Those niggly publishing errors and how to deal with them

There is a moment with every book where the author advance copy of your latest title arrives from the publisher. You open it, leaf through the pages, and find a mistake.

Writing fuel!
Writing fuel!

It’s happened just about every time I’ve had a book published, and it happens despite all the care, effort and due process that publishers put into the process. By the time a finished book reaches the shelf, the trad publisher has had it actively proofed at least five times – both for content (‘proof editing’) – which covers the ‘sense’ of the work, grammatical construction, consistencies with house style, usages and a pile of other stuff; and for any typographic errors (‘literals’). That’s apart from the work put in during the process by both author and the assigned production editor in the publishing house.

Independent (self-) publishing, ideally, needs to have at least as many checks in it – the problem here, of course, being that the typical indie publisher can’t afford to pay for that level of quality assurance.

So why do errors creep in when every effort is made by a lot of professional people to make sure they don’t? The main reason is ‘contempt by familiarity’ – after a while you read what you want to read, not what is there. That’s certainly true for authors (don’t proof your own work, OK?). That also happens to professional editors – along with the usual human issues of tiredness.

Editing is very, very hard work – it’s an intense process that really takes it out of you.

Add all this up and the outcome is that no matter how often a book is read, something will always slip through. It’s the nature of the beast. But there’s another way of looking at it: look at all the errors that were caught and fixed.

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2016

12 thoughts on “Those niggly publishing errors and how to deal with them

    1. Yes. Ideally the technique needs two or three people – one to read aloud, two to cross-check against individual galley copies of the document. It used to be done fairly routinely by publishers – both books and magazines – but who can afford the cost of that sort of staff time now?

    1. Yes, it happens. However, on my own experience, any book has a LOT more stuff to fix before the publishing process begins – it really is quite an effective process and the odd glitch here and there is niggly but, in the greater scheme of things, immaterial. A novel might have 500,000 individual characters in it, including punctuation. If one or two happen to be in error, that’s still only a rate of 0.0002% or 0.0004%. Not too shabby, really! 🙂

    1. Thanks! It’s the nature of the beast though – authors are their own worst editors! And editors get to be their own worst editors if they look at a manuscript too much… 🙂

  1. My toughest copy-editing round was before the publication of the mathematics books. It’s all the problems of editing regular text plus the challenge of making sure all the symbols are consistent. Which, considering some of the sections were meant to be introductions to the field, some were research papers turned into sections, some were lecture notes folded into the thing. Most of it was settled, but for the last two chapters I just had to give in and accept that Omega, which meant one thing all the rest of the book, had to mean something else here, and the text got a couple big paragraphs trying to point that out. I still feel bad about that.

  2. I go through at least 3 proof copies of each book before I hit Publish on Createspace, but I know there are mistakes hidden in those pages that I didn’t fix, and it HAUNTS ME. Lol. That being said, my fans (all 6 of them) are usually pretty good at telling me when they find an error. The one that kills me is when someone leaves a review saying “I found a typo”. But it’s an anonymous review, and it doesn’t say what the typo is. Come on!

    1. People who review a book, allege errors and then don’t detail them are basically bullies – it’s like jeering and the intent is to damage without being constructive. It’s a pain.

  3. I self-published my first novel and they printed it in a 9-font. It was unreadable. For $200 they’d fix it. I figured they were in it for the money and didn’t care how the book turned out. I politely turned them down. About a year later they wanted to do my next novel and would reprint the first one for free. I turned that offer down. I have sold maybe 10 books and gave away a lot more than that. There was more that I didn’t like about how they did it–pure white paper, tall and thin, too high priced. The cover was great and the book got attention, but everyone put it back down faster than they picked it up. I’ve decided when it’s time to have the next one published, I’ll make the corrections the book needs and republish it with a “real” publisher. First novels have a hard time naturally, but they made sure mine was never going to get off the ground.

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