The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Is this one error-free'

If you make a random check of, say, 10-15 books published in the last couple of years both in India and in Britain by the so-called standard publishers, there would not be a single one that is completely free of proofreading errors. If, as it is now accepted, the ultimate responsibility of checking proofs rests with the author, what should he or his publisher do to avoid them'

But first, what are proofreading errors, as distinct from editorial mistakes' There are over 30 major proof correction marks that are inserted in the margins, right or left, of the page and so, there are over 30 mistakes that could be made. Broadly speaking, proof correction means correcting obvious spelling mistakes plus all kinds of inconsistencies, such as indenting or not indenting new paragraphs, making spellings consistent (American or British), capitalizing proper nouns, putting foreign words and phrases in italics and so on. In other words, there are insertions and deletions to be made to make the final printed pages correct and consistent.

Factual errors are not proofreading errors; these are editorial lapses which have to be taken care of by the author or his copy editors, who are now better known as “fact checkers”. Although it is said that the publisher should take care of the nuts and bolts, it is the author who should do this in the first place. Of course, there could be slippages because the author is not a text designer, but he must take care of at least the spellings and consistency throughout the text, highlight foreign words and phrases and so on. The copy editor can take care of the nitty-gritty, but he can do so properly if the author has done his pre-natal duty by submitting a clean copy. Sadly, most Indian authors (unless they have published consistently before) present pretty shoddy stuff which takes the copy editor much time and effort to clean up. He usually takes the easy way out by glossing over the details that is reflected in the printed book.

Given the fact that publishers are only interested in quantity, it is the author who has to take greater care than ever before to submit a clean, readable copy. And he can do this in two ways.

First, after having finished writing, he must submit his copy to a professional editor who would take care of the details before submitting the work to the publisher. There are any number of ex-publishers/editors who would do this against a fee. Authors must spend time and money to ensure an error-free book. To trust the publisher to do this when editorial standards are on the decline is asking for too much.

Second, (and this is the best solution) submit a floppy after the typed copy has been copy-edited and proof-read by a professional editor, instead of the standard typescript. This would ensure that there are no printing errors and cut the production time almost by half because the composition will already have been done by the author and his team. Whatever expenses are incurred by the author in preparing the floppy could be recovered by asking for higher royalties from the publisher.

What authors have to realize is that, apart from increased pressures on the publishers to produce more, editorial standards have plummeted in the last ten years. Editors with an eye for detail are really hard to come by. Authors therefore have to take pre-natal and post-natal care of their books themselves.

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