Sunday, February 22, 2009

Typos

A reader posted a comment on my blog recently in which he commented on the typos and errors he’d found in Live Fire. As always, I’m grateful for any mistakes that get pointed out to me because the books are reprinted regularly so it’s always possible to get them corrected at some point.

One of the great mysteries of publishing is why there are still so many typos in books when the technology has become so much more advanced. I can’t remember any in my first book, Pay Off. And I think there were less than a handful in The Chinaman, all of which, I think, were caught before publication. In recent years, however, I don’t think a year goes by without a reader pointing out a mistake in one of my books. One that makes me cringe was when I was asked to read out an few paragraphs on a live radio show and heard myself say ‘the car pulled away from the crib’.

By the time I’ve finished writing and polishing my manuscript, and it’s been checked over by my good mate Denis who is a sub-editor on The Times, I think it’s close to perfect, at least typo-wise. It then gets edited at Hodder and Stoughton, and an editor goes through it making changes and marking punctuation on a hard copy with a pencil. Now, in the old days the edited manuscript would be given to a typesetter, often in Scotland, and it would all be retyped into another computer, and because the guys who did the typesetting were pros who took pride in their work, they made very few mistakes. The typeset copy was then checked by the editor and a proof-reader and by me, but mistakes were few and far between. (I have to confess that I messed up my typing in this paragraph in my first draft - see the posted comments!)

I’m not quite sure when things changed, I think it was five or six years ago when I first noticed that the proofs I was getting had far more typesetting errors than I was used to. Not just one or two or even ten or twelve, but hundreds. Literally, hundreds. Sometimes two or three on a page, sometimes completely different words had been substituted for words that I had written. I remember ‘further’ instead of ‘father’ was an example that I found particularly annoying. And complete miss-spellings of a character’s name that any Spellcheck programme should have shown up. I can’t explain how frustrating it is to have a manuscript that I have slaved over for almost nine months handed back to me riddled with mistakes! I would correct as many mistakes as I could find, but with so many being made it is hardly surprising that some make it into the final printed book.

I finally found out what had happened, and I’m afraid it’s down to out-sourcing. In the same way that many companies have outsourced their phone centres to India, a lot of typesetting firms now send their work out to India. I was told (and it sounds crazy enough to be true) that two copies of the manuscript are now given to two Indian typesetters, each of whom types the whole manuscript into separate computers. A ‘sophisticated computer programme’ then compares the two versions, and highlights any differences. The theory is that the two typesetters won’t both make the same mistake! A supervisor then checks all the differences and decides which is correct. Apparently this is cheaper than one experienced British typesetter doing the job. It might be cheaper, but it certainly doesn’t produce quality work.

So, next time you do spot a typo in one of my books (and you will!) then please don’t blame me. It’s not my fault! But do let me know. I don’t mind, really, and I pass them on to the editor at Hodder who handles my books and they will be dealt with.

You might ask why the file that I have so lovingly slaved over and which has been checked by one of the best sub-editors in the country isn’t used, and why it all has to be retyped anyway. That’s a good question, and one that I have never received a satisfactory answer to!

7 comments:

Stogie said...

...and because the guys who did the typesetting who pros were took a pride in their work, they made very mistakes...

I just found this Blog. Can't wait to catch up with your life...

Anonymous said...

Oh dear :-)

"and because the guys who did the typesetting who pros were took a pride in their work, they made very mistakes."

Stephen Leather said...

Thanks guys! That's so funny!!! Just goes to show that typing and proofreadng aren't as easy as you might think! I shall correct it immediately!

Stephen Leather said...

I meant proofreading, of course, not proofreadng. I wish I'd never started this....

Anonymous said...

To be honest Stephen, when reading your books i cannot wait to turn the pages, i have to read as fast as i can as the stories unravels i cannot see any mistakes!!
Keep the books comming totally blinding reading........

Anonymous said...

Hi Stephen

I was the reader who pulled you on the typos and to be honest its not just your work have found similar errors in Chris Ryan books and others. Thanks for the explanation as ever it seems the culprit is 'penny pinching' and just a lack in pride of work. Please give'em a kick up the butt at Hodder. Just finished 'Live Fire' and enjoyed it immensely so exciting at the end and a nice twist for Mickey to come good. I feel sad though also, what am I going to do tomorrow evening now there is no more Spider. :-(
Great stuff keep it up.

kethry said...

If it makes you feel any better, Stephen, I'm currently ploughing through "Skinner's Round" by Quintin Jardine, which is published by Headline. In the early chapters of the book, the police force is twice referred to as "Polis". At one time I'd have thought of it as sloppy proof reading and tut-tutted at the author, now I know what the real reason is and I look a bit more kindly at the author at least!!!

Thanks for illuminating some of the behind-the-scenes stuff of publishing...