Of book reviews, editing, and the self-publishing process

One of our publications, Wilderness Tales from Similipal, by Satyesh Naik, received a review in The Wire. Described as “one of the most heart-warming reads in recent memory in the ever-expanding genre of Indian wildlife writing,” the reviewer proceeds to say that “the Odisha-based naturalist’s book is perhaps the first work ever to be solely dedicated to the state’s jungles, of which he is arguably the finest contemporary chronicler.”

That the book is outstanding is hardly arguable. This post, however, addresses the concerns with the publisher that the reviewer has. We sought to address it through this post because it points to larger issues with publishing and self-publishing.

The reviewer goes to say:

“Nonetheless, while there are so many good things to be said about the book, it does falter in some areas. What strikes the reader immediately is that the book’s publishers have done a very poor job at copy-editing the text and have let the author down. There are many rough-edges in the writing that should have been polished – if only the publisher’s in-house editor had given it some effort. And even as the editing leaves much to be desired, the formatting suffers from the same defects, with too many needless capitalisations (especially of species names) that are jarring and break the reader’s flow.”

Point taken. However, we, as publishers offer copy editing as a paid service. This service costs money when an author chooses to publish with us, and, more often than not is a service that is outright rejected by authors. To be fair, the author of this book had paid to have the book copy edited. But many authors don’t and because we insist on a round of editing, we have lost many customers – authors who are convinced that their book does not need editing.

The author of this book, Satyesh Naik, had indeed paid for a round of editing. The way we provide copy editing is this: the editor edits the book, and then sends it to the author for approval. During this stage, the author is asked to approve of the changes that are made (or reject those that he does not approve of) and address any queries the editor may have. Often, because the author is busy with other tasks not related to the book, he chooses to approve all of the changes. Sometimes an author does not know better and approves of all changes. And sometimes, the editor errs by overlooking an error or two. But in most cases, an author outright rejects the changes suggested by the editor, citing that it is their (the author’s style) of writing that way. We are thus unable to enforce these changes, and the error-ridden text makes its way to the book. Due to these many human interventions, it is true that a few errors go unnoticed, or, worse, go through with the author’s approval. Editors who have applied to CinnamonTeal will attest to the fact that our editing tests are rigorous. Having the best editors gives us the ability to edit a manuscript and make it error-free. Nonetheless, it is our constant effort to ensure that the book does not have issues, the kinds of which the reviewer has pointed out.

The reviewer goes to further point out that:

“The chapters are not numbered and an index should have been included. The photos have all been provided (chapter-wise) at the end of the book, which is again a disappointment. The publishers should have placed the images alongside the relevant chapters. The current arrangement gives the book a very amateur feel. Moreover, since the mammalian wildlife of Similipal is very shy and not easily sighted, the author should have considered providing a few camera trap photos of Similipal’s faunal diversity. The chapters are also somewhat haphazardly arranged. They should ideally have been arranged in the order in which the author explored Similipal, or in a way he wished the readers to get acquainted with the park. Consequently, the entire text becomes a little clumsy. In sum, I wish the book was published by a mainstream publishing house with a deft yet firm editor’s hand and a qualified designer.”

It is true that there should have been an index and that there should have been more pictures. But one should remember that this is a paid service and that the author, in this particular case, and quite often otherwise, is working on a tight budget. Indexing costs money and so does including more pictures in colour. It was also a technical constraint we had – of not having the capability to intersperse coloured pictures within the text without incurring a large printing cost (hence the decision to place pictures at the end of the book was made to reduce the costs as much as possible). Given these financial and technical constraints, we worked with the author to make the book as appealing as possible. At CinnamonTeal, we do not force any services upon our authors (except insist that the book be edited), rather allow them to pick and choose the services they need, and can afford. That we provide a print-on-demand facility allows authors to develop books at very low investments.

One most also note that the author, before approaching us, had approached traditional publishers. Not one, however, found it a book worth publishing. This, notwithstanding the fact that important books, especially ones like these that document important forest habitats and other aspects of nature, need to be published (we have since published yet another book, The Vanishing Stripes, an excellent addition to prevailing texts on the subject of animal conservation). The whims of publishers not withstanding, such books can only be then published via the self-publishing route. And while it is expensive to do that, and comes along with issues that still need ironing out, self-publishing is, nonetheless, becoming a genuine option for serious authors.