Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Dyslexic authors

'Writing and spelling were always terribly difficult for me ... I was an extraordinarily bad speller and have remained so to this day.' Agatha Christie

 'The diagnosis of dyslexia wasn't available in the late fifties - bad spelling like mine was considered a psychological problem by the language therapist who evaluated my mysterious case. When the repeated courses of language therapy were judged to have had no discernible influence on me, I was turned over to the school psychiatrist.' John Irving
At my local writing group we have two dyslexic authors - both of them brimming with highly original ideas and great writing ability. But they worry - how they worry - about the presentation of their work.

Last year one of them went to the Winchester Writers Conference, and was told by a commissioning editor that she wouldn't normally have read past the first paragraph of her manuscript, because there was a spelling error in it.  Recently the same writer attended the event at Foyles bookstore, where she pitched her book to one of the literary agents from Curtis Brown. At the Q&A session an agent told her that publishers no longer provide copy-editing: their editors read for content and marketing purposes only. Her advice was to mention the author's dyslexia in the query letter, so that the agent would know that extra care would be required by this manuscript. But what if that warning meant that the mauscript was discarded anyway, as simply too much trouble?

Several further questions issue from this. First, is the decline of copy-editing a reality or not?  (I mainly edit  content these days, but the publishers I work for do indeed employ copy-editors. Perhaps they are a vanishing breed; certainly my American authors say they have never been edited so thoroughly at home.)
Then, if publishers do require 'perfect' manuscripts, must dyslexic writers pay to get their manuscripts professionally edited before submitting them? Not everyone can afford to do that. And where are those professional copy-editors going to come from, if no publishers are training or employing copy-editors any longer?

Perhaps most importantly, what is being missed as every MS with a literal in the first page is thrown into the bin? Imagine if that had been the case in the past: no Marple or Poirot; no Garp or Owen Meany. Just how complex is the cost-benefit analysis here?

It's not surprising that self-publishing continues to gain in popularity, as the gap between the production values of professional and amateur narrows.

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