“This is an uncorrected proof. Reviewers are requested to check all quotations against the published edition.”
This or similar boilerplate appears in virtually all the books Kirkus Reviews works on. We—and many other media outlets—typically receive limited-run, prepublication advance copies of books that may still be in the copy-editing process. Reviewers know this, and we tend to read past obvious errors and typos, confident that they will be eliminated in the finished book.
I recall one book that for some reason doubled “St.” and rendered the historic capitol of Russia as “St. St. Petersburg.” Another was a British import, and a crude search-and-replace operation had been done to Americanize” football” to “soccer”; this resulted in the occasional use of a lonely “soccer” to refer to a soccer ball, as in “Sam dribbled the soccer.” Yet another miraculously restored a one-armed character’s missing limb for two pages. In each of these cases, none of the errors made it to the finished book (though we checked on that arm to make sure).
But what happens when errors make it past the copy editor? Our reviewer of Cinder, Marissa Meyer’s stylish, futuristic “Cinderella” reboot, didn’t find the book flawless but didn’t remark on copy-editing errors, certain that they would not make it into the finished book. I was, therefore, horrified when I read the finished book and found multiple malapropisms and typos. “Dosage” was used instead of “dose”; “coronated” (ugh) instead of “crowned.” Not content to let the word speak for itself, Meyer specifies that the palace doors “were gilded in gold.” At another point, Cinder redundantly “retreat[s] back.”
Small potatoes, you might argue. But every time I bumped into one of those spuds, I was yanked out of the story. With each new error, I became more vigilant, reading for the next one instead of for plot and character. Not, I think, what Meyer or her editors wanted.
So when Cinder’s “Little Red Riding Hood”– inspired sequel, Scarlet, appeared, I decided we were not going to let it off the hook. If the galley contained typos, malapropisms or other errors, I was going to check with Feiwel and Friends, the publisher, to see if they had been caught after the printing of the galley. And if they hadn’t and there was still time to do so, they were welcome to use that fact-check to remedy the problems. And if they were going into the finished book, we were damn well going to mention it in our review.
Oh, were there problems. “Coronated” instead of “crowned,” again; “personification” instead of “persona”; “enforced” instead of “enacted”—and that’s not even past the one-third mark. In addition to these substitutions, we found typos: “tick” instead of “tic,” multiple times; “lull” instead of “loll”; “spiggot” instead of “spigot”; “vice,” hysterically, instead of “vise.” All of these and more slid effortlessly from the galley into the finished book. (Thankfully, the chicken coup was thwarted, and the chickens had moved back to the coop in the finished book.)
Even beyond these arguably simple (and simply corrected, had anybody a mind to) errors, Meyer has a tendency to pick the wrong word for the job. After Scarlet, distressed over the continued, mysterious absence of her grandmother, gets into a bar brawl, she “mindlessly traipse[s] through her evening routine.” Traipse? Really? According to my dictionary, to traipse means to “walk aimlessly, with storklike gait.” The definition’s “aimlessly” wars with “routine” in that sentence, and “mindlessly” is redundant. A little later on, Cinder and her reluctant companion, Thorne, traipse through a sewer during a jailbreak, and still later, an electric current traipses along Cinder’s nerves. To use “traipse” correctly once will draw praise from verbal connoisseurs; to use it incorrectly three times is inexcusable.
A vicious werewolf has a malevolent “twinkle” in his eyes. At another point Scarlet tries “tying” her arms around her werewolf love interest’s shoulders (just picture that). Thorne affectionately “nicks” Cinder’s chin to cheer her up—ouch.
In response to my query asking if these and other errors had been corrected, I was told that “tick” would be corrected to “tic” and one other typo would be corrected in the next printing. For the rest, they represented authorial voice, and as long as they were spelled correctly and didn’t give the wrong impression, they would be allowed to stay.
I am proof positive that they gave the wrong impression. And as for “spelled correctly”? Are we really giving copy-editing over to spellcheck?
Sometimes unusual word usage is a gift to readers. Richard Peck delights with his appropriation of “infest” to describe a mouse hitchhiking in a fur stole in Secrets at Sea, a brilliant gesture that won my heart. Terry Pratchett loves to stop and just admire words for themselves sometimes, as exemplified by the unforgettable Tiffany Aching in The Wee Free Men: “Susurrus…according to her grandmother’s dictionary it meant ‘a low soft sound, as if whispering or muttering.’ Tiffany liked the taste of the word. It made her think of mysterious people in long cloaks whispering important secrets behind a door….”
But Marissa Meyer is no stylist, at least not yet, and her verbal extravagances backfire, keeping readers from sinking into the solid plot and enjoyable characterizations. It’s an author’s job to deliver his or her story in a way that allows readers to immerse themselves in it, not to impede that immersion. It’s an editor’s job to keep the author from getting in her own way. Meyer and Feiwel and Friends let their readership down here.Vicky Smith is the Children's & Teen Editor at Kirkus Reviews.