A while back I received a spam email from the Indian company WordXperts soliciting my custom for their editorial services. As with Grammarly.com, I was struck by the irony of an email advertisement that only served to illustrate precisely why I shouldn’t use the advertised services.
Language is not merely a system of rules; it is contextual, cultural. The meaning of a word or sentence may change depending on where it is spoken or written. As my British ex-husband used to joke, we were separated by a common language. Thus, while sending your American or Canadian (or British or Australian or … ) English-language manuscript to an Indian company for proofing may save you money, doing so will likely cost you dearly in embarrassment.
Take, for example, the first paragraph of WordXperts’ email:
WordXperts is an IT Enabled Service provider in the areas of Editorial and Prepress & Document Conversion, having its R&D, Production centre in Pondicherry, INDIA, offering a continuum of products and services towards the publishing industry.
Putting aside the errors in spelling, grammar and punctuation, the writer has used the word continuum instead of range. A continuum is “anything seen as having a continuous structure without perceptibly distinct parts (space-time continuum),” to quote the Oxford Dictionary, while range in this context means “a series representing variety or choice; a selection.” Either by poor translation or the misuse of a thesaurus, the Indian writer has confused continuum with range and produced nonsense.
Similarly, the writer has confused towards and to. One does not offer services towards someone; services are offered to the customer. This, too, was likely lost in translation.
Now imagine that same person editing your manuscript.
No one doubts that editing can be a significant cost in the self-publisher’s budget, but a good editor — one who understands your language and not just its rules — is an invaluable asset whose feedback will improve your skills and your story, and thus the value of your work. And, most importantly, she will save you from committing a “continuum” of embarrassing mistakes.
(P.S. A number of companies offering low-cost editing services are sending your manuscript to companies such as WordXperts and merely pocketing the difference. If a publishing services company will not allow you direct access to your editor, this may be an indication the company is subcontracting with offshore entities. Buyer beware.)