Monday, April 27, 2009

Grammar in Books

This was such a great question and so different from what I usually get that, obviously, I was excited . . .

About the post on typos and errors after publication: you say the author is responsible for handing in a MS that is polished and ready to publish, and the editors are responsible for cleaning up typos, grammar, and a few other things.

What if you're Canadian and you've used all the spellings you're used to in your book, like colour, centre, and cheque. If the publisher you end up with is US-ian, will the editors change all those spellings thinking they're incorrect? I like my Canadian spellings, especially when my stories take place in Canada.

Also, I've read many recently published books that use myself/yourself/ourselves incorrectly in the place of I/me/you/our etc. All the grammar books I've checked agree on this rule, so I'm always wondering why book editors aren't catching the mistake. If they're checking grammar, shouldn't they be really awesome at grammar? I know you're not an editor at a publishing house, but I'm wondering if you have an idea about this?

Does the author get to see what corrections the editors have made before the book goes to print?

Before I answer the real question let me clarify a few things. The editorial process is complicated and involves a number of people with a number of levels of expertise. I go into more detail on exactly what you can expect and what your role is in the process in this post. I also want to clarify that I did spend more than five years as an editor in major publishing houses so my answer to this question does come from experience.

If you’re Canadian, or any non-American English speaker/writer, feel free to use the spellings you’re most comfortable with when submitting your book to agents. I suspect most of us will know where you’re coming from and not assume that you can’t spell (although I do suspect that an agent or two will disagree with me on this and suggest you use American spellings). However, what a publisher does with the grammar and spellings in a book is almost entirely up to the publisher. In fact, there is typically a clause in the contract that states that the publisher will edit the book to conform to that publisher’s style and I believe most use Chicago Manual of Style. That being said, you certainly get a say in how the final product looks. If, for example, you would rather have your book maintain the Canadian spellings that’s something you should talk over with your editor early on in the process. She may have her own reasons for saying no (often based on marketing and sales), but the conversation is worth having.

As for the errors you often see in books, you’ll definitely have the ability to “stet” these if they are made by the copyeditor. In some cases (the ones you site, for example) it might be the author’s choice to write that way, even if the copyeditor changes them. Either way, you do see the editing at every stage in the process so you will know how the final product looks before anyone else sees it.

One suggestion for those who have specific grammar/style opinions, for example those who write a series or paranormal, don’t be afraid to send along a style sheet of your own. For example, do you have a new species with a specific spelling? A style sheet will help editors know what you intend so they can help keep it consistent throughout, and it will probably save you a lot of stetting later on.