Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Proof Reading - Perfection (almost) Impossible

Tonight in Poetry 2 we read a long poem from Blue Dog magazine - an interesting poem that I wanted to use as the basis of a writing exercise. I was surprised to note several errors in the poem, and wondered where they came from. Did the editors of the journal use the poet's electronic file and not check it before going to print? Did they typeset it from hard copy and introduce errors? I've never met a poet yet who didn't have either a quiet or very loud hissy fit over typos in their poems. When The Age prints a poem with an error, they republish the whole poem.

As editors of Poetrix, we often come across errors in contributors' poems. No matter how closely poets read their poems before sending them in, errors creep in. We are our own worst proof readers. Sometimes the editorial committee debate about a word - was it an mistake, or did the poet really mean to use this strange word? An example is using gripe when they meant grip. If we're not sure, we try to contact the poet and double-check what they actually meant to say.

We've had the occasional poet who has used terrible punctuation, and insisted on keeping it that way, even when we point out that it detracts from the poem. (To be honest, a really badly punctuated poem usually gets rejected - a poet needs to pay as much attention to punctuation as line breaks, stanza breaks and white space.) We use our style guide for formatting (e.g. we use M rules instead of dashes) and the Macquarie Dictionary for many of our decisions about spelling.

The worst issue was one where we tried to scan the contributors' poems to save typesetting, which introduced so many mistakes that it ended up taking longer to fix everything! We try really hard to produce each issue with NO errors at all, and I think so far we have succeeded. It helps to have five proof readers. I still remember a writer years ago whose children's book came out with a blurb where heroine was spelt heroin. Oh dear. And our guest speaker yesterday (K.S. Nikakis, talking about the publication of her first fantasy novel The Whisper of Leaves) said when she got her first copy of the published book, the very first page she opened it at contained an error. But she wouldn't tell us where it was!


Snail said...

... when she got her first copy of the published book, the very first page she opened it at contained an error.

Oh, noes! I hope it didn't detract from the joy of seeing her work in print.

Sherryl said...

I think it might have, a little. But it's inevitable. The more words in a book, the more likely there'll be errors. After a while you just don't see them, especially when it was you who wrote them!