (sometimes), perhaps even when dealing with a rigorous historical novel (which has familiar names and additional context), but not very well with fiction as remote from familiar context as F&SF is.

    But I can certainly see that a rapid, forced alteration of established procedures could add additional opportunities for problems. In time, it should add opportunities for improvement too; but the human behind the computer will still have to participate more effectively.

  2. Daze says:

    We had similar problems with a book coming out next week – but it turned out that ours were more of a human problem, in that the initial copyeditor was a) a fan of the Oxford/Harvard comma, even where it made no sense, or worse; and b) a fan of saving time by hitting ‘replace all’. It took months to spot all of the errors he or she introduced.

  3. Rosemarie says:

    As a former engineer, part of whose job was to review and edit chapters written by different engineers for a compendium, I understand the editing process. It does take a lot of back and forth since changing one sentence that does not make sense frequently introduced further complications in the surrounding sentences. I usually read each submission at least 3 times (and had someone else edit the chapters I wrote myself).

    That said, I also found when it was time to review and decide what needed to be updated, that rereading something I had edited a few years earlier I noticed errors that had not been apparent/fixed during the first round of editing.

    I know that commercial publishing software is different from Microsoft Word, but one function of Word that I really liked was their “track changes.” It allowed you to see who wanted what changed and then allowed that change to be accepted or rejected by the next reader. Perhaps that function will eventually find its way into publishing.

    I’ve also noticed that in fiction, there are more typos when the action is “hot.” I suspect that the editor, at that point, gets so caught up in the story, that he or she reads somewhat faster.

    I do thank you for letting us know. I have not read “Fairhaven Rising” yet and will relax my super-critical self when I see typos there! Thanks for all your books. They are so well crafted and plotted while still being quite distinct from one another that they are a joy to read and then to re-read!

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