Notes to a Proofreader:
Offhandedly Noticing at Troynovant;
why we concern ourselves with Non-Proofreading,
or Creative Typography,
despite, or because, their name is Legion

Apologia by
Robert Wilfred Franson
January 2020


Our Proofreading Department

Kittens spill inkwell Actually, Troynovant does not have a Proofreading Department. (He was fired for intoxication in print.) We do not seek mistakes along the trail of pages: whether reading for review or not, we are not proofreading books or stories we read. Our reviewers do try to be close readers and are rather good spellers, and some of us have a strong tendency to notice typographic errors, misuse of words, and simple factual errors. Too often mistakes leap athwart the passing lines, whereupon we may lightheartedly pin them to the ground. Proofreading is the responsibility of authors, editors, publishers, and their press-ganged (that is to say, volunteer) proofreaders. We generally don't take note of minor errors, even obstreperous blunders or significant errors of content, unless they derail our concentration, mislead, or require multiple passes to decipher. Short of arguing against a major thesis or quality of research of a work, we offer no more than Notes to a Proofreader within a review or as an addendum, if that. Words to the wise.

Traditional printed-paper publishers largely abandoned in-house proofreading decades ago, leaving that function to the author and his friends, family, and colleagues: usually within a very narrow time-frame. (As an example, the publisher's galley proofs of my 1983 novel The Shadow of the Ship came back with a two-week window for authorial proofreading; in that period my parents and I found some hundred typesetter's errors. My father even read the entire set of galley proofs once backwards, from last page to first, so as to concentrate on words rather than story.) Today, the remaining traditional publishers' move into ebooks often creates errors where the old, proofread printed work had a clean text. — Not to be outdone, the newer independents' and self-published works are often rushed into ebook and even printed-paper with an embarrassing minimum of proofreading. In all these categories, some texts are so mangled that clearly no one ran a spell-checker or even glanced at them.

I have read some huge books, even multiple times, without noticing any errors. On the other hand, not too long ago I opened a new book from one of my favorite university presses to a chapter in the middle and my eyes fell on a typo in seconds. At Troynovant we do not demand or expect perfection. (Nor claim it for our own writings!) It would be annoying and contrary to our purpose to harp on minor textual flaws, especially in the era of ebooks and print-on-demand books when such errors can be corrected almost overnight, and websites even more quickly. However, books we enjoy deserve a clean text, for everyone's sake. We do want to encourage human proofreading, not simple reliance on spell-checkers. Getting it right for the first appearance in print, or at least as soon thereafter as possible, should be the goal. A quirk of Amazon's policy for Kindle ebooks resists authors or publishers releasing updated versions to readers who already possess the ebooks, Amazon presuming that the readers value their own annotations and bookmarks more than the authors' corrected texts; and writers and readers rarely are given the option to choose.

Proofreading failures not confined to print

Audio corrections also are easy in the digital era, but audio like print may be resistant to change. Here's an example of word misuse, and another of a wrong date. A couple of minutes' research for each would have caught the errors.

In the original first Star Wars movie, Han Solo's notorious misuse of parsec as a unit of astronomical time rather than a unit of astronomical distance (3.26 light years). This was not corrected even for the movie's much later improved and digitized release, although entire scenes were altered. — I could concoct a spacetime jargon to justify the misuse, but that would put a little too much heavy science fiction into that space opera.

In an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (5.9, "Listening to Fear"), Willow's online research turns up the Tunguska meteor explosion in Siberia as occurring in 1917 rather than its real date of 1908, the scriptwriters clearly thinking of the two Russian Revolutions in 1917. This was not corrected even for the series' later DVD release. — See The Fire Came By: The Riddle of the Great Siberian Explosion (1976) by John Baxter & Thomas Atkins. The correct date is fictionally predicted in my novel Sphinx Daybreak.

Where the wild errors lurk

This Apologia is meant as a helpful explanation, not a shaming list of minor wordly miscreants. Books which are slapped together without conscience, let alone spell-checking, probably won't be reviewed here anyway. However, two reviews of books at the wrong end of the bell curve may be mentioned, one with typographic errors and the other with research errors.

Entities: Selected Novels, by Eric Frank Russell
The Pleasant Profession of Robert A. Heinlein, by Farah Mendlesohn
The page before us

Any suggested Notes to a Proofreader necessarily must focus on our copy of the page before us as we are reading, which already may have been corrected for later purchasers. A version number included near the front of the book (for instance, Perfection v1.01) would be helpful. The Notes are not necessarily complete, nor even all we noticed along our path: rather what we remember or wrote down. An absence of Notes implies neither presence or lack of errors. Print-on-demand quality paperbacks, as well as ebooks, are easy to correct and re-publish. However, as mentioned above, Amazon is resistant to pushing out the latest ebook revisions to those who already have downloaded a copy. If any author, editor, or publisher wishes to let us know that errors noted have been corrected, we'll be happy to credit their diligence — even if we can't see it.

And on a more personal note, should you notice any niggling, trivial, infinitesimal, and rare errors for which your Editor is responsible, I would be pleased (well, broad-minded with teeth clenched) to hear of them.


© 2020 Robert Wilfred Franson

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With due observance of thy godly seat,
Great Agamemnon, Nestor shall apply
Thy latest words. In the reproof of chance
Lies the true proof of men.

William Shakespeare
Troilus and Cressida, 1.3.30-33


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