When Random House decided to issue a paperback edition of Swish, my editor asked me whether there were any changes I’d like to make to the material as it was in hardback. There were in fact some changes I wanted to make—at the last minute I made some corrections that in retrospect I ought not to have made, and there were problem spots I’d realized since the book’s publication how to fix. So I told her I’d look through the book and give her a list. Some time went by, and then we had the following e-mail exchange:
Sent: Monday, October 27, 2008 10:27 AM
To: Faustus’s editor
Subject: edits for paperback
Okay, so after promising these to you for like weeks and weeks and weeks, I finally have the edits I’d like to make for the paperback. Do not be alarmed at the length of the document—I think I counted 186 edits, but at least half of them are things like “change ‘the’ to ‘a’ ” and at least another quarter are things like “add a comma after ‘and.’ ” The rest of them are mostly things like “switch the order of these phrases” or “add the word ‘official’ .” I worked very, very hard to make sure that there be no shifting of text from one page to another, and I think I succeeded in almost every case.
Let me know what you think.
From: Faustus’s editor
Sent: Monday, October 27, 2008 4:56 PM
Subject: RE: edits for paperback
Wow, you are one thorough guy. I wish I could reward your diligence with the news that we’d be able to make all of these changes, but I’m afraid I didn’t give you the best instructions about this. Even though these are tiny and most won’t cause reflow, they still cost money, and we can’t absorb the expense of making 186 changes. The guidelines are usually that we will make a change if it’s required for accuracy or to correct a grammatical error, but we won’t make dozens of changes that would just sharpen up the writing. We do indulge the occasional aesthetic improvement, it’s usually on the order of four to six changes, not 186. I’m sorry not to have given you the sense of scale earlier, but, well, not all authors are as conscientious as you. Could you please cull this list into the changes that are necessary to make the book more accurate or grammatically correct?
Sent: Monday, October 27, 2008 5:07 PM
To: Faustus’s editor
Subject: RE: edits for paperback
I’ll get back to you.
In the end I was able to pare my list down to fifteen or twenty corrections, which turned out to be an acceptable compromise. Acceptable to my editor, that is.
Me, I’m just waiting to become really, really famous so they can put out another edition and incorporate my corrections. It’s taking a while, though, so I’m considering mass murder as a quick means to notoriety. At the very least it would draw attention from the currently missing commas and “and”s where there ought to be “the”s.
I would be furious over this. When I send a simple email that has a misspelled word or a dangling participle, I bury my head for hours thinking that the recipient has judged me an epic idiot. I can’t imagine finding 186 fixes and not being able to implement them!
This probably hasn’t made you feel better, but it WAS my goal to express empathy. I love you, Faustus.
I think you’re wrong. I know that whenever I read about a mass murderer, the first thing I do is a thorough review of his printed and online publication record to see which of his grammatical failings contained the seed the eventually bloomed into serial killing. People who have studied the matter more thoroughly than I have been able to link a major rise in the incidence of serial murderers with the discarding of the practice of diagramming sentences. The symptoms can take decades to appear, but it’s obvious to any informed person that in thirty years or so, we’ll see an absolute pandemic of murder, whose genesis will be easily traced to Tweeter.
Anyway, you might want to consider another method of diverting attention from your linguistic transgressions. Or at least make sure that the people you take out are sufficiently odious to leave people puzzling for years over how anyone with sufficiently expansive humanitarianism to eliminate the entire Republican Senate caucus could also be so grammatically flawed. You’ll be something like a mirror image of Wagner.
What’s a comma?
I can’t wait for “Swish: The Director’s Cut”
Did you just write Tweeter? I smell mass murder in your future.
I don’t think any piece of writing is ever “finished.” There are people who can’t go back and read what they’ve wrote after it’s been published because they know they’ll find things they want to change and won’t be able to. So the accuracy and grammar issues are one thing, but as for style — well, you’ll just have to sit on your hands, I guess. Hey, if your book is good enough for Elton John…
Kenny, thank you. I think.
TED, do you know the anecdote about Shirley Jackson and the fan who wrote her about “The Lottery”?
David, I am now going to kill myself.
alan, it’s pretty much the same, only more obnoxious.
Special Touch, is Tweeter the same thing as Twitter? I feel myself aging as I type.
tinman, when did you get so emotionally healthy and balanced? I’m concerned.
Just don’t accidentally mass murder your editor. That would be a horrible mistake in planning.
It’s okay; this was my second editor. My first one had been fired. My second editor was fired early this year and replaced by my third editor, who was fired recently and replaced by my fourth editor.
(I wish I were kidding. Publishing is a very unstable industry.)
So that makes it basically a death sentence to be assigned to work with you? That’s one way of committing mass murder (of a sort, and quite slowly) with no blood on your hands (or umbrellas)… Think any of these editors will ever put two and two together and refuse the task of working with you?
Esther, you’ve hit on something. Maybe what I need to do is threaten to work with an editor unless s/he allows me to make the changes I wish to make.
Why not put a list of the changes on your web site, kind of like the errata lists for textbooks?
I like Daniel’s idea, except that it would be odd to come to the website and read “insert a comma after the word ‘and’ on line 15.”
Oh, and Faustus, to answer your question: it was just temporary sanity, don’t worry.
Oh god, does this mean I have to read it again and look for typos? I mean, it was great the first time.
Nah. I’ll just wait for the “special edition.”