Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Mark Twain on proofreaders

It has been fascinating looking at the publishing business from, as it were, the other side of the fence.

Mark Twain

Writing being such a personal business, I'm aware that writers' attitudes to copy-editors and proofreaders are often ambivalent. Mark Twain was downright hostile – the Giles Coren of the nineteenth century – and in a letter from 1889 he had this to say:

'Yesterday Mr. Hall wrote that the printer's proof-reader was improving my punctuation for me, & I telegraphed orders to have him shot without giving him time to pray.'

This is a passage from a letter he wrote in July 1897 to his publisher, Chatto & Windus:

'This latest batch, beginning with page 145 and running to page 192, starts out like all that went before it – with my punctuation ignored and their insanities substituted for it. I have read two pages of it – I can't stand any more ...'

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