Someone Save the Authors from Sloppy or Non-existent Copy-editing!!!

Although I am only talking about one book today, by way of an example, I am really ranting about a fairly wide-spread phenomenon in Children’s Publishing of late — that of a lack of careful copy-editing. Copy-editing is defined briefly as: to mark errors of spelling, grammar, punctuation and word usage to prepare the manuscript for final printing so each finished book is as error-free as possible. I am unsure whether there are still full-time copy-editing staff in most children’s publishing houses these days (maybe someone can speak to this in a comment?) but from the number of errors one encounters in children’s books these days, it seems that human copy-editing has become an obsolete art. If you have read a lot of recent children’s books as I have done, you’ll know what I’m talking about.

I just finished reading a very well-written and exciting story by Polly M. Robertus, entitled The Richest Doll in the World. It’s a Holiday House 2008 publication. Judging from the font size and the length (129 pages,) I have no problem thinking of this book as for fairly beginning readers. Say, 2nd to 4th graders. It is even more inexcusable that the copy-editing is so sloppy! Here are a few page scans to illuminate my concerns. Before you read on and see for yourself whether this is a serious issue, I just want to say how sorry I feel for the author of this book. I can only imagine how much time, effort, hope, and heart went into writing, revising, and perfecting the telling of this entertaining and heartwarming story and yet, as a librarian, I cannot feel comfortable recommending this book to my young readers due to its poor copy-editing. I wonder if I am alone in feeling this way?

p. 18

You lust haven’t tried hard enough…LUST?
I can just imagine how a 2nd grader reading this book asks her mom, “Mommy, what is LUST? I don’t understand this sentence. What does ‘lust haven’t tried’ mean?” Try explaining that one!

p. 26
Last time I checked (2 seconds ago,) the word “sidesh” has not made its way into the Merriam Webster Dictionary yet. (One would imagine that even a computer spell checking program would have picked up completely non-existing words and corrected the error. Did the production team not even bother with a once-over using a free program?)

These two are both from p. 34 — and I was simply baffled by the abundance of commas…


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19 responses to “Someone Save the Authors from Sloppy or Non-existent Copy-editing!!!

  1. janeyolen

    Was this the finished hardcover book or the ARC? (Advanced Reading Copy.) If the latter, most if not all of those things will be attended to. If you have an actual hardcover book purchased in a store, then it is a sloppy, sloppy job.

    Jane Yolen


  2. Anonymous

    No, the vast majority of children's publishers do not have full-time dedicated copyeditors on staff. Freelance copyeditors and proofreaders, overseen by in-house managing editors/production editors, handle most novel manuscripts. The managing editors/ production editors usually copyedit shorter pieces (flaps, picture book mss, marketing copy, etc.) themselves.

    Errors stink! We can't undo a mistakes that occur in a first printing, but we will happily correct them when a book (hopefully) reprints. However, we have to know there's a mistake in the first place. We don't have the time or money to spend on proofreading books we've already published (and a lot of the authors don't read their finished books, either). So please, readers: when you discover a typo, please take the time to fire off a quick note/email to the publisher.


  3. fairrosa

    It is a finished Hardcover version, already out on the market.


  4. Anonymous

    I agree with you and your dismay about the abundance of errors—printing, spelling, grammatical (especially with verb tense and "lie" and "lay"), word choice. etc/—that come out in formal printing these days and find it interesting that the anonymous comment above (which must be from someone who works in a publishing house)says, "We can't undo a mistakes. . . ." Obviously. Can't find 'em either.


  5. poemhome

    Hi fairrosa,
    Love your blog on typos, but you've got one on your site's sidebar: historiccal fiction.
    Perhaps you had the hiccups when you typed that.
    douglas florian


  6. fairrosa

    Thanks, Doug, It's fixed. This is a one-woman operation and yes, I have to fix typos either discovered by myself or by others all the time. And since English is my second language, I don't always use the correct expressions (especially when it comes to prepositions and idiomatic phrases.) I depend heavily on "the kindness of strangers" in this area!


  7. Helen Frost

    FSG has the most amazing team of copyeditors. I think of myself as a careful writer, and I polish my work before it goes to copyediting, but they always catch things. I say "they" because a manuscript does go out to free-lance copyeditors first, but then an in-house copyeditor goes over it all again before returning it to the editor, who then returns it to the author. Karla Reginald especially deserves a round of applause in this conversation. She is sensitive to voice (understands that a character might not say "whom" even when it is correct, for example), and open to conversation about a disputed point, of which there are very few. And if an error does slip through, they'll fix it in the next printing. (How can an author not read her own published book?!)
    Helen Frost


  8. Helen Frost

    Ack–I misspelled Karla Reganold's name!
    Proves my point, I guess, in an odd way–where would I be without her?
    Helen Frost


  9. fairrosa

    And in your newest book – Diamond Willow (by the way, I adore it!) the layout on each page has to be so perfectly aligned, too! It's quite a feat of the production team!


  10. Helen Frost

    Thank you–that means a lot to me.
    Could you elaborate on what you mean about the diamonds being a feat of the production team?
    One of the print reviews used the word "typeset" (rather than "composed") when mentioning the shape of the language on the pages, so I'm wondering if people are imagining that I sent it in as paragraphs with instructions to the typesetters–or what? It's nice to have a chance to ask someone.


  11. fairrosa

    Oh, no. It's obvious that you composed each piece with the diamond shape and the hidden heart all planned out. I merely meant that the production team had to make sure that they kept to your original designs without messing them up.


  12. Helen Frost

    Yes, it is definitely a joint effort.
    You'd be a great copyeditor, by the way! It's more than proofreading, for sure.


  13. Anonymous

    Having been an editor, I would also say that many of the younger editors have poor grasp of grammar and editorial basics themselves. I notice not only typos that are not caught but a whole range of anachronistic language in both juvenile and adult historical fiction that drives me crazy.


  14. fairrosa

    Right… the anachronistic terminologies drive me bunkers as well. Just to make up an example or two: A character would be using words like "DNA" in their conversation against a backdrop of a 17th century Italy. It stops me short and makes me suspicious of the rest of the story. I know little flaws should not spoil the entire book — but they sometimes do, to me, because I read every word carefully and little things do change the entire flow of the telling. (Either in Fiction or Nonfiction.)


  15. Anonymous

    That should be "bonkers," as in "drives me bonkers." Not bunkers. Although those in bunkers often are driven bonkers, no doubt.
    (Former copyeditor here.)


  16. fairrosa

    See. I said that as English is not my mother tongue, I am weak with idiomatic usages. And this is proof that an editor and a copy editor must have the right training and expertise to even see that there is a problem. I am now going to edit that comment to correct the mistake, taking advantage of online "publishing."


  17. fairrosa

    Wow. I cannot change the comment content — can only delete it. So for now, I'm leaving all evidence on the site :)


  18. J. L. Bell

    Copyediting quality can vary greatly, depending on how much time and money a publishing house devotes to the task. No author, press, or book is perfect, but over time one can see that some publishers or imprints have a lot more errors (or bad bindings) than others.


  19. Polly

    Hi. all. I am the author of The Richest Doll in the World.

    Until reading the comments on your site, I did not go back to check the quality of the printing of the book. This may seem odd, but I totally trusted Holiday House, the oldest surviving children's publisher in the country. I can only say that I'm deep into the writing of the next novel and was thoroughly tired of reading and re-reading "Doll."

    The book was copy-edited and I received and corrected galleys. The editor and I had further correspondence and phone conversations about corrections. I had, until today, no idea how badly Holiday House had let me down. Although several friends and family members have mentioned "errors" in the text, it never occured to me that they were so many and so egregious — and that they had never appeared in the galleys!
    You may be sure I am contacting my editor. I am heartsick about this!
    Polly M. Robertus


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