Sad Words for Writers
Errata, kill fee, midlist, remainder, widow. These terms stood out to me in my reading this week of publishing terminology. Publishing is such an exciting topic to me, and nearly all of the words on the lists gave me a wee thrill, with these notable exceptions, and it was striking to me that I had not acknowledged that publishing, like any other thing, would have terms with negative connotations.
An errata, a loose sheet detailing errors found in a printed book, was not something that I realized had a title. I would like to know more about this but could not find the information I was looking for online. You understand as a writer and reader that inevitably there will be errors in even the most carefully edited and proofread books – these things slip by – but for my part, anyway, I didn’t realize there was an official means of dealing with them. Though I understand an errata to be composed after a book is imprint, I wish I knew who did the composing and what that looks like in practice. Is there a dedicated team of readers who go through the first printing and email in, “Hey, Georgia, I found an error here, here, and here,” and then all of those emails are composed into one final errata? Or is a fluid document?
Kill fee - a payment that may be made to an author or illustrator when a publisher cancels a project - I imagine would be a term that could cause any budding or established author to wince. On the one hand, I’m glad to see that there is such a thing. It’s good to know that should a project fall out there is something there to offer some consolation to an author. That said, the pain of having a project canceled must bring on all kinds of stress: fear of the lack of income, fear that your artistry is failing you, fear that you don’t have a place in the publishing world, fear of what your peers and family and friends will think.
Midlist, or books with a strong intellectual or artistic bent which have a chance of significant success but are not assumed to be likely bestsellers, was a term that I suppose would not have a negative connotation to everyone. To me, though, there was a sadness in the books seemingly most likely to be noted for their brilliance or superior artistry being labeled “midlist” instead of “top-of-the-list.” I don’t think that there’s anything wrong with wanting to write a bestseller – I don’t know many or maybe any writers who wouldn’t want to – but the highest aspiration, I would think, is to be among these so-called midlist books.
Ah, the remainder, or all the books that didn’t wouldn’t couldn’t sell. When I hear that word, I imagine a closet or a corner of a basement in an author’s house being occupied by boxes of books, black lines slashed through the bottoms, the dark ink a final nail in the coffin of all the hope that book initially held when the author learned it was to be published.
A widow is a high note among this list: a sad word and idea, to be sure, a lone word left on a page, unwanted, undesirable. At least, though, the writer won’t be hurt by thus one. Irritated by the presence of one in a book, sure, but not hurt, and as many times as a writer may be hurt between a first draft and a final publication, that is a good thing, I think, to have a mistake that is in no way on your head.
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