Sunday, March 16, 2014

Having a Bit of a Moan

It happened again.  I picked up a new book by one of my favorite authors, and found mistakes.  This one was especially bad, with everything from plot holes to typos to massive continuity problems—even a repeated scene.  Admittedly this wasn’t YA, but I’ve run across more than my share of mistakes in recent YA books, too.  Used to be, finding a mistake in a book was a big deal, and at most it was a typo.  Not anymore.  And that reminds me of a story.  Ready?  On the count of three, everybody do that wavy, moany thing they used to do on TV to signal a flashback.  One, two, three.  Woooooo-wooo-wooo.

My author friends are tired of hearing me say this, but loooooooooooong ago, I was tight with some good-sized book publishers.  I helped develop, write, and edit a wide range of third-party computer manuals, journals, and online articles.  At the start of my involvement, these were major productions, both large in size and heavy with content.  I’m proud to say that I was a small part of some of the best books in the industry.  Unfortunately, that quality didn’t last.  Print publishing was just starting the musical chairs of consolidation in those days, and that was especially true where a computer-literate customer base was more than ready for change.  Parent publishers, who were busy being bought and sold to one another, flailed.  Product lines ballooned and then popped before they could generate anything but expenses.  Inevitably, books got shorter, content got lighter, and editing fell by the wayside.  In-house management felt enormous pressure to move releases forward while pushing expenses backward.  Books went out before they were ready.  I read the reviews; trust me when I say people noticed.

Okay, the flashback is over.  I’m not sure what sound effect I should use for an analogy, but looking at this book also reminds me of parallel story.  It goes like this: I’m a bit of a construction junkie and like to read Builder Magazine, which is a trade magazine for the residential construction industry.  After the housing bubble burst, I noticed a common thread in many of the articles.  The industry, which had been focused on speed during the boom years, discovered that quality was far more important to their bottom line.  To survive in a brutal market, builders couldn’t keep cranking out badly-build houses—there were plenty of those already.  What builders needed were happy customers.  Enter quality.  And it turns out that when builders focused on quality, they lowered their long-term expenses, while increasing their referrals and repeat customers.  Ching!

So maybe I’m reaching here, but I think there’s a lesson.  Maybe publishers, even my beloved YA publishers who are feeling so much pressure from above, should put more focus on quality.  I know our teen audience grows up fast, but give them credit for wanting books without mistakes.  After all, their word of mouth is our biggest asset.


Kristin Lenz said...

An entire repeated scene in a published novel? I haven't seen anything that bad, although I was surprised to find at least half a dozen typos in a recent novel from a big name author. It's so easy to overlook mistakes in our own writing, so in a way it feels good when I spot minor mistakes in a published book - even with reduced budgets/staff, many eyes would have reviewed that story and a few errors still went unnoticed.

Colette Ballard said...

Nice post, Kurt. And yikes about the repeated scene!

Kurt Hampe said...

I should say, by the way, I'm not suggesting in any way that there is anything even remotely wrong or bad about a fast/prolific author or other publishing professional. I stand in awe of the fast and furious among us. I just want each of those books to get a proper set of edits and careful reads and proofs before they go to print.


Shari Becker said...

Great post! I was a film major in college, and I was obsessed with continuity. To this day, nothing irritates me more than two characters climbing into a car and driving away without closing the door. It IS so easy to overlook your own mistakes, but that's why we should be able to count on a copyeditor. It seems like that role - done well -should still be vital to the industry.

Lisa Tapp said...

Great post, Kurt. I think there's a huge temptation in the self-pub sector, to skip editing altogether. After all, the bottom line is the major factor. But as you stated, that type of thinking is so short sighted. You hurt your own reputation as an author, and hurt your book.