Bill's Blog

Book Editing, Then and Now

Nov 15, 2013

Last week I wrote about the growth of self-publishing (Trends in Publishing, November 8, 2013). My main point was that changes in publishing technology and a shift to online bookselling are encouraging more and more authors to turn their backs on traditional publishers and take matters into their own hands.

Things have also changed in the way books are written and edited. Most of those changes have been positive. I wrote my first three novels on a Smith Corona portable typewriter. Revising a line of text meant retyping the page. My spellchecker was a Webster’s dictionary the size of a Manhattan phonebook. When I needed to check facts, I consulted the Encyclopedia Britannica that occupied two shelves of my office bookcase, or I made a trip to the library. (In comparison, it took me about five seconds to hop online and verify that “Smith Corona” does not have a hyphen.) On the editing side—well, let’s just say that sales of blue pencils are way down.

Unfortunately, not all products of new technology are positive. Think atomic bombs and cyber-attacks.

This week I got a phone call that scared me a little. The guy on the other end of the line wasn’t talking about atomic bombs or cyber-attacks, but to me, what he said was still pretty disturbing.

“I have a large staff of editors and proofreaders in Cancun,” he said. “I would be pleased to take any overflow work you might have, and of course I’ll pay a referral fee.”

“Cancun?” I repeated. “In Mexico?” Surely not, I was thinking. After all, there’s a Paris, Illinois, and Lima, Ohio. Why not a Cancun, Oregon?

“Right. Mexico. But you don’t have to worry about that. My editors and proofreaders are qualified to work with English-language manuscripts.”

He spoke unaccented English, and my caller ID was showing a California area code.

“I live in San Diego,” he explained. “I travel to Cancun once or twice a month, but I have somebody down there who manages the edit staff. He only hires editors and proofreaders who are proficient in English.”

Editors in Mexico editing books for American authors? Nothing in this business should surprise me anymore, but I have to admit that it took me a few minutes to wrap my brain around this.

I declined his offer, and a little research revealed that editing work for American authors is also being outsourced to India. Yikes! Is this another growing trend?

If I still had that Smith Corona typewriter, I’d hug it.

Questions about this topic? Call me at (505) 401-1021 or send me an email at I’m in my office most weekdays from 9 to 5.

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