Editing a Book about Queen Elizabeth II
I just finished reading Andrew Marr’s recent book The Real Elizabeth: An Intimate Portrait of Queen Elizabeth II. Well, I sort of read it. I turned all the pages and read the parts that were interesting. I’m sorry to say that it didn’t take long. Despite the promising title (“An Intimate Portrait”), there wasn’t much that I didn’t already know.
At first I thought the book would be fun to read: An “intimate” portrait of the Queen – wow! (Here’s a picture of the corner of my kitchen where my royal souvenirs are displayed.)
The book was published by a well-established publisher, Henry Holt: A good sign. Another good omen was finding that comprised was used correctly in Chapter 1. (It means “included,” not “composed.”) And there was yet another good sign: Marrs properly referred to the annual birthday observance for the Queen as “Trooping the Colour.” Even Crawfie (the Queen’s governess when she was growing up) got that one wrong, incorrectly inserting an “of” after “Trooping” in one of her books.
But then the book showed signs of sloppiness and haste. After the account of Prince Charles’s arrival, I naturally expected to read about Princess Anne, Prince Andrew, and Prince Edward, along with details about their upbringing and schooling. Nope. Suddenly we switched to prime ministers and state visits – the subject of the entire second half of the book.
And then there was a whopper, and I completely lost interest in the book: Princess Margaret married Anthony Armstrong-Jones. I prayed that it was just a one-time typo, but no: Again and again the Princess’s husband (well, ex-husband) was referred to as Anthony.
Please, Mr. Marr: His name is Antony.
Details matter. Good writers hire experienced editors to help them get the details right. Katharine Hepburn spelled her first name with an “a,” not an “e.” The capital of New York state is Albany, not New York City (and technically speaking, there’s no such place as “New York City”: It’s New York, New York).
Errors are everywhere. Many of the plants commonly called “palms” are actually coonties, and some plants we casually label as “cactuses” are actually agaves or yuccas. Credit unions aren’t banks, flags fly at half-mast only on ships (the correct term is “half staff”), and spiders aren’t insects – they’re arachnids. The possessive form of people is people’s, with the apostrophe before the “s,” and semicolons aren’t the same as commas, despite the wishful thinking of many misinformed writers.
Not long ago I was interested in buying a self-published book I saw offered on an e-book website – until I saw that “scornful” was misspelled in the title.
Editing. Fact-checking. Accuracy. They all matter – if, that is, you’re serious about wanting readers to buy whatever it is that you’ve written.