Some hard proof reading

Typos – don’t ya’ just hate ‘em!

The little tinkers lurk menacingly around a text as you construct it trying to jump in when you are not looking. Lazy or slow ones may get spotted, but most sneak through, especially if you drop your guard, which tends to happen in long projects as you are overcome by fatigue, boredom or complacency. Even easier sport is the text with multiple editors which offers many opportunities for the creative and ambitious typo to bury itself while author and editor transfer the half-cooked text between them.

Once in the text the shrewd typo will slip on its invisibility cloak and be gone. Only a really good wizard can find them then and only by painstaking application of effort which is also subject to the triple whammy of fatigue, boredom and complacency – there are no easy spells for this. For some reason invisibility cloaks work even better on the wizard who wrote the text in the first place. The really clever typo casts a reverse spell over the author so that it actually implants the correct text in their mind so that every time the author reads the grammatical nonsense they have created, it actually makes sense to them.

And that is how the game goes, through all stages of proofing. There’s the initial text – loads of typos in that; next there is the first pass by the editor – some sloppy typos out but many slip through and a few new ones added for good measure. Then there is the proofer stage where the success depends entirely on the ability of the wizard doing the proofing. A good wizard will find loads, including some that aren’t even typos; a bad wizard will find a maximum of five typos in any text and these will all be in the first three pages. Assuming that you have gone with the good wizard then all you will be left with are the really stubborn little critters.

This is all in the proofing stage of course. As soon as the press starts rolling you can almost see those invisibility cloaks being cast aside. No need for any wizardry skills to spot typos now, any half-wit can see them, dancing around screaming at each and every person who opens the book. It’s job done for the typo and as they attain immortality on the printed page!

Typos cropped up with regard to the new Yorkshire Grit Bouldering book. I haven’t seen it yet but, based on experience, I strongly suspect that the finished book isn’t nearly as bad as some have declared. I have heard the same levelled at our books in the past – “the text is riddled with mistakes” – only to find after inquiry that ‘riddled’ actually means a handful of mistakes spread thinly over a few chapters.

There are also plenty of commentators who suggest “how easy it is to get a couple of mates to proof text”. We produced a book to one area where we identified five influential and knowledgeable locals. They were all friendly and co-operative towards the project and were keen to help proof the guide. I packaged up five print-outs of the full guide text (no small job), sent them off with plenty of time, with an SAE and all five arrived back within a week or so. The grand total for a 250+ page guide was 25 corrections out of the five print-outs, and 50% of these were date corrections of the proofers’ own first ascents. Now at least this was 25 corrections but a good wizard will find 25 corrections on one double page spread, so these 25 hard-earned corrections just become more effort than they are worth.

Over the years I have learnt that good proofing needs reliable and competent proofers, mostly likely ones who are being financially rewarded. Graham ‘hyphen’ Hoey and others like Carl ‘comma’ Dawson, Mike James and Dave Gregory have done a great job for Rockfax, especially in recent years now that we give them more time, however typos still slip through. I suspect that they always will since guidebooks in the UK just don’t have a big enough budget to fund 100% reliable proofing. Keep in mind the fact that proofing is independent of print run – a 350 page book, 2000 copy print run ‘technical’ book (tiny by publishing industry standards) requires significantly more proofing than a 600 page Harry Potter and I think Bloomsbury can probably afford perfect proofing without harming their book budget!

If you do find a typo in a guidebook which annoys you then have a bit of patience, accept the fact that you have a great-looking book which by most reasonable business standards is far closer to a ‘labour of love’ rather than an ‘agent of profitability’. You will certainly make the publisher and author happier by noting it down and pointing it out to them rather then making sweeping generalisations about errors you claim to have found on public forums.


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