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Guardian calls for more editing of books

October 31, 2010

Much enjoyment in these quarters of the fuss generated on Friday when Guardian literary editor Claire Armistead, talking about the longlist for the paper’s “First Book Prize”, called on publishers to invest more in the editing of their books.

Armistead tweeted that she had ‘discovered some wonderful books’ but added that she was ‘frustrated by the standard of editing’.

Hardly controversial, really. We find ourselves saying this all the time, in the Prospect Reading Group, and I hear it  routinely from authors. But it set off a big fuss, even making the national news magazine programmes. Which is probably a good thing, considering how little this subject is discussed outside specialist circles.

She stood by her comment, adding later: ‘There were an awful lot of incredibly talented and energetic writers, who were not being reined in the way you would expect, and that is the job of an editor. The editor’s job is to point out where they’re going off track… what I felt is that editors are not intervening.’

There is so much misunderstanding of what editing consists of, it’s hard to know where to start. Many complaints about falling publishing standards are really about proofreading, not editing as such; or about copy editing alone, and not developmental editing or or commissioning. And bad editing is taken to stand for the rest. But don’t get me started.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. February 10, 2011 2:17 pm

    Having just read this article I picked up my 14 year old daughter from school to complaints about the ‘shocking mistakes’ in the novel she was reading.I asked her more about the kind of mistakes and it appears to contain both copy editing and developmental editing errors. BUT she still plans to read more in the series. Is this why publishers feel they don’t need to bother investing time in thorough editing?

    I guess the ‘or or’ is just to keep us on our toes. Makes me feel better about the errors I’m finding in my 43rd read of my opening chapter!

    Anna

    • Susan Greenberg permalink*
      February 10, 2011 4:41 pm

      Ha! Thanks for the thought. My guess is that it’s one of those vicious circles; publishers get away with it because people don’t have much choice, short of not buying the book altogether. Which is then what happens, eventually, but no one is ever really sure why, and so the value of editing is never monetised, and the problem is not fixed. And so more people stop buying books.

      At least, this is what has happened to newspapers.

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