Geode Editorial Services

Ouch. | May 25, 2007

Today’s Times carries a brief review of Pearl Harbor, a “historical novel” by Newt Gingrich and William R. Forstchen, and all I can say is that my heart went out to the book’s copy editor the moment I saw the headline: An Assault on Hawaii. On Grammar Too. This book was put out by St. Martin’s Press, a venerable house that I’m sure employs wonderful copy editors. I’m also sure that Mssrs. Gingrich and Forstchen stetted every single red mark on the manuscript. How else could the following be explained?

[Y]ou . . . find phrases like “to withdraw backward was impossible,” sounds like “wretching noises” to accompany vomiting, or constructions like “incredulous as it seemed, America had not reacted.” Although the book has two authors, it could have used a third assigned to cleanup patrol.

This is not a matter of isolated typographical errors. It is a serious case for the comma police, since the book’s war on punctuation is almost as heated as the air assaults it describes. “One would have to be dead, very stupid Fuchida thought,” the book says about the fighter pilot Mitsuo Fuchida, “not to realize they were sallying forth to war.” Evidence notwithstanding, the authors do not mean to insult the fighter pilot’s intelligence — or, presumably, the reader’s.

I can’t imagine that these issues went unnoticed by the good people at St. Martin’s, although I’m sure everyone connected with the book (except, perhaps, for the agent, who probably made a lot of money on this deal) is now writhing in embarrassment and regret. They can comfort themselves, though, with the knowledge that the book’s target audience probably doesn’t know any better.



  1. “They can comfort themselves, though, with the knowledge that the book’s target audience probably doesn’t know any better.”

    That’s rather offensive. I am part of the target audience, and I have 12 years of college education with the salutation “Dr” before my name. I almost feel sorry for the poorly educated, overpaid copy editor. Or perhaps someone intentionally left mistakes in to embarrass an author they don’t like. In addition to grammar, the Times ought to concentrate on the content of books to be sure they aren’t plagiarized as was the case of Doris Kearns Goodwin who “borrowed material” but still had to pay the author she borrowed from. And mom squirrel let a copy editor review some of her earlier writings. It was amazing that when she got said copy returned, the professional editor that reviewed her writing overlooked some grammatical errors that I discovered upon reading the same copy.

    Comment by Dad — May 27, 2007 @ 12:08 am

  2. Actually, I don’t think you’re in their target audience. I doubt very seriously that you’d have any interest in that book; you’re only defending it out of political sympathy. Then again, if you truly believe there is such a thing as overeducation, maybe you are in the target audience.
    I also feel sorry for the copy editor. No CE is perfect, but as I said above, I’m quite sure the authors overrode most of the corrections that would have taken care of the worst errors; high-profile, high-maintenance authors often do, and I know from experience how maddening that is. No copy editor would intentionally leave errors in, no matter how much they hate the book; if they are offended by it, they might refuse the job, but they would never compromise their professional reputation by purposely doing a bad job.

    Comment by redsquirrel — May 28, 2007 @ 4:12 am

  3. Also, I know plenty of 12-year-educated “doctors” who can’t write a complete or coherent sentence. Perhaps they’re undereducated?

    Comment by redsquirrel — May 28, 2007 @ 3:49 pm

  4. I think copy editors would leave in errors if they didn’t like the author. Your comment on the target audience was very political and 12 year educated doctors are not specialists in writing like copy editors. They are specialists in their field, which is not writing.

    Comment by Dad — May 30, 2007 @ 1:40 am

  5. Professionalism sometimes goes out the window as professional journalists have made up stories that compromised their professionalism and published them in reputable newspapers.

    Comment by Dad — May 30, 2007 @ 1:43 am

  6. I’m with Jennifer here. The compulsiveness required to be a copy editor means you have almost an inability to leave an error if you see one. It has nothing to do with the politics or even the personality of the author.

    Comment by Hillary — May 30, 2007 @ 12:15 pm

  7. The painfully funny flubs you cited sound like writing in haste and rushing to publish; I’d love to know the time frame. I’m surprised that St. Martin’s would turn loose such a shoddy product.

    Comment by momsquirrel — May 30, 2007 @ 2:15 pm

  8. My comment about the doctors was in response to you following up the “overeducated” comment with the waving about of your academic credentials. And believe me, there is no way that errors would have intentionally been left in–it only makes the editor look bad, and nobody wants that kind of reputation.

    And my target audience comment wasn’t really political–novels by politicians of any stripe are likely to be lame, and people who read them are undiscriminating fans who likely would not notice or be bothered by bad writing. They buy the book because they’re personally interested in the writer, not in reading good literature.

    Mom, I don’t think the publisher had much choice–I’m sure they put one of their best CEs on this high-profile project. Certain authors, though, consider every misplaced comma or modifyer to be golden and refuse to let anything be changed. I get the sense that such was the case here.

    Comment by redsquirrel — May 30, 2007 @ 5:09 pm

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