Are you familiar with mistakes in books

Is the impression deceptive or are the errors in books getting more and more common?

A wrong case, one letter too many, a failed metaphor: mistakes in books are annoying, they pile up, make you question the care with which a text has been published. Then the most invisible station in the process of creating a book suddenly becomes a topic for the audience: the editing.

Reviews full of complaints can be found on the Internet. "We also get nasty correspondence because 'This book deserves editing'. We also get lists of errors," says Doris Plöschberger from Suhrkamp. However, complaints would be made over and over again that were not errors. No wonder, since Suhrkamp has always been one of the top publishers. Anyone who finds a mistake in the finished book can be proud.

"Hairy" is a nuisance

How many are okay with the publisher? It's not okay, but "If one or two errors occur per hundred pages, well. There are different categories of errors. If you overlook a comma in a novel with complex syntax, you can deal with it. That can only be done with a tremendous amount preventing effort, and you don't have to pay for it. But if it says 'hairy' instead of 'persistent', that's annoying. "

It must be said: Spell checking is a matter for the proofreaders, not the editors. Even if they keep an eye on it, editors are much more responsible for the quality of a text: they make authors aware of where a figure needs to be more vivid or where the tempo needs to be tightened, they check logic and narrative perspectives. They also take care of the acquisition of new authors and work on the cover. Ultimately, however, the final responsibility for errors lies with the editor once the proofreaders have submitted their comments on the proofs and he creates the final version.

Software failure

Plöschberger is the program manager for German-language literature at Suhrkamp, ​​and she is the editor of Valerie Fritsch, Friederike Mayröcker and Clemens Setz. "Every mistake hurts. No one is as badly hit by a mistake as the editor." How can misprints happen despite correction software? Simple answer: "They don't always help."

Word processing programs often lead to errors, says Susanne Krones, who heads German-language literature at Penguin. For example, if corrections are mistakenly not approved in the "Track changes" mode. Until it is published, a text at Penguin will therefore go through the hands of two independent external proofreaders.

Plöschberger studied in Graz and has been with Suhrkamp since 2007. She knows from older colleagues that there used to be more time for text work. The organizational effort involved in a book has grown. She understands that this is necessary in order to create the best conditions for a book - for example for titles that are reported to databases that are called up by bookstores earlier and earlier. The fact that planning takes place longer does not mean that the editors also have more time for books. This is how publishers stress themselves. If an author delays the submission, it only becomes even tighter.

Task increase

What digitization has also brought with it are more diverse ways to reach the target groups, which requires more accompanying texts. For e-books and online platforms, books must also be subject to keywords. Since it is the editors who know the books best, it depends on them.

How much working time is actually left for intensive reading? In the best-case scenario, Krones estimates, helped. On a day devoted entirely to the manuscript, you could hardly create more than 50 pages. Three such rounds are the ideal case for Plöschberger. That is always not feasible. But you do everything possible to ensure that no book goes out after just one round of editing.

Suhrkamp does almost all of the editing work in-house. A publisher's editor can look after three books per season. If work is outsourced to freelance editors, a publishing editor creates ten titles. The paperback, which uses texts that have already been published, has even more, says Krones. In the case of German-language literature, there is naturally more intensive, time-consuming contact with the author than in the case of translations.

Carrot and red pencil

For publishers who are less self-conscious, editing costs are items where savings can be made. Low fees put pressure on freelance editors. But it is known that many authors would never have achieved fame without editors. While translators are receiving more attention in reviews, editors still lead a shadowy existence. Heard that changed? "Our editors do not highlight them because they stand for the literary brand," says Krones. For Plöschberger, discretion is also part of the basis of trust. "Because our role is actually an insult: We claim to the author that we know things better without being able to do it better."

So where does the personal style end and where does the need for corrections begin? For spelling there is the Duden, with style it gets tricky. "Sometimes you have to leave the dirty edge under the nails of a text," says Plöschberger.

Should something slip through, readers' mail about errors is archived and incorporated at Penguin in the event of a reprint. (Michael Wurmitzer, April 23, 2021)