Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Publishing and Intolerance

I'm old enough to remember what it's like to use a manual typewriter.  For those of you who will never be forced to use one of these machines, let me tell you that it's no fun and you are not missing a thing. The electric typewriter is worlds better, but provides the user with a lot less exercise.  That old Royal manual could really provide the typist with some serious cardiovascular exercise.

The main advantage to using a typewriter is that you didn't have to worry about a printer interface or printer problems.  If your ribbon was worn out, you reluctantly dragged yourself down to the office supply store and bought another one.  Likewise, copies were pretty simple.  You used carbon paper; one piece of carbon paper between two pieces of typing paper.  And, like the ink ribbon, when the carbon paper got too worn out to use, you dragged yourself down to the office supply store and bought another package.

All this worked real well until you got your wires crossed and hit the 'T' key instead of the 'Y' and ended up with Tou instead of You.  This was the typographical error, or typo as it was called back then.  When that happened you had to get out your typing eraser, which was a little wheel eraser that looked like a unicycle with a brush on it instead of a tiny seat.  You then rotated the platen a couple clicks until you could get at the offending word, they you tried erasing the 'T' in Tou.  This generally didn't work well, as the eraser would smear the ink across the paper and then you tried to erase the smears, which sort of worked and sort of didn't.  Mostly it didn't.  Then you'd give up and brush the eraser remains off the paper with the little brush so they didn't accumulate in the works of the typewriter and eventually jam everything up.  Then you tried to realign the paper, which didn't work either because trying to erase the 'T' caused the paper to shift just enough to make the rest of the sentence look funny.  If you were using carbon paper you had to go through each sheet and erase the 'T', being careful not to press on the carbon paper because if you did the carbon would leave strange black marks on the page under it and the whole business was shot.  People could make a maximum of six copies, but that required typing extra hard on the manual typewriter.

Centering a line meant counting the total number of characters in the line, subtracting that number from the total number of characters on a single line of a page (80), dividing the result in half and tapping the space bar that number of times to get the line centered.  An experienced typist could estimate this close enough for government work.  Margins were also manually set.  You opened the carriage and there were two manual stops inside that you set for the margins.  Tabs were set the same way.

Enter the word processor.

Typographical errors were easy to correct, copies were effectively unlimited once you got the printer to interface with the PC, something that Apple has yet to completely come to grips with, and the spell checker fixed your spelling errors.  All the typist had to know was English grammar, or in this case the author.  Most do know enough to avoid the basic grammatical errors, and we now have a grammar checker that will detect the rest.  So it should be pretty easy to produce a novel, right?

Enter the publisher.

A person who wants to center a line will use the space-bar until the line appears to be centered, just like they would on a manual typewriter.  If each paragraph should have the first line indented, the author will use the tab key to do so.  All sentences are separated by a double space, because that's the way it used to be done back in the bad old days.  And, should the spelling and grammar checkers constantly interrupt the next Hemingway, these helpful tools can be turned off and forgotten.  All of these things will result in this invaluable contribution to civilization being rejected by the publisher's slush pile editor, an Eastern school graduate who has a bachelor's in English and is developing a drinking problem from looking at the idiocy piled up in her IN box.

Want to get past the first tier?  Learn to use your word processor.  Leave the spell checker on and pay attention to your spelling.  If you have poor grammar skills, take a course or two at the local university and hire a GradAss to tutor you between classes.  You don't have to possess outstanding grammatical skills, but your skills have to be adequate.

Meantime, be thankful you aren't using an old Royal portable with a worn out ribbon and an 'e' key that's bent.

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