Friday, 3 October 2008

Black and white

I’d thought the Book of Bursa, to be published early next year, was going to have three parts: novella, prose bits, poems. Oh no, says W the translator, it should be jumbled up. And the Intro should go at the end.

Who knows best, author/translator or editor? Both, often. And in disputed matters, the former have the last word; it’s their book. There’s a nice (short) piece on editing by Barbara Epler here.

I’ve worked with some authors who are happy for me to rewrite their every sentence, and barely trouble to read the proofs. And others who (noli me tangere) won’t allow one comma to be changed – which is sometimes seen as sign of a ‘good’ writer, but I doubt that. I’m generalising here, but it’s usually the young and the ambitious and the insecure who are most hostile to suggestions from others and who keep on sending in their own changes right down to and beyond the deadline; the great and the good, the ones who’ve been writing for decades and who know their own business far better than anyone else involved with the text, tend to respond to suggestions (from copy-editors, proofreaders) courteously, promptly, efficiently. I once got proofs back from a reader with pencilled suggestions for punctuation changes on every page; I phoned the author (big name, world fame) to suggest I send him these proofs; there was a pause (I imagined him looking out of the window, balancing a day spent going over the proofs yet again against a day out fishing), and then he said no, I should just make any changes myself that I thought best.

We could, of course, have spent hours, days, discussing those punctuation changes. The style guides have their uses but often there’s no absolute right or wrong, and anyway there are more interesting things than correctness. Meanwhile, buy a few of the new books out of those boxes above, take that cat down a peg or two.

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