One of the greatest joys of my life has been the pile of new Bengali books I receive every year during the Amar Ekushey Boi Mela. Flipping through their pages, fondling the covers with admiration and smelling good all adds to the excitement of finally being able to read these books.
But over the past few years, my experience of reading Bengali books hasn’t been as dreamy as it was when I was younger. Despite the books having great content and good production value, I felt the editing and proofreading lacked effort from the publisher. A case of inconsistency, a spelling mistake and a grammatical error are enough to spoil the whole experience.
At first, I attributed this tarnished experience to my own work as a sub-editor of a newspaper. “Still looking for typos,” I chided myself, in a feeble attempt to excuse the books in question.
But it kept happening, over and over again. In different books, of different genres, by different authors and publishers. I mentioned it with friends who read regularly. Is it me or does it happen to you too? It turns out that this is indeed a problem that Bangladeshi readers have internalized when it comes to local publications.
In my quest to find answers, I spoke to writers and editors to get their opinions and hear their side of the story. What is missing from our editorial process? Why can’t we hire good proofreaders?
The answer lies in the economy of it.
When I asked my questions to the author Sadat Hossain, he asked me other questions in return, to help me get to the root.
“How many readers do we really have in the country? How many books can we sell each year? Why do we release most books during Boi Mela season? Why don’t we publish them all year round?
All of these questions required an answer to get to the problem at hand – the fault of our editorial process.
“Publishing hasn’t become a full-fledged industry in our country, and I believe that’s the root of the crisis. If we can’t improve sales, we can’t establish the industry. And if we can’t establish the industry, we can’t create more readers. It’s a vicious circle,” he said.
According to the author, the limited amount of revenue generated from book sales leaves little or no income for publishers to invest more in the editorial process and hire better proofreaders. Thus, the quality of production drops drastically.
“The jobs of editors and proofreaders are entirely different. An editor’s job is to focus on the content and overall quality of the work, while a proofreader is there to correct grammatical errors. [In Bangladesh]publishers replace proofreaders, which increases their workload and therefore lowers the quality of the books,” he explains.
Dipankar Das, owner of Batighar Prokashoni, cited similar reasons while explaining why few people are interested in working as proofreaders.
“We lack good proofreaders because we cannot pay them well due to our limited revenue generation. Even though many university students show an interest in working as freelance proofreaders, it is still a better option for them. to pursue another business that I will pay them better,” he said.
Das also mentioned time constraints as another reason for the lack of good editing and proofreading.
“We want to publish books year-round, but we don’t get manuscripts from authors. They only submit a few months before the Boi Mela, and we have less time to improve production quality. The rush reduces the quality considerably.”
“We typically want three months after the first submission to review content, then another six months for proofreading, editing and other aspects of production. Authors are generally not willing to spend that much time on the process” , he added.
When asked how the situation could improve, Das said they needed more people interested in books and working in publishing, to create a strong pool of editors and publishers, that they can also pay correctly and on time.
“We need to establish stronger links with universities, especially students and faculties of literature, printing and publishing. We need more people who are enthusiastic and interested in books and literature in general,” said he declared.
Monirul Hoque, editor of Ananya, echoed this sentiment, adding, “We need to formally train more people who are ready to work to improve the quality of production.”
“As an author, it is extremely saddening for me to see the quality of my books drop due to faulty proofreading and editing, especially when complaints come from readers,” Sadat Hossain said.
He added: “This [problem] needs a more holistic approach. Simply saying that we need professional proofreaders will not solve the crisis, rather we need to dive deep into the implications of the market system. The hope is that when the industry becomes established, with increasing readership, there will be more resources to deal with editorial issues.”
Nafaly Nafisa Khan is sub-editor at the metro office, The star of the day.