Saturday, November 20, 2010

Clarification: not a serious suggestion

A few posts back I made an observation about apostrophes that seems in the discussion to have escalated into a war about editors and authors. In the course of this discussion I said 'If I were a publisher and were hiring an editor either in-house or on contract, I would give him or her a test sheet to edit with thirty different deliberate errors on it, and nobody who got less than 30/30 would ever get a job.'

Please note: I was not seriously suggesting that this actually, in the real world, be done.

This remark was made in the context of a point about changes in education policy and practice over the last 30-40 years that have resulted in professional editors occasionally not having certain kinds of knowledge or skills that would have been taken for granted in that profession thirty years ago. I saw this generation come through university year by year, regularly getting bumptious with me for insisting that skills and understanding with the mechanics of written language (spelling, grammar, punctuation) were important if they wanted a degree in English. Yes yes, I know, it sounds absurd now.

I fear the remark has been taken literally, and it has escalated. This is partly my fault for my partly tongue-in-cheek defence of the proposition in the discussion. Note to self: tone is important.

It was a comment made at the same level of facetiousness as a favourite utopian fantasy of mine, viz: 'When I'm queen of the world, I'm going ensure that every boy, the day after his fifteenth birthday, is confined in a luxury facility with private five-star suites, personal trainers, limitless sports facilities, regularly updated state-of-the-art personal computer equipment for all, six gourmet meals a day and hot and cold running sex workers, and he won't be let out until he's 40.' (The Bloke: 'But darling, why would he want to get out?')

As with the 30-point editing test, it's possible to think that's a genuinely excellent idea without seriously advocating it in the real world.


  1. Kerryn (may I call you Kerryn?) - please don't feel bad! It was/is a good discussion and I appreciate your generosity in posting such long, thoughtful responses. And Tatyana's too of course. I didn't think I'd strike such a nerve, so that has taught me something of the pressure editors feel and I hope I'll be more sensitive in future.

    I think your test was a reasonable idea, at least for those without a track record in the relevant industry - as I point out in that discussion, policy advisers have to write a brief on an issue they've never seen before during job interviews, etc etc.

  2. Why on earth wouldn't you test someone's editing skills before employing them as an editor?

  3. Hear hear, Molly! I am sick and tired of finding typos and bad grammar in the books I read. We pay good money for books and the least we should be able to expect is that they've been properly copy-edited.

  4. Editors these days are working under enormous time pressures, they don't get mentored as they used to or a chance to learn on the job, and unfortunately the 'good money' you spend on books rarely goes to editors. It's one of the lowest paid professions you can imagine...

    As as a freelance editor, I agree, more and more typos are creeping in.

  5. seems a good idea, but it also seems unrealistic. That's just me though.

  6. Society of Editors (Victoria), Newsletter, vol. 40, no. 11, December 2010.

    Interview quote, Dr Elizabeth Flann, Honorary Life Member, Society of Editors (Victoria):

    "What's your editing pet peeve?

    That so rarely are editors granted enough time to do the editing job the book or publication deserves. There is nothing more infuriating than reading a review that lists a couple of literals and describes the book as 'poorly edited'. Nine times out of 10 it hasn't been edited at all, just proofread by the typesetter if the author is lucky."