did not finish: Wall, Watchtower and Pencil Stub: Writing During World War II by John R. Carpenter

When is it fair to criticize a galley for its mistakes?

Full disclosure: I was sent a pre-publication galley copy of this book. The errors I am about to complain about may be corrected in the final published product. However, I am doubtful. This is a well-finished, glossy-covered galley, and my observation is that such copies rarely undergo massive revamps, which is what this one would need to satisfy my complaints. [Even when I have received unfinished copies, including typed manuscripts on loose pages, I’ve found far fewer errors than this.] I have found the odd typo in ARCs and galleys I’ve been sent, or the odd note clearly intended for someone in the editorial process (“need caption here” or “photo credit?”). What I see here looks to me like more of a consistent stylistic choice. Still, it’s only fair to point out that the final publication will be different from this one in some ways. I definitely like the concept, so I hope corrections are made… many of them.


pencil stubI read through the preamble, the preface, and chapter 1, which concludes on page 15, and I couldn’t take any more. I found distracting multiple uses of a comma to connect two independent clauses, as in:

The outcome is no longer in doubt, the names of the victors and defeated are well-known.

Correct grammar would demand either a semicolon or a conjunction to connect these two clauses, or alternatively, they could be two sentences entirely.

The outcome is no longer in doubt; the names of the victors and defeated are well-known.

The outcome is no longer in doubt, because the names of the victors and defeated are well-known.

The outcome is no longer in doubt. The names of the victors and defeated are well-known.

A few more:

Hillary was a pilot, in the first chapters of the book he presents himself as arrogant and immature.

Hillary did not survive the war – he died in January 1943 – but he was unequivocal, his whole act of writing and his book were an act of communication with his readers: a call to end delusions.

Again, I read 15 pages, and these are just a few examples I chose out of many.

Other usage oddities:

It could have ended entirely different.

(Differently, I’m sure he means…)

The realization by a civilian he could be treated as an insentient thing often came suddenly.

This is the only one that strikes me as possibly a simple mistake, the omission of a word that would have made the sentence flow easily and understandably, so the reader could pay attention to content and put away her red pen.

I feel like I read this concept somewhere, or maybe I made it up, but it seems a good rule of thumb to me that a galley should not be judged negatively on the basis of a few errors throughout, that one assumes will be corrected in final publication. However, at the point where those errors are prolific enough to be distracting, they must be addressed. After all, publishers send out galleys to promote the upcoming book, don’t they? It would seem to be very counter to that cause to send out a copy so full of errors that I can no longer pay attention to the purpose of the book. That was the case here, and I couldn’t continue.

For those interested in the quite attractive topic of “writing during WWII,” you might still want to check out the final version of this book. But maybe browse its pages first to see if this consistent misuse of commas is corrected. Or maybe you’re less sensitive than I am…

4 Responses

  1. ” I have found the odd typo in ARCs and galleys I’ve been sent…” In published books, too. A few here and there are one thing (and I confess my first novel has a few comma splices in it), but this looks like a lot for 15 pages.

    Also, the comma splice is not the only problem here: “Hillary did not survive the war – he died in January 1943 – but he was unequivocal, his whole act of writing and his book were an act of communication with his readers: a call to end delusions.” (Unless you’re Henry James, it’s good to avoid sentences with this many different components — I’d split it up rather than fix the comma splice.)

    The “different”/”differently” thing is the sort of thing I’d expect to be fixed in final edits, but this sentence looks like Tristan Tzara worked on it: “The realization by a civilian he could be treated as an insentient thing often came suddenly.”

    • Yes, definitely a few here and there in finished/published books – even major publishing houses! – but rarely enough to distract significantly from the work. (Just enough for me to feel smug that *I* caught it. :))

      So you are in agreement that this one sounds like quite a mess, then? Am I right to be this frustrated?

      • When something comes labeled as a galley (or a rough mix, or a rough cut), you agree to cut it some slack. That’s fine. But still — it’s being released into the world, so it should be finished enough to draw people in rather than repel them.

        For example, if you see a rough cut of a movie scene, you expect that the special effects might be incomplete, or the music might not be there, but if the acting and dialogue are bad then you know you’re in trouble.

        I write and post serial fiction, as I write it, so there are some rough edges here and there, but every segment is gone over again and again and again before I hit Upload.

  2. Yep, understood. I think this one was a little different. It didn’t strike me as rough cut so much as a fair example of the author’s (publisher’s, editor’s) idea of acceptable work.

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