Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The Eternal Typo

Dear Friends:

I spend a lot of time trying to keep track of new publications in syllabic forms.  I work full time, and have the other usual social commitments, but in my free time I am likely to search various sites on the web to see what is the latest in syllabic poetry.  I do this by going to amazon, lulu, authorhouse, and other print-on-demand publishers and putting in key words like ‘haiku’, ‘tetractys’, ‘cinquain’, etc.  And then I see what comes up and what draws my attention.

POD (print-on-demand) technology has given many poets, of all kinds, the opportunity to publish their works without having to go through traditional channels.  As recently as twenty years ago a poet interested in syllabic forms would first have to find a publication that was interested in their work, submit many times, and after some years perhaps gather their poetry into a single volume.  That has all changed and I think it is all to the good.

There is, however, one aspect of POD that I would like to draw attention to.  That is the frequent appearance of typos in the published literature.  Almost always these are typos that spell-checkers won’t catch.  A particularly prominent one is the misuse, or absence, of apostrophes where they should appear.  And, congruent with this, a confusion over the ‘its’ and ‘it’s’ in English.  Other things the spell-checker won’t catch are homonyms like ‘hear’ and ‘here’.  (As an aside, I am not referring here to regional differences in English spelling like the American ‘color’ vs. the British ‘colour’.)

In reviewing POD books of poetry I have not mentioned these.  I have refrained for several reasons.  First, I suspect that the authors will spot them and the errors corrected at the next ‘printing’.  It is fairly easy in POD technology to insert a correction, and I have seen this done with a number of works.  Second, I am sympathetic to the difficulty of catching one’s own mistakes.  I have, in the past, worked at several magazines and one of my tasks was proofreading.  I could spot others’ errors even with a quick scan.  In contrast, when I try to proof my own work I often miss the most obvious errors.  There is a psychology involved: because I know what I mean to say, and because that is prominent in my mind, I can easily miss what is actually on the paper/screen.  When I look at someone else’s work, I don’t have that preconception clouding my observation.

This leads to what I hope people will take as a friendly suggestion: if you are using POD services, before sending your work to the publisher have a good friend read your work.  And ask them to read it for typos.  If you know someone who was an editor, or has a background in English spelling and grammar, that would be a plus.

I have a friend who recently used POD to publish his novel.  He used POD to print out his first complete effort.  He then gave copies to friends specifically asking for typo and grammar corrections.  I believe he gave copies to four friends.  He told me that between us we uncovered hundreds of minor mistakes that he had not seen himself.  After correcting his text he went on to use POD to publish his book and it is now up at Amazon and has been reviewed by several publications.  This is the kind of procedure I would like to see poets adopt as well.

I don’t want to overstress the point.  I’ve been involved with books for decades and I have great stories to tell about typos that got through to publication.  I remember one that appeared in a work by a contemporary physicist on new science-based cosmologies.  In the chapter on entropy he described the gradual running down of the cosmos and wrote of ‘the heat death of the university.’  I bet he got quite a few jabs from his colleagues over that one!  And remember, this was Oxford University Press; very prestigious.  Yet it got through all the way to publication.  It was corrected in the second printing, of course.

Nevertheless, I have seen it often enough in the new poetry volumes I read, both in my own work and in others, that I think it is worth noting.  Just a friendly reminder from a fellow poet.

Best wishes,


1 comment:

Brian said...

Thanks for the reminder, Jim. I think back on how often I've proofed my own writing only to read it later with dismay. Following your advice can save a writer a lot of grief.