Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Twirling Typos, Mirthful Misspellings Send New Circus Book Back to the Printer

For author David Lewis Hammarstrom, the experience of drawing critical approval for a new book — and at the same time being taken to task for misspelling too many words — is hardly new.

“Perhaps there should be a place for me in the Guinness Book of World Records.”

His latest effort, Inside the Changing Circus: A Critic’s Guide (BearManor Media), which is reaping rosy notices, is no exception to the rule. But, luckily, it is already headed back to the printers, thanks in part to new print-on-demand technology, which frees publishers from having to produce a backlog of books and sell them before any corrections can even be contemplated.

Even then, Inside contains far fewer errors than Hammarstrom’s first tome, Behind the Big Top (“a wonderful circus history”-- Booklist). “Behind went out virtually unedited,” noted the entertainment journalist and critic with a rueful smile. “It hosts dozens, yes, dozens of misspelled words.” In arguably his best copyedited work, Big Top Boss: John Ringling North and the Circus, published by no less than a respected University Press (Illinois), a late friend spotted 20 misspelled words, and guessed there might be even more. Among the offenders -- “impressario,” “scrupples,” and “examplary”

Hammarstrom combs his manuscripts many times over. Contractually, he agreed to do the proofing for Inside himself. “I have worked with publishers who routinely promise proofing but do not always deliver very well on the promise.” During the page proof stages, Hammarstrom made nearly 250 corrections, many of them misspellings or typos. Only one reviewer, Herbert Ueckert writing in Circus Report, complained of the misspelled words, adamantly enough, though, for Hammarstrom to take note. And when his sister, Kathy, became enthralled with the book and mentioned having spotted some errors, the author encouraged her to write them all down. He sent the list to BearManor’s production manager, who in turn forwarded it on to the publisher himself, Ben Ohmart, for his consideration. “That Ben so nicely agreed to make the corrections is good news for the book,” says Hammarstrom.

So how many words in need for reform does the book contain? Roughly about the same number as Big Top Boss, although the latter is twice the length Even a spell checker does not always serve its intended purpose, not in Hammarstrom’s hands “It must have questioned my spelling of the phrase ‘national anthem,’ such that I hastily clicked onto a proposed alternate spelling, and out came, without my noticing, “National Anaheim.” His sister got a good laugh.

The book was recently endorsed by Choice, published under the aegis of the American the American Library Association, recommending it for general readers. The unequivocal review did not mention any errors, which is not unusual. “Some reviewers are either very forgiving — or, perhaps, I am not the only mortal guaranteed to come in dead last at any spelling be anywhere.” [Correction: Change “be” to “bee”]

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