The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Good editors are made; they are not born. Neither training nor formal education can guarantee a good editor. You learn largely on the job, provided you are passionate about the work, have taste and literary discrimination. With increasingly slip-shod productions replete with proof-reading errors, and obvious factual mistakes, two questions need to be asked: Who is a good editor and what should publishers do to transform the an individual with the basic qualities into a useful person with an eye for detail'

In any medium-sized publishing house, there are two kinds of editors: a commissioning editor and a desk editor. The commissioning editor solicits manuscripts or commissions prospective authors to write on subjects of interest to the publishing house because of market imperatives.

The desk editor is responsible for reshaping, revising and/or rewriting sections of the typescript using discretion.The desk editor is assisted by sub-editors and “fact checkers” who proofread and look into details. But finally it is the editor who is responsible for an error-free print.

Some editors today, sadly, pass on the buck to the authors, but very few can proofread professionally or spot their own mistakes. The author’s responsibility ends when the typescript is finalized, and it is the editor’s responsibility to straighten out inconsistencies and facts before printing the book.

A good editor has a sharp eye for detail and is sensitive to language, style and subject matter. Editors cannot be expected to be specialists in all subjects but should know who is who in different streams and to whom they can turn to for an unbiased appraisal of the work. An honest, critical evaluation is absolutely necessary to publish a competent book. An editor must be well informed and aware. This comes with extensive reading and developing contacts over time.

But there are a number of details to be attended to in house — checking the “literals”, that is, spelling mistakes, dates, names, consistencies in spellings and so on. This is the responsibility of the editorial team headed by the editor in charge who coordinates everything before passing on the final copy to the printers. This is made possible only through teamwork.

But why do books continue to be printed with numerous errors' To say that it is poor editorial supervision or because of poor editorial staff is to state the obvious. We have to make do with whatever talent is available — the best move on to more lucrative media outlets. But rigorous supervision is needed. Compromises are often made under profit targets and hence the pressure to publish as many titles as possible in a year. This is a miscalculation, but old habits die hard.

There are two other reasons. First, there has been a sharp decline in reading interests and education quality. Editors have to be well-read to be competent in their jobs. Second, because of the rise of management accountants as the key decision-makers, editors have been marginalized.

What is the solution' Publishers must learn to hang on to their editorial team because there is no guarantee that the new would be better. To paraphrase Shakespeare, “Those (editors) thou hast, and their adoption tried./Grapple them to thy soul with hoops of steel.”

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