Sunday, 31 March 2019

What the Hell-ion is going on?

The Northamptonshire Battlefield Society was due to have Warwick Louth speak to us in January, but he couldn't make it for unforeseen reasons. Warwick is a battlefield archaeologist, wargamer and re-enactor who has published a book on how contemporary military manuals can shed light on battlefield archaeology.

Needless to say I was a bit disappointed, but no worries, I saw his book at a reasonable £15 on the Helion stand at Alumwell so snapped it up (its £20 on Amazon). I've at last got round to reading it which is super, as I've been looking forwards to it no end.

Let me say up front that this is an important book with lots of interesting stuff in it, and I am pleased to have read it and have a copy on my bookshelf. However.

The book is a publishing disgrace. Looking at the Acknowledgements in the front no one seems to have read the text and it is devoid, as far as I can see, of any editing or proof reading. No one has sense checked it or fed back on how readable it is. Now I don't mind a bit of academic language and I'm opposed to dumbing down, but the historian's duty is to communicate. The archaeological techno-babble and jargon make this quite hard to follow. This has been adapted from Warwick's Masters Dissertation and it shows, my does it show. Apart from sticking in a Glossary at the front there's been no attempt to explain what it all means to the lay man. Not good.

Then these's the proof reading. In the introduction from Dr Tony Pollard he says he's going to recommend this book to everyone on his curse. Yes, you read that correctly. Not "course", but "curse". There are no outright spelling mistakes, but other malapropisms do occur. Did you know that A H Burne developed "Independent Military Probability"? No. Neither did I. Punctuation is random or missing. There's an effective table where hyphens separating Subject and Detail are just missing. In another place we are told muskets fire in a range of 2050 yards. Really?Or is that 20-50 yards? 250 yards? Who the hell checked that page and thought that was right? Commas are missing or scattered like confetti so the sense of a sentence isn't always clear.

And then there's the illustrations. Some figures are missing. Some (most, I think) cross references to the figures are incorrect. Maps are used with references to places that aren't on them.

And then we have references to authors whose books aren't in foot notes or the bibliography. That's unforgivable in a work of any academic standing. The sequence of referring to something and then explaining what it is isn't always correct (eg mention something then explain what you meant three pages later). And what is Tranter's rule of marching? I think it might be referring to work done for mountaineering and hiking, based on a Google search (don't tell me, - that's not the point. It should be in the book).

I've got cross with the proof reading of Helion before, but not, I think, publicly on this blog, but this is on another level. This is an important book, and kudos to Helion for publishing it, but the result is a mess. Yes, it looks nice, but it's a disgrace to be selling a book this badly proof read and checked at £15, let alone £20. Could Warwick not have found anyone to read it for him? And where is the person telling him that it might make sense to him in his head but it doesn't to anyone who isn't.

Okay, so I'm making myself a hostage to fortune here as I have a self published book out soon, and I couldn't afford a professional editor (although a friend who is a literary agent read it, so that helped a lot). However, I did get several friends and acquaintances to read the pdf before hand with the brief "Does this make sense"? Some also provided typo corrections. Then I got a hard copy proof and went through it with a red pen, forcing myself to re-read every line, some out loud to make sure I wasn't glazing over. Then Mrs T went through it with a different coloured pen and explained to me where she didn't understand what I was saying*.

I have another worry. I have a friend and colleague who has a book for Helion in the final stages of production. I've read the complete draft and he has some issues with the text that I have described above, and I've gone back to him with an annotated file, although I'm not a professional proof reader or editor. He's been told that Helion are going to provide editing services. I hope they're better than what they did for Warwick, because his book is also very important, and the result of nearly a lifetime's work. I'd hate it to be marred in this way.

And I've got another Helion on my shelf to read, - the one on Montrose's Army. I almost dare not look at it.


* Yes, she is a saint and far better than I deserve.

24 comments:

  1. I recently received a book entitled 'Heroic Horses' from Helion to review for Miniature Wargames, in which horses frequently crossed the 'dessert' in the Palestine campaign.
    I suppose that the fact so much work today is done on computer with the assistance of spell-checking software has made some publishers imagine prouf-reeding is no longer neccesery...

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    1. It is just cost cutting. The spelling is one thing; its the poor organisation of facts and information that is not good either.

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  2. I think that this is one of those books where, if you are going to buy from Amazon, you need to click on the little "... New from ..." button (something I often do these days). There dagwoods_books will sell it to you for a bit under £11, post paid; and the seller actually turns out to be Helion & Co.

    Given your criticisms I read the Amazon reviews, finding typical 5 star no complaints ones. However, following my normal approach of homing in on 3 star reviews was enough to put me off buying even if you hadn't already done so. What is now needed is for a few more people to click on the "Helpful" button for keef of watford's review to make it visible to potential purchasers.

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    1. Okay, so you can get it for £11, which is a fair price, given the problems with it. I wouldn't want to put you off buying it if it is something you are interested in, It is a valuable and unique book. It's just that the publisher isn't doing his job properly.

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  3. I've recently read quite a number of Helion titles - mainly Napoleonic but also earlier. I haven't seen as many proof reading errors but I agree that some would have benefited from tighter editing. It's great that the company is publishing such niche titles from often otherwise obscure periods, but some authors who clearly know a lot about their subject aren't always good at putting it across. That's where good editing should come in?G

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    1. I agree that it is good that Helion are opening up niche subjects, but the books still need to communicate their information clearly as you say. I suspect it isn't just editing. A good agent would probably tell the writer what they need to tighten up to improve the book too.

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  4. It might help to run the text through a programme that can generate speech. Still have to listen to it though.

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    1. Yes. And you might still miss the desert/dessert problem too.

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  5. This is what can happen when a publisher pays its authors peanuts and doesn't do any work on the text. The words arrive on the page straight from the writer's computer, without passing through the brain of an editor. Helion isn't the only small press to operate like this. Caveat Emptor. . .

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    1. The whole text to book thing is so easy now it is easy to see where a publisher could think they'd save money. I just wonder at the author as well. Warwick Louth does book selling engagements for instance. I'd cringe every time I signed one of these with that "curse" typo on about page 1.

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  6. Given only a few examples from my recent purchases, proofreading seems to be a lost art.

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    1. You may be right, but see Ian's remark above. He's a man in the business, - the loss of editors is to be mourned.

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    2. So traditional publishers have been pushed down to the level of self-publishing ala Lulu.com? Sad state.

      Below is a link to a review of mine from 2016 exhibiting the same sloppy tendencies.

      https://palousewargamingjournal.blogspot.com/2016/12/italian-campaign-of-1859-review.html

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    3. I think that when you go for a self published book your expectations are different, although that isn't always fair. Bob Cordery's books, - for example the excellent "Ultima Cruzada" are self published to a professional standard, as is Mike Ingram's book on Northampton 1460. You expect better from a professional publisher.

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  7. I don't know the answer to this one. If you want a tightly proof read text with footnotes and index, where the editor has made an intelligent contribution to improving the book, there are still some around. Try MUP or OUP it will cost you £80 -£100.

    On the other hand some of the small print run stuff is simply appalling and you wonder if even the author ever bothered to read it. Personally I agree that overall standards have simply slumped too low and that maybe the onus is on us to make publishers aware by complaining and even demanding refunds.

    I would also like to see a few more thesis simply published without a half hearted attempt to make it acceptable to a general market. Again with Helion I preferred the online thesis version of j Wortons work on Shropshire.

    All of which being said I am a still big fan of Hellions publications and buy very many of them quite happily.


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    1. I don't want a weighty academic tome, but I do want the reader to be treated with respect. It does look like in this case that the text was not read by anyone at the proof stage, not even the author.

      Quite a lot of theses are now available on line and I do seek them out and read them if a book references one of interest. I don't necessarily need it to be glossy.

      I have four Helion publications on my bookshelf;one as yet unread (its the Montrose book). So far only one has been properly prepared for a readership and that's a Peter Dennis/Andy Callan paper soldiers book.

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  8. I'm seeing it more and more and like you, it really, really annoys me. It's just not that hard to proof read. The author should do it as a matter of course and then at least one other who is not close to the text and can read it impartially. The problem with amateur proof readers is that they fall into the trap of seeing what they want to see, not what is actually there. It takes a little bit of discipline to overcome that, but it's not rocket science.

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    1. What is annoying is that it undermines the book itself. This is an important book, but I feel I can't rely upon it.

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  9. I agree with the points you raise about the lack of editing. Strangely it doesn't seem to effect all of Helion's output.

    Their Great Northern War books are splendid. I guess its down to the author taking the task upon themselves.

    If your Montrose's Army book is Famous By My Sword you're in for the non treat of the year. Pretty much everything is wrong including the very pretty illustrations.

    Worse, I paid full price for it.

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    1. Yes, I think Helion relies upon its contributors doing the editing and proof reading.

      Dammit. My Montrose book is the one you mentioned. I only bought it because the Stuart Reid books are like gold dust and very expensive now.

      I, too, paid full price for it and had it autographed. I thought the writer's pedigree was good. I shall read it with care.

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  10. Yes, I was particularly exercised by his account of Kilsyth.

    We know what happened at Kilsyth, not least because the losing General had to account to a stern Covenanting Committee.

    Alas the author seems to have missed all that and offers us something else instead.

    The book is subtitled the Gaelic Military Revolution, and indeed their was one and very possibly an accompanying social revolution too. You won't find it in Famous By My Sword.

    On the bright side David Stevenson's books on the subject are well worth a read and very affordable too.

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    1. Thanks for the tips. That's useful. My main purpose in getting the book was to get an orbat & uniforms etc for building a Montrose Army, as I've already got Covenanters, so hopefully it will serve me for that.

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  11. You're welcome. I always enjoy reading your blog. You'll probably enjoy this.

    https://www.amazon.co.uk/Highland-Warrior-Alasdair-MacColla-Civil/dp/1780271948/ref=la_B001HPD8TW_1_4?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1555779491&sr=1-4

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    1. Well, in that case sake sure you come and say hello if you're ever at one of thew shows we do. Next stop will be Campaign at MK>

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