Tuesday 6 January 2009

“Commas and points they set exactly right, And 'twere a sin to rob them of their mite.” (Alexander Pope)

As if aspiring authors were not enough of a bane for publishers (especially those starting with the letter “A”) with their paper, email and phone submissions, every day we receive a mountain of letters and emails from people offering us proofreading and editorial services. Although we have five editors in our six-strong team – a bit of an anomaly in British publishing – we occasionally could use an extra editor or two to help us on big projects with tight deadlines, so it would be great to find some good external proofreaders. The trouble is, finding a good proofreader is almost as difficult, if not more difficult, than finding a good writer.

Most of the people who approach us boast years of experience working for big and small publishers, enclose copies of their proofreading diplomas and offer the most competitive rates. We duly send them our standard proofreading test, and they post it back the following day by special delivery (bad sign, as you know this will be charged to you at a premium rate when you send them a real job), having missed between thirty and fifty per cent of the typos we had planted into the texts, and querying things they were not supposed to correct.

But the most annoying kind of would-be proofreader is the one who litters his introductory letter with spelling mistakes or bad punctuation. I had two such submissions today, which is what prompted me to this post. I’ll give you an example, and I am not making it up – hearken, ye Lynne Truss!

From the cover email:

“I’m a trained journalist with three years experience…” (missing apostrophe after “years”)

From the attached CV:

“I also organise interviews, photography and illustrations, as well as managing an editorial assistant and a number of volunteers, contributors and work placement staff.” (slightly dodgy grammar, plus missing hyphen between “work” and “placement” – poor editorial assistant…)

This will be enough, I hope, to prove my point. You’ll say these are little things, and that I am of the pernickety sort. Well, no: if you want to be an editor, you should know the basics of your job, so that is simply unforgivable. I wouldn’t use or recommend a mechanic who forgets to tighten the bolt that drains the oil out of the pan – would you?


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