I’m about to complain about the most first-world of all first-world problems, so before anyone reads this, I warn you: the following may prove to be a very unsatisfying read, and it basically amounts to me grumbling about not getting a free lunch.
I enjoy reading and writing. Reading is easy. But writing, if I’m trying to do it the right way, can present many challenges. Some are easy to overcome, while others have stumped me for years. Some things I can’t even articulate well enough to ask Google. Overcoming any of these challenges, easy or difficult, is incredibly satisfying.
I use a service called NetGalley, a tool for authors and publishers to give readers a free copy of a book in exchange for a review. Independent authors typically use this (expensive) service because they’re desperate for anyone, literally anyone, to read and review their book. (It’s attractive to me for this reason!) Publishers typically use this service ahead of a book’s release so that, by the time the release date rolls around, there’s already a solid buzz and a good number of reviews praising the book.
One of my requests for an advance review copy (ARC) of a book was approved recently, and there was much rejoicing—many of my requests are denied, since a positive review from little old me will generate very little buzz. After downloading the book to my Kindle, I saw this familiar disclaimer: “Digital Galley Edition. This is uncorrected advance content collected for your reviewing convenience. Please check with publisher or refer to the finished product whenever you are excepting or quoting in a review.”
(All this means is that readers shouldn’t freak out if they run into typos or bizarre sentences, because proofreaders and editors haven’t yet made the final pass.)
I realized before I even finished the first few chapters that I was going to love that book. And I was right; now that I’m done, I can say with confidence that it’s the best book I’ve read all year. It’s creative, it has compelling characters, good pacing. Truly, it’s a good book.
But there were also many issues with the text. And I’m not talking about typos—though there were many—I’m talking about accidental rhymes, repetitive sentences, instances where the same word was used three or four or even five times in a single sentence. There were passages where, when the author talked about something that occurred in the distant past, “had” preceded literally every single verb.
These issues excited me, because I knew that I was going to buy this book. (Sidebar: I will typically buy a physical copy of a book I enjoyed, even if I received a free digital copy, just so I can have something to put on my shelf.) And I realized that if I took good notes on this uncorrected proof copy, then I could compare it to the finished book and, basically, get a free peek behind the curtain; I’d be able to see exactly where professional editors and proofreaders tightened things up. I’d get to see which sentences were rewritten, to see how many instances of “had” would be removed from a character’s memory, to see whether an editor thought en dashes with spaces on both sides warranted corrections (to be em dashes without spaces).
There was even an instance where a semicolon and an en dash (masquerading as an em dash) were used in the same sentence.
So yesterday I finally get the physical copy of this book. I pull out my Kindle and immediately start comparing the notes. And, woe is me, the text is completely unchanged from the uncorrected proof copy I read. Even the typos and dropped words are exactly as they were in the ARC. I was shocked. This isn’t the first time I’ve purchased a first-edition hardcover book, and I understand readers should expect errors in a first edition (Ringworld, for example, had the main character traveling around the world to extend the length of his birthday, but the character was flying around the world in the wrong direction, hardy har har), but I’ve never see this many errors before.
Mostly, I’m dispirited by this because I didn’t get my free lunch—as an aspiring writer, I was hoping to see exactly what would chap the butts of professionals, to see what would warrant re-writes. But it also just stinks to have a physical book from a major publisher with so many straight-up errors. Books are pretty much the only place these days where the written word really matters.
A friend pointed out it’s possible the uncorrected proof was used by mistake; that there’s an immaculate manuscript floating around somewhere, but because no one is in the office due to the pandemic, someone slipped up and grabbed the wrong digital file. I don’t know. But when the paperback releases next year, I’ll definitely thumb through it at my local bookstore to see if anything has been updated.
I am bummed.