Dear Editors: Kilometrestones

Dear Editors,

Book publishing moves so slowly, doesn’t it? There’s rarely an opportunity to yell “Stop the presses!” as we have plenty of lead time to update manuscripts and check proofs. Also, with the exception of some exceptional small presses (Coach House in Toronto, I’m looking at you), most publishing houses don’t have an actual press on site.

But early in my career, I did have the chance to yell “Stop the presses!” A managing editor had asked me to check the printer’s proof of a mass market paperback, “just in case. We updated a few lines but it should be fine.”

And there it was on the spine: CHIGAGO.

I felt like Carl Bernstein and Indiana Jones rolled into one twenty-something aspiring book editor. It’s right up there with my favourite typo catch: “pubic art.”

But that high didn’t last. When I was about a year into my first in-house editing job, I was learning about the craft by doing a lot of copyediting and proofreading. One of the main tasks of a junior editor at a Canadian house that has a strong rights department is changing the spelling from “Canadian” to “American,” and vice versa. If we’re Americanizing the text, we’re dropping the u’s and changing “university” to “college,” things like that. We’re also converting measurements.

I was trying to rush a job and instead of checking and changing the actual distances, I asked the typesetter to change “miles” to “kilometres.” On the next round of proofs, I realized my two big mistakes: the measurements were off, and the book now had “kilometrestones.”

Editors, take your time, know your role, learn your craft. The devil really is in the details.

And when given the opportunity, yell “Stop the presses!” across the lunch room just to see what will happen. Who said publishing can’t be fun?



The publisher Louise Dennys with Salman Rushdie and me.

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