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Aug. 11th, 2009

The lack of professional pride evident in some finished products never fails to surprise (and bother) me.

This is something the website I worked on today made me think about. I've seen much worse code, but this looked as if it had been developed by someone who learned some basic HTML skills—enough to be dangerous—five years ago and then focused on back-end technologies. Back-end coders always think they can do front-end code, because front-end code is technically easier. And they almost always produce rubbish code, because they don't keep up on standards and best practices and couldn't care less, as long as the site displays properly, about all the issues I'm paid to care about. Whether the developers who crank out bad code are back-end developers or just bad/lazy front-end developers, they share a common trait: an apathy towards achieving a certain standard of work.

I react similarly when I encounter a poorly edited book. Most authors put a great deal of time and thought into their writing, and I think it's borderline criminal and extremely lazy when typographical errors creep into published works. I can appreciate that copy editors have to screen a lot of material. That does not excuse failure to do their job. There is altogether too much reliance on spellcheckers and an inexcusable prevalence of ignorance about style, grammar, punctuation, spelling, etc. The occasional typesetting mistake—do printers still use set type?—is understandable, although I would think somebody would eventually catch and fix the mistake in subsequent printings. But when books published by major publishing companies are riddled with the sorts of mistakes that wouldn't pass muster in a remedial English class, it infuriates me.

This sort of thing can turn me against a product or line of products. If I know a website is apathetic about accessibility, usability, semantics, page weights, etc., I'm less likely to seek products or services through that site. And if I notice gross negligence in copy editing, I will cease to buy books from a certain publisher. Such has happened with the Oxford University Press: the recent Oxford World's Classics book I read was not the first example of an abysmally edited title from that publisher, and the numerous errors were distracting to the point that I began to think as much about the copy editing as I did about the story. In the bookstore today I was looking at a certain title with interest until I noticed the publisher was Oxford University Press and immediately put the book down. I can't do anything about the other books I already own from that publishing house—there are a few in my collection—but I doubt very much I'll be inclined to buy any more in the future.

On the flip side, there are certain publishing houses that will always rate very highly in my estimation, because their attention to detail and the thought they put into every aspect of their catalogues is impressive. I was comparing two different translations of a certain French novel today and knew nothing about the merits of either one. When I discovered they were priced the same, the decision was made for me: I trust Penguin. I am continuously impressed by the high quality of editing that goes into their titles, especially in their Classics and Modern Classics lines. Similarly, all else being equal I will lean towards something in the Norton Critical Editions line. I'm also quite impressed with Macmillan (especially the Picador and Faber & Faber imprints) and Random House (especially the Vintage imprint). This isn't an exhaustive list, of course, and I'm always happy to read something published by the little guys—aren't many of them left, are there?

Ultimately, it's got to be about putting each title's best foot forward and removing any obstructions preventing the flow of ideas between author and reader. Bad editing throws up unnecessary road blocks, and I won't be a willing party to such desecration of books (or websites).

Comments

pinkfish
Aug. 13th, 2009 05:58 pm (UTC)
Re: Expectations
Thanks for your help - I am forwarding the relevant parts of this comment and the last one to my new, pro-active publisher rep. We'll see what happens.

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