Friday, June 9, 2006


Ugh...I just finished another book that had at least one misspelled word on nearly every page. Word usage common to Civil War contexts is another endless problem. Innumerable writers can't seem to appreciate the difference between 'ordnance' and 'ordinance' and if I have to read about one more 'eminent' attack I am going to scream.

Since I know nothing of the hardware and software involved with modern publishing, I can only guess at the most common source of the problem--man or technology. Anything's possible these days with the increasing lack of editorial oversight, but it is still hard to imagine an author submitting a manuscript containing hundreds of spelling errors...or perhaps it isn't! Just in terms of spelling, if you hand over a clean manuscript to POD establishment Authorhouse and send the same to Chapel Hill will a clean book come out of both? Or is the difference the no staff at Authorhouse vs. trained professionals at UNC? Or are outcomes based on a mix of both on a case to case basis, immune to generalizations? I would love to be educated about the quality control steps taken by great publishers like University of North Carolina Press compared with the omissions of Press X (fill in your favorite consistently bad traditional publisher).


  1. Two words: Good copyeditors. Or, alternatively, any copyeditor. They make all the difference.

  2. I agree. For some reason copy editing seems to have fallen out of favor, even with reputable presses. Like you, I am sometimes amazed and appalled by what I see. And this is just the nuts and bolts -- correct abbreviations, spelling, and the like. Writing style is a whole 'nother matter.

    Fred Ray

  3. One other thing, the university presses have outside readers look at manuscripts before they are considered for publications. A number of errors are picked up during that process.

  4. Drew,

    As others mentioned, for some reason (money, absence of pride, disrespect for the reader), some presses have opted to forego copyediting, and apparently, even routine proofreading.

    Ordinance versus ordnance (that one drives me nuts, too) just shows you that no editor, or even the publisher, at a particular publishing house cared enough to read the final pages before going to press.

    What I don't get is how egregious typos show up that would have been caught by the author's own spell checker

    Dave Woodbury

  5. David,
    Exactly. You are getting at my real point here -- if the printing technology itself creates problems that are then neglected by the publisher, leading to final products worse than the finished manuscript. There was an otherwise first-rate book a while back from a respected publisher that had numerous typos on every page. I asked the author about it and he swore the errors were the fault of the printer/publisher. I then contacted the publishing company and they sent me a free copy of the book (a later printing) with all the errors fixed.


  6. Drew, I also dislike the trend toward poor punctuation and grammar in many Civil War books. The book writing, editing, design and printing processes have many parts and it is easy for a publishing company to make a wrong turn. I guess one wrong turn that some companies are making is skimping on the editorial work to save on the bottom line. Another problem I see – publishers not putting adequate maps into a military book. This is another bottom line issue. Either the maps are nonexistent, can’t be read, or are worthless. I have noticed this seems to be a problem with some of the large publishing houses that publish numerous types of books and only a small number of them are on a military subject. I guess when the editor for chick lit also edits CW books then we should expect no more. If a publishing company has an editor who has a military background or is well-read in the same then the potential for a good product goes up.

    John Fox

  7. "I have noticed this seems to be a problem with some of the large publishing houses that publish numerous types of books and only a small number of them are on a military subject."

    I have noticed this as well. The big boys who moonlight into CW publishing are very confident sending out books without even a single map, or at best an overview of little worth.


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