Why I accuse the publisher for book flaws

Guest of honour Dawood (centre) is taken through a children's book at a past Nairobi book fair by Solo Were as his MD Muriuki Njeru looks on. Picture: Anthony Kamau

What you need to know:

  • Some authors assume that once they have written a manuscript, they have to fast track it for printing

I read Isaac Mwangi’s book review in the last edition of Lifestyle titled Glory Be to Corruption in God’s Name! with a keen interest. As much as I agreed with the observations he made, I felt like he directed the heat on the author, and yet the publisher, too, should be upbraided for the theological and other mistakes found in Kiuna’s book.

In these days when there are many people who masquerade as publishers, it is not hard to land in the hands of an impostor. Many up-and-coming authors, unaware or ignorant of the value addition to a manuscript by the publisher, assume that once they have written a manuscript, then the next thing to do is get a designer to set it and then whisk it to a printer to make copies for distribution.

As a result, many self-published books miss some key steps in the publishing of a good book.
If Kiuna’s book was not self-published, I associate the mistakes the reviewer identified in it to the publisher.

Long before a book gets to the point of printing, the publisher takes the manuscript through a lot of pre-press work.
The first thing a serious publisher does once he finds a manuscript acceptable for publishing is to assign it to a developmental editor.

Developmental editing, also known as content editing, entails rearranging the text in the best way the reader will grasp the ideas being communicated.

Every book ought to be clear for the reader to understand its message and feel like he or she has learnt something after turning the last page. The developmental editor may restructure sections for better flow of ideas.

He or she may also advise transitioning from one point to the next. When you are writing a book that is theological in nature, like the one of Allan Kiuna, then it is imperative that the publisher identifies a developmental editor who is knowledgeable about theological issues and can advise the author where necessary.

In the absence of the developmental editor, “glaring mistakes” such as the ones Isaac Mwangi cited cannot be ruled out. Even the title for Kiuna’s book is lifted from the one of Bishop Darlingston G. Johnson, a clear illustration of lack of originality on the publisher’s part to ensure the book stands out.

Editor’s job

The developmental editor’s job is to get the manuscript ready for the copy editor for proofreading. This rather rigorous exercise involves line-by-line check for typos, spelling, grammar and punctuation errors.

An editor who is worthy his salt is proficient at language style, front matter, back matter, indexing, layout, formatting, and other relevant things your English teacher may not have taught you.

It is important to note that serious readers are put off by glaring grammatical mistakes and flouting of conventions. As much as we keep on complaining about the lack of a reading culture in our country, a lot of the reading materials available do not encourage the culture either.

The common reader has a short attention span and any small mistake will be a good reason to put it down for other things competing for attention.

A good book publisher will also not circumvent any pre-press task that is necessary in ensuring that a book is released in the best possible form.

They will enlist a competent graphic designer to produce an appropriate cover for the book, a layout artist to set the text for attractive and readable pages, etc.

They will also critically look at the facts in the manuscript to make the author aware of any libellous material for his or her action, and also guide in fulfilling legal requirements pertaining to publishing.

Pre-press work is demanding in terms of man-hours and a self-publisher working single-handedly may find himself or herself swamped and hence end up with a poor product.

People with large enough budgets may find themselves in a position to sub-contract out the different tasks to experts, though this can be a costly affair.
And, of course, the most important job of the book publisher presents itself after the book is printed. Publishers have established outlet links to effectively market and sell a book in a way that no self-publisher can match.

Huge distribution networks allow major publishers to get books to both chain and independent bookstores. Large print runs can keep unit costs much lower than smaller printings.

This, in turn, leads to competitive pricing of the book. Publishers, since they are conversant with market needs, advise on this too.

Self-publishing may appear an excellent choice for many writers who want to see their work in print, but a competent book publisher remains an essential ally of those who want their books to make it big.

The absence of standards and a regulatory body to which publishers can be held accountable aggravates the matter such that any one can call themselves a publisher, produce shoddy work and get away with it.

The honour is on the authors to hold their publisher to account.

Barine A. Kirimi works with Evangel Publishing House