introducing readers to writers since 1995

October 06, 2004

There's a Lesson in This For Anne Rice Somewhere

by Ron Hogan

One of the most common laments in the modern publishing industry is that manuscripts just don't get strong enough attention from editors and copyeditors anymore, as evidenced by all sorts of ill-constructed nonsense that makes its way onto the printed page and into bookstores. As it happens, I was going over the uncorrected galleys of a forthcoming book about web publishing and came across two striking examples that "prove" the point. I'm not going to identify the book or the author, precisely because what I'm about to quote may very well have been noticed and fixed between now and actual publication, which would be great for all concerned.

First, a simple stylistic matter, at one point, the author says, "As Olympia Dukakis reminds us, 'Don't shit where you eat.'" Granted, Dukakis did say that in Moonstruck, but what does the citation of a nearly twenty-year-old movie that a lot of people (me, for instance) haven't seen add to the context that requires its presence rather than something along the lines of "Like they say"? Now the reader's left wondering what Olympia Dukakis has to do with web publishing, and while the distraction isn't fatal, it is unnecessary.

Here's a more technical example, from the section on coding HTML image tags, in which the author advises, "You can force an image to display smaller in your post by adding width=100." This is partially true, but if the original width of an image is less than 100 pixels, that tag will make the image bigger. Furthermore, using this technique can distort the image. For example, here's the Beatrice logo at a width of 100 pixels, which makes it unattractively jagged--it's pure luck that the image is still legible at this size:

Now, admittedly, the majority of non-professional web publishers at whom this book is aimed aren't necessarily going to care about the aesthetic ramifications of a distorted image here and there. But for those who are, the tip is misleading when it doesn't have to be; even a simple explanation of how to determine the dimensions of an image file and adjust the proportions in the IMG tag could have made this advice straightforwardly accurate...and if it would scare off technophobes, well, frankly, why would technophobes want to publish on the web?

Rigorous attention from editors and copyeditors forces writers to hone their words for maximum clarity. Incomplete information, or stylishness at the expense of precision, shouldn't be allowed to make it into any finished book, but especially not into nonfiction, and especially not into how-to books. As I said above, I'm not naming names, but if by some fluke the author happens to stumble onto this, I hope the demonstration proves useful.

If you enjoy this blog,
your PayPal donation
can contribute towards its ongoing publication.