Wednesday, October 25, 2017

The Adventures of a First Time Editor

Read all about the unintentionally humourous side of a Tulika editor’s first experience of sending a book to press, in her own words.

After a couple of ‘settling-in’ weeks at Tulika, I was told that I would be taking over the editing process of a bilingual picture book. I was excited and mildly anxious but still didn’t know exactly what that meant. I had some idea but what I wasn’t prepared for was the multilingual factor because Tulika publishes in nine languages, so a bilingual book has English with Hindi or Tamil or Bengali… basically eight times over. Let me give you a peep into it.

Before I begin, I have to say this: I got clear directions from experienced editors and everyone has been the most helpful, kind and generous. As they say in the foreword, all the mistakes are mine.

The whole process started off quietly. I had gone through the all-important editorial workflow guide but I needed practical experience.
The bilingual book layout

The text, which had already gone through a few rounds of edits and was paginated, was ready for the layout. Here’s what our bilingual books look like. 

The position of the text in each language has to be the same and has to be visually accurate since line lengths differ across languages. Any change in English, like a small edit in the illustrator’s bio, has to be reflected in the translations  all EIGHT of them! I came across this delightful fact exactly when tensions were rising.

Translation challenges

Since this was a picture book, the words were few but those that were there had to be accurate, free of biases and easily translatable. This fine-tuning is an ongoing process. Even the day before the book went to press, we (the editors) were debating on a word in Tamil, its connotations and denotations. With layers of meaning, a word had to be carefully considered till we were sure of the word. For example, in this particular book, the word in the Hindi original was ‘kurta’. For many languages including English, ‘kurta’ was used as it is. However, ‘kurta’ is not a Tamil word. The equivalent that was chosen, ‘chattai’, translates as ‘shirt’ as well as ‘an upper body garment’. However, one of our reviewers pointed out that chattai is a short garment whereas a kurta isn’t. We discussed this point with the translator. She explained that she used ‘chattai’ instead of ‘kurta’ since in rural areas ‘kurta’ is only associated with women whereas, in this case, the visual was of a boy so ‘kurta’ couldn’t be used. So ‘chattai’ it was!

Cover story

Next were the covers. Juggling the front cover, the back cover, inside covers and the title page was like playing football with four balls. I never knew which one was headed for me and which one could be tackled with a foot or the head. I wished I could just step aside and let the footballs go right past me. That was clearly not an option.


So by the penultimate day everything including fonts and type sizes was final. It needed one more round to iron out any problems — such as if a font was too fussy or too heavy or too small. You see, being perfectionists nothing was passed even if it was something that only we would notice. The cover, title page and inside pages of each translation had been printed out earlier and compared to check that their look matched across languages. However, it was done again now for a final time.

The Going-To-Press day

The next morning as GTP (Going To Press) day rolled along, I felt lost. In fact, I was told that "I am lost" was my constant refrain through the day.

The fine-tuning was still being done. Translations were all done, but done is not really done, I was finding out. If one thing was changed in one translation, it had a domino effect on all others.

Then came the fine art of replacing those pages that had minor tweaks: this I could handle of course but… all translations were merging into one. No, this is not a metaphor. I found some pages of different languages mixed up.

After sorting it out and putting all the items that the printer needs in an envelope, I could see that the process was coming to a close.

Wrapping up!

As I heaved a sigh of relief, I couldn’t shake off the feeling that I had just babysat eight babies (read books) who were crawling away from me in different directions. As soon as I got control of one baby, another slipped away. Controlling all eight of them was a Herculean task. Or so it seemed at that time. But as the wise say, this too shall pass. So it did.

Today, while I wait for the book to get back from press, and have got some distance between me and that day, I feel that it’s not so bad, I can survive this.

If you thought editing for children’s books was easy, think again!


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