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Line editing

28 March 2011

'Very often I'm brought to a halt by some ridiculous mistake that hasn't been picked up by an editor, which makes me think there can't be much line-by-line editing going on in publishing houses these days. I don't know that it matters all that much. It makes a lot of people absolutely furious so they can hardly enjoy reading. But for me if what is being said comes clearly across that's what matters. It is a bit pedantic to fuss too much about the editing of detail. On the other hand, it does offend my personal instincts, having been trained in the old-fashioned ways, which meant our texts should be perfect.

The answer I found for myself is that I take much more trouble than I used to in the line-by-line editing of my own manuscript, and I think authors should now take that responsibility on themselves if they don't want to be annoyed by minor details. In nearly 50 years as an editor for André Deutsch, I never came across a writer who objected to editing if it made sense, not just in terms of mistakes, which all writers want to be corrected, but the actual way something was written. A lot of writers, for instance Jean Rhys, are perfectionists, so all the editor has to do is spot typing mistakes. I would never have dreamed of suggesting alterations. If we took a book on it meant we liked it; it might in certain respects or details be improved, but if the author didn't want to change it we didn't mess around with their texts.

Diana Athill, author of Somewhere Towards the End and former editor at André Deutsch, in an article by Alex Clark entitled 'The Lost Art of Editing' in the Guardian