The High Price of Cutting Corners

Some things have to be learned the hard way. But, if you’re a publisher, this is a case of “you should have known better.”

In 2008, Princeton University Press recalled 4,000 copies of Cop in the Hood: My Year Policing Baltimore’s Eastern District, by Peter Moskos, published May 1. It was the entire initial press run, all 4,000 copies. It was discovered that the book was riddled with more than 90 spelling and grammar errors among its 245 pages. Hmm. How could this have happened? After all, this is Princeton University Press. Reputable. Respectable. Dependable.

And evidently, caught cutting corners.

Writers write stories. Editors edit stories. But copyeditors fix mistakes. And if publishers get cheap, the end product suffers and readers pay the price. The press pulled every copy of the book, corrected it, reprinted it, and redistributed it to stores at a considerable cost, but the price of releasing the book to the public with so many errors would have been even more. This entire situation could have been averted simply by paying the wages required by experienced copyeditors to get the job done right the first time.

It simply comes down to money. “According the Peter Dougherty, the press’s director, the manuscript had been given to an inexperienced copyeditor who failed to do the job properly.”

This isn’t a surprise to most of us who work as freelancers in the publishing industry. Publishers have been getting away with paying freelance copyeditors and proofreaders below scale for years, sometimes as lows as the teens or twenties at best. Experienced copyeditors simply won’t work for that kind of pay, and it shouldn’t be any surprise when a publisher pays a copyeditor that kind of rate that they get what they pay for: a plethora of mistakes.

Note to publishers: your end users deserve the best product possible. That’s what they are paying for; that’s what they expect. And it’s your name on the product, so why wouldn’t you want it to be perfect? Pay your staff to make sure it is. Copyediting counts.

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