Thursday, November 02, 2006

J. R. R. Tolkien Encyclopedia

[Update]. I have learned that Taylor and Francis has only printed 800 copies of the Encyclopedia rather than the planned 2,500. I don't know if these numbers make a difference to collectors or not, but there you have them. Second, if you are a contributor you can receive (supposedly) a 20% discount on the book by emailing Finally, thus far Taylor and Francis has absolutely refused to distribute any contributor gratis copies despite an original promise to do so; I am working on this, but without much success thus far.

(it wasn't my idea to leave off the definite article)

The Encyclopedia is finally out, so if you have $175.00 and a real interest in Tolkien, you should check it out. Although there are some imperfections (to say the least) I think it is a very useful resource for people interested in Tolkien at all levels.

I also want to give you the story of the imperfections.

I've been working on the Encyclopedia for three or so years now. It was a weird process, as an editor at Routledge contacted me, but then I had to write the proposal, etc., but it basically went well with only a few major glitches (some contributors bailed out at the last second--or actually beyond the last second--and there was a bit of tension when a few important articles were late and the press wanted to boot them). Then, Taylor and Francis bought Routlege and, this summer, decided to close down the encyclopedia division as unprofitable. My editors were let go (no one told me; I found out via bounced emails) and many projects were, apparently, cancelled. The Tolkien Encyclopedia was far enough along that they decided not to cancel it, so for once in my life I lucked out on the timing.

But that didn't stop Taylor and Francis from screwing things up. Back in the early summer I began to receive fascicles of the Encyclopedia for proofing. They were a hideous mess. Everything that could be wrong—from citation format to layout to basic copy-editing mistakes—was wrong, and I spent well over a hundred hours marking up the typescript. This went back to the production people and then, for a long time I heard nothing. And I was shocked to learn that there were no plans to send individual articles back to contributors for proofing: every project I've ever been on has let contributors get a final look. Not this one.

Likewise, there was an inexplicable decision not to include the 100 illustrations I had spent weeks collating. This was never communicated to me until after I asked, and I was not consulted on the decision.

Even worse, when we originally designed the Encyclopedia, there were to be many "blind" entries. So, for example, if you looked up "balrog" it would say "see Monsters." This practice was promised to me because I was asked to aggregate a great many short entries into large pieces to make it easier to find enough contributors. Routledge then refused to put in the blind entries, and though I tried to make an end run to the compositor, that was apparently blocked. So what appear to be bizarre decisions were not so originally: there is no entry on "Ancrene Wisse and Hali Mei∂had" because that article is covered in the "AB Language" and "Ancrene Wisse" and "Katherine Group" entries, but then Routledge screwed up and didn't put in the blind entry. They claim that the index and the thematic table of contents (which sucks a bit) will solve this problem. I am not convinced, and I think that the Encyclopedia would have been much easier to use had they listened to me and followed our original agreement. But at least the content is still all there, even if it takes more work to find it.

But really much worse are the problems of corrections. Although Routledge did not send final proof copies of articles to individual contributors, I personally had been contacting people and emailing back to Routledge sets of corrections that were coming in from the editorial board, various contributors, etc. As we got further into August, I began to get very worried that I was not going to have enough time to proof the entire thing again (as it obviously needed; when you are making 8-25 corrections per column you can't expect to have gotten everything). Around August 17, the entire typescript came back, and it was still a serious mess, with a lot of basic formatting errors, etc. Unfortunately, that was right when I got pneumonia (followed by my son getting pneumonia), and I was out of action for a few weeks. When I did eventually get to proofing and started to return fasciles, I was informed that "we are sending the whole thing to press tomorrow." Really. When I objected, I was told that all the errors I had found (and spent many hours on just for the A-C fasciles) would surely have been caught by the professional copy-editors (who had somehow managed to miss them the first time). The volume went to press and I never was able to see a final version. So there are lots of corrections that were made (for example, Doug Anderson had sent me a pile of corrections that I dutifully sent on but don't seem to have been incorporated). Certainly the contributors should not be blamed, as they had no idea that the press would do something as idiotic as not sending laid-out articles back to contributors for proofing.

In the end, I'm disappointed that Routledge / Taylor and Francis marched the ball down the field almost to the end zone and then decided to punt. This is still a very, very good resource, but it could have been a great one, and I'm disappointed that it's not.

But let me conclude on a more amusing note. For a few weeks I had been badgering Routledge to send me my author's copies, or at least one author's copy, so I could see how the book came out. Finally, on Wednesday, my copies arrived. This is advising week at Wheaton, so I've had students trooping in and out of my office. I showed the Encyclopedia to one, and he said "but isn't that at the library?" Yes, the library had gotten its copy and put it on display two weeks ago and I hadn't noticed it. Doh!


squire said...

Congratulations all the same!

I am very much looking forward to getting a copy -- there has been much discussion already in our Encyclopedia writing group based on 2 copies our members have already gotten.

There are dozens of articles I am dying to read, but even more I look forward to just browsing about, and reading articles on topics I would never think to research on my own initiative!

Your grim account of the Tayor and Francis fiasco explains a lot about the copy editing that seemed inexplicable - thank you for going public with that. Better luck with the online edition!

I'd like to know where one can get it for $175? Amazon's lowest price seems to be about $189 discounted; the list is $200.

N.E. Brigand said...

What an interesting look behind the scenes -- thank you! And I second squire's congratulations. I've already spent many hours reading (the) Encyclopedia, and have already found it useful: Dale Nelson's article on 19th and 20th C. literary influences on Tolkien, for instance, was highly relevant to a recent discussion at Richard Scott Nokes's blog.

InklingBooks said...

For the previous poster, Amazon now has it for $175. It's also ranking at this moment in the 80K range, which is marvelous for a just-out book that pricey.

For once, has a better price: $140 if you're a member. And if I read them right, membership costs $25, making the total $165, not counting what you may save with other discounts over the next year.

I guess your difficulties as the editor-in-chief getting a copy means that minor contributors such as myself won't be getting a copy gratis. Sigh, given my writer's budget, I'll be asking that the Seattle Public and University of Washington libraries get copies I can read.

In addition to writing, I also publish, so get in touch with me if this publisher adds insult to injury and drops the book after a year or two. I can help you find a way to keep it in print permanently.

--Michael W. Perry, author of Untangling Tolkien

johobbit said...

Likewise, from me, a hearty congratulations, despite the frustrations you endured. It is interesting, as well as most disappointing, to hear of all the aggravations in the process. Thank-you for sticking with it, and for your openness of the situation!

I'm beginning to read through the encyclopedia from cover to cover, and am enjoying the wealth of information that is there. I'm ignoring any editing problems, so rest at ease: I think most people will, if they have any grace. :)

As squire indicated, there are some articles that I will read that, left to my own ways, I wouldn't have investigated otherwise. As a result there is much learning in store for me, which I am excited about.

I'm especially moved by your tribute to Dan Timmons in the Introduction, and am thankful that he was able to contribute despite his failing health at the time.

May this volume bless and stimulate students of Tolkien for years to come.

Jo-Anna :)

Frank said...

You've done all you can Dr. Drout, and we salute you for it. The publisher's incompetence/lack of caring is totally beyond you and doesn't reflect on your efforts in any way.

That guy said...

So that explains why I never got proofs back! Well, certainly not your fault, and it's great that the book's finally out.

Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Sorry to hear of the mess. And I thought that I had problems getting galley proofs here in Korea!

Anyway, congratulations.

Jeffery Hodges

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Lynn said...

Welcome to the world of modern publishing. Excuse my cynicism but this is now standard operating procedure. I was a reference books editor at a religious publisher and quit when this sort of editorial approach became the norm in the department. Thankfully, the reference department was merged with another department, after my departure, and the new big cheese insisted that well-edited, quality books would sell and he's been consistently proven right.
Also, don't blame the copyeditors too harshly. Most of them were probably low-paid freelancers who were expected to copyedit vast amounts of material seven days a week (including holidays) in as little as 3-4 weeks. Some publishers now only use in-house production editors who simply coordinate the work of freelance copyeditors.

Grace and peace