Beware of Publishers

You can write a masterpiece, only to have it ruined by an inattentive publisher.

It would be bad enough if they filled your retelling of Romeo and Juliet with typos, what if you had just penned the ultimate authority on grammar, or perhaps, spelling?

Last month, British lexicographer Susie Dent released Word Perfect, a “brilliant linguistic almanac.” Unfortunately, the wrong (pre-proofed) version was published, and it was anything but “perfect.”

Although thoroughly embarrassed, Dent was gracious in regard to the error. “To be fair to my publishers, Covid has caused an extraordinary rush on pushing books through the production process, and in many ways it has been a laudable achievement getting anything published at all.”

Many of Mere Inkling’s readers are also writers. Some are fortunate enough to have professional publishers. Dent reminds us that we should not take them for granted, despite their occasional shortcomings.

C.S. Lewis was, of course, quite a prolific writer. This led to his interaction with a variety of different editors. Lewis freely expressed appreciation for a job well done, as I noted in his praise of a French translation of his work.

Lewis was also quite comfortable in discussing precisely how his writings should appear in print. In another post, I described his conversation with a publisher about the presentation of a Shakespearean quotation.

Similarly, Lewis possessed an awareness of the importance of the covers chosen for his books. And he lamented the quality of the paper dictated by wartime rationing.

Mere Inkling has included many other references to publishers in the past, although I am still searching for an ancient roman reference to Cave Scribae.*

Publishers and editors are often the targets of disaffected writers. If you have never seen Mark Twain’s delightful sketches on the subject, don’t shut down your computer before checking my post on the subject.

It would be good to pray that our personal attitudes towards publishers reflect those of C.S. Lewis and Susie Dent rather than Samuel Clemens, since Twain once summarized his attitude in this tragic manner:

If ever a publisher gets a non-terminable contract with an author, that author can never buy his freedom from that slavery on any terms. A publisher is by nature so low and vile that he—that he—well from the bottom of my heart I wish all publishers were in hell.

* Cave Scribae translates to “Beware of the Scribes.” It’s a reference to the ancient practice of publishers having scribes reproduce individual copies of a new work for sale or distribution. Since each copy was technically “unique,” one can only guess how many errors must have slipped surreptitiously into the duplicates.

As for the illustration at the top of this column, there are countless examples of similar mistakes online. They are particularly alarming when they come from “educational” institutions. This one, from Oregon State University, offers a variation of the error illustrated above: “Many people know there learning style…”

17 thoughts on “Beware of Publishers

  1. Hi Rob,

    Hey, Mitch Teemley featured you in a blog! Congratulations! I also totally understand about editing, typos, and feeling embarrassed. There are no perfect books, but we can always try to put our best work out there.

    Have a great week. Hope your book is coming along. Mine is out on Amazon.



    1. Yes, I was flattered Mitch recommended my post. I also loved his comments about Mere Inkling: “Retired pastor and Air Force chaplain, Robert C. Stroud is scholarly, to be sure. But he’s also entertaining and inspiring…”

      The part I like is his gentle warning that the site may be too “scholarly” in tone for some readers tastes. Alas, each of us writers possess our own “voice,” and we cannot escape it!

      Congratulations on your recent publication!

    1. Cringeworthy is right! Companies that don’t proofread their advertisements are foolish. It’s understandable when we see it in poor translations (e.g. in instructions accompanying products from China), but even then you’d think they would invest a few dollars in having someone with better English skills review their brochures.

  2. As a former language arts teacher I lament the demise of certain grammar rules governing correct usage. One of my pet peeves is improper use of pronouns. It saddens me, for example, that such phrases as “Me and my brother” is considered suitable for the subject of a sentence. The standards drop lower with each passing decade.

    1. I agree with you, Nancy. My grandchildren would let you know that the example you cite, “me and my brother,” would never be acceptable around grandpa. In fact, that rule will be ingrained in them early on.

      We all have language peeves. One of mine is when people use “less” when they should use “fewer.” Another is when they are referring to a person and they say (or write) “that” rather than “who.” I wonder which of my English teachers (as we called them back then) I owe for being annoyed by those two inaccuracies..?

      1. Typos are completely separate from grammatical errors. Kind of like “accents.” I try not to wince when I hear people talkin’ without enunciating the “g” at the end of a word ending in “ing.” I understand it was how they were talk to speak and they may be a slave to their upbringing.

        It’s a bit harder when I hear an “r” added to a word in which it does not appear. My dear departed father (reared in Nebraska and Idaho) always pronounced the state in which he retired “Warshington.”

      2. You are so gracious about my typo! My FIL used to add an “r” in some words; he lived his whole life in Ohio! BTW, my granddaughter (age 11 at the time) gave me a mug for Christmas last year with the caption: “I am silently correcting your grammar!”

      3. That’s a hilarious caption! I’d save that cup. Which reminds me of another familial story… I have way too many mugs, and have for years been passing them on and never buying any additional ones. My sainted mother used to gift them to me quite frequently. Finally, one Christmas, after opening another mug-gift, I asked, “why are you always giving me mugs?”

        She was genuinely surprised, and responded incredulously: “Why, well for your mug collection, of course.”

        Still makes me smile, so many years after I received my final mug from her.

    1. I’m sorry to hear that, Anna. That’s one reason people warn us to have agents, who actually understand the contracts and know the loopholes disreputable publishers might slip in.

      Of course, securing an agent is no small task… and I’ve heard not all of them are trustworthy, either.

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