sbd--as usual, a whine

Dear Publisher,

If you're going to publish historicals, for God's sake hire someone who knows the time period to look at the manuscripts. Seriously. I'm not a member of the Historical Know It Like the Back of My Hand** Force but I've been reading your books and finding mistakes that even someone who's read a couple of non-fiction history books years ago can pick up.

No, I'm not asking this for me. Potatoes in the wrong era never turns a book into a wall banger for me. But you must know Those People Are Out there and They Care Deeply, especially about those Regency set books. Take the time to appease them, for there are many members of this Force and they will buy books from the good publishers and trash the inaccurate ones all over loops.

Look at it from their point of view. If that world is real to them, then when the mistakes are jarring, they'll be pulled out of the place and they'll resent paying for something they consider shoddy. A person who cares about that sort of thing-and there are many out there--is going to Never Ever buy another historical from you again when things like this slip by:

--a character travel from London to Yorkshire in less than two days
--a character in Scotland talk about eloping to Gretna Green.
--marriages in England take place in less than three weeks with no possibility of a special license.
--a stodgy old noblewoman says "bloody hell" and no one raises an eyebrow. (Imagine your prim old granny saying "fucking sonofabitch". See?)
--characters casually addressing one another with Christian names on first meeting.
--No excuse for messing up this one: all those damn Lord and Lady and Your Grace blahblahblah things. There are online resources for who calls whom what. (this from a writer who's screwed it up more than once. But how about this--I'm embarrassed when I do that, and I thank my lucky stars I show my ms to people who know that sort of thing.)
Of course a few mistakes are going to get past even the best of the person you hire to proof these things. But you'd have made the effort and that's worth something. It's showing respect for that picky, devoted band of readers who seem to care more about the book's setting than the author or editor does.

PLUS there is nothing more satisfying than being able to write a "thank you for your interesting note, and I can see that you love details too. That's why I think you'll appreciate this link to the source that states that in fact that sort of device came into use six months earlier. True, very few people had them! However as you can see. . ."****

Okay publisher...can you see I'm asking you to hire the picky proofer for those readers but mostly for YOU? If you want a reputation as a great publisher who cares about the quality of your product, don't keep getting the potatoes wrong.
**yes, I wrote Historical Police Force, a common name for the people who read historicals and write notes to the authors. ("on page 55 you use the word "cosh" which isn't listed in the OED as in use for another decade. And then on page 104...") But then I realized for once I was being sympathetic to their cause so I should be nicer.

****That's almost, but not quite, as marvelous an experience as writing to contest judge who gave you a 69 out of 150 [also known as THE WORST SCORE IN THE WHOLE CONTEST] and who told you your book was unpublishable: "thank you for the time and considerable effort you devoted to my entry. I thought I'd let you know that before the results came back, this book was accepted for publication and will be out in mass-market paperback next year."

One of the sweetest moments, ever.

Ah, memories.


  1. I had the chance to write something like that to a mean ole' judge but decided to take the high road. Was that wrong of me? I feel so simple now.

  2. SO you have a different sort of satisfaction--of knowing you're A Good Person and not at all PETTY.

    (Hey, at least I didn't write, look at this, beyotch. You are clueless!! I did disguise it as a thank you note. And she really did put in a lot of time on my entry.)

  3. and my see? it did exist? device letter that I got to write. That was totally NOT MY CATCH and in fact, I DID make the mistake in my first draft.

    The editor caught it and made me shift the book forward a year because the thing I mentioned hadn't been invented yet. (nothing interesting, just a camera that didn't need freshly prepped glass plates).

    I'd never claim to be good at the nitpicks, but by heavens, I value, esteem and appreciate people who are (particularly when they're willing to read my early drafts).

  4. This is why I'll never write an historical romance. Too much research. If I'm going to have to put in THAT much research, it had better be something fun. Like, you know, the day-to-day life of an incredibly successful, high-priced dominatrix.

    As for pet peeves . . . we were watching King of Scotland last night. Great movie, but it drives me nuts when movie- or TV-docs put a chest X-ray up on the light box and the heart is pointing the wrong way. Now that shows no attention to detail.

  5. I'm not a historical expert, so I agree completely that when a spod like me can find blaring errors, then it must be a big one.

    I agree that overly familiar Georgian set pieces bug me. I'm not sure, but in all of Pride and Prejudice, we never hear Mr. Darcy's first name (Apparently it's Fitzwilliam so no wonder he keeps it a secret). That's real. I also hate really bad grammar; especially on the cover, in the title.

    So what happened with the potatoes?


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