The fault in our books: Why are Bangla books poorly edited?
One of the greatest joys of my life has been the stack of new Bangla books I get for myself every year during the Amar Ekushey Boi Mela. Flipping through their pages, stroking the covers in admiration, and getting a good sniff—all add to the excitement of finally getting to read those books.
But over the last few years, my experience of reading Bangla books has not been as dreamy as it used to be when I was younger. Despite the books containing quality content and beautiful production value, I felt that the editing and proofreading lacked effort on the publisher's part. One instance of incoherence, one spelling mistake, and grammatical error is enough to ruin the entire experience.
At first, I blamed this tarnished experience on my own job as a newspaper sub editor. "Always looking for typos," I reprimanded myself, in a feeble attempt to excuse the books in question.
But it kept on happening, again and again. In different books, of different genres, by different writers and publishers. I brought it up with friends who read regularly. Is it just me, or does it happen to you as well? Turns out, it is indeed a problem that Bangladeshi readers have internalised when it comes to local publications.
In my quest to find answers, I talked to writers and publishers to seek their opinion and hear their side of the story. What does our editorial process lack? Why can't we hire good proofreaders?
The answer lies in the economics of it.
When I took my questions to author Sadat Hossain, he asked me some other questions in return, to help me get to the root of it.
"How many readers do we really have in the country? How many books are we able to sell every year? Why do we publish most books during the Boi Mela season? Why don't we publish them all year long?"
All these questions needed answering to get to the issue at hand—the fault in our editorial process.
"Publication has not been developed into a proper industry in our country, and I believe that is at 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 cycle," he said.
According to the author, the limited amount of revenue generated from the sales of books leaves little to no revenue for the publishers to invest more in the editorial process and hire better proofreaders. Thus, the production quality falls 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 fix grammatical errors. [In Bangladesh], editors fill in for proofreaders, which adds to their workload, decreasing the quality of the books as a consequence," he explains.
Dipankar Das, owner of Batighar Prokashoni, cited similar reasons while explaining why few individuals are interested in working as proofreaders.
"We have a lack of good proofreaders, because we can't pay them well due to our limited revenue generation. Even though many university students show interest to work as freelance proofreaders, it's always a better option for them to pursue some other venture that'll pay them better," he said.
Das also mentioned time constraints as another reason behind the absence of good editing and proofreading.
"We want to publish books all year long, but don't get manuscripts from authors. They only submit some months before the Boi Mela, and we get less time to improve the quality of the production. The rush reduces the quality drastically."
"We usually want three months after the first submission to review the content, then six more months for the proofing, editing and other aspects of the production. Authors are usually unwilling to spend this much time on the process," he added.
When asked how the situation can improve, Das said they need more people who are interested in books and in working in publication, to create a strong pool of editors and publishers, whom they can also pay well and on time.
"We need to establish more solid connections with universities, especially students and faculties of literature and print and publication. We need more people who are enthusiastic and interested in books and literature in general," he said.
Monirul Hoque, publisher of Ananya, echoed the sentiment, adding, "We need to formally train more people who are up for the job to increase the quality of production."
"As an author, it's extremely saddening for me to see the quality of my books fall due to the failings of proofing and editing, especially when the complaints come from readers," Sadat Hossain said.
He added, "This [problem] needs a more holistic approach. Merely 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 is established, with the number of readers increasing, there will be more resources to look after the editorial issues."
Nafaly Nafisa Khan is a sub editor at the metro desk, The Daily Star.