What It Is (posts below left; rate sheet, client list, other stuff below right)

My name is Bob Land. I am a full-time freelance editor and proofreader, and occasional indexer. This blog is my website.

You'll find my rate sheet and client list here, as well as musings on the life of a freelancer; editing, proofreading, and indexing concerns and issues; my ongoing battles with books and production; and the occasional personal revelation.

Feel free to contact me directly with additional questions: landondemand@gmail.com.

Thanks for visiting. Leave me a comment. Come back often.

Friday, July 6, 2007

Nobody's Perfect

It happens sometimes, believe it or not. Proofreaders, editors, indexers make mistakes. Might as well address it now.

I received a call and an email today from a gentleman with whom and for whom I do a lot of work. Between us, I'd say we have 60-some years of editorial experience, and a lot of his is far more impressive than mine.

A book came across our respective desks in the last few months; he did the copyediting and typesetting, and I did the indexing and proofreading. The author proofread it. The in-house editor worked with it before it came to any of us on the production side.

Well, the publishing house is close to printing it, and some typos have been discovered. Of what significance or nature they are, I don't know, but they've "been there from the beginning," in the words of the publisher.

So my pal calls me and asks, "How do you handle this when it happens?" And it has happened before. Believe it or not, when you work on 120 books or so a year, of the 7 million or so words in those books, it's not entirely unlikely that a few might be misspelled or skipped or repeated. If I hear about this kind of error once a year, that's really not too bad. I'm not saying it's pleasant when it happens, but it doesn't happen often.

I responded:

1. "Well, if the invoice wasn't for that much, I'd offer to refund their money." I've done that before, or told someone not to pay an invoice (this was for magazine work some years back), which naturally doesn't fix the error, but it's a good goodwill gesture. In the case of this magazine, the editor was someone I'd worked with for years. He did not pay the invoice, which was OK by me, but he did make me feel better by saying, "It's OK. You still have a fielder's percentage." That was a compliment I'll always remember, and a good comment on this particular magazine editor's grasp on reality.

For you non-baseball-fans, batting averages usually fall in the .200 to .300 range. If you are a .300 hitter over the course of a lifetime, you're probably heading to the Hall of Fame, but still, you are not getting a hit 7 out of ten times you go to the plate. As a fielder, your fielding percentage is probably in the .970 to .990 range, depending on your position, which means that you only make a mistake 10 to 30 times out of 1000 chances. To be told I have a fielder's percentage is very nice indeed.

(Which isn't to say that I get 10 or 30 words wrong out of a 1000; if that's the case, I'm mowing yards for a living. But if there's an error in 10 or 30 books out of 1000 I read, well, if the mistakes are minor, I'm staying in business.)

So, I tell the publisher (who hopefully maintains a sense of humor) that I still have a fielder's percentage.

2. I bring up, especially to my religious publishers, the story that Torah transcriptionists always make one mistake in the calligraphy for a particular letter of the Torah, to indicate that only God is perfect -- that anything of human hands will always have some error. I wish I had kept note in which book I read this statement about the Torah, and which letter is always imprecisely drawn. Perhaps some enlightened reader will let me know.

3. My pal who raised this question -- who is complicit in the error, sort of -- brought up a line I've heard him say before: Auto insurance companies never give you credit for all the telephone poles you missed. They just want to know about the one you hit.

4. Being asked to see the mistake is rarely helpful, unless you can turn it around and blame it on the author or the publisher, which rarely wins you any points anyway. Because, of course, when you see that you've missed an obvious error, all there really is to do is say, "Yup, you're right. That's wrong and I should have caught it." Sometimes, if an error is repeated, it's probably more an issue of miscommunication about style.

Mistakes are made, unfortunately. And as an editor/proofreader/indexer, I want to know about them (most of the time). One particular client asked that I write entries for her indexes in a different way -- she didn't like the way I was handling certain kinds of subentries -- and I've changed the way I work for her, and it's changed the way I write subentries for many of my clients. So that's a case where I've learned from feedback from a publisher.

Sometimes a publisher wants to show an error for reasons more along the line of "Nyah, nyah, you screwed up." I guess the attitude can go both ways. I don't want to hear that any more than I want to return a copyedited or proofread book with a general comment like, "What the hell was wrong with you when you sent this book to me?" When I was proofreading full-time (or permanent part-time, as a second source of income), I'd tell folks I had one of the greatest jobs in the world: for 8 hours a day, I'd tell people where they screwed up, and they loved me for it. That was half the talent of the job -- working well enough with the typesetters where they wanted to fix that 1/64th-of-an-inch spacing error for you without thinking you were just a huge pain in the butt. Well, they might have thought that, but they understood it was my job to point out such problems.

The bottom line: yes, mistakes are made. Yes, no one likes them. Yes, let's hope we can fix them without too much headache or expense. No, it doesn't feel good to know you made an error. Yes, at times like this I'm glad I'm not a brain surgeon or a car mechanic or working on technical manuals for the mining industry. It might not seem like it to the author or publisher, but nothing I do is truly life or death. Doesn't make making a mistake any better, and it doesn't fix the error, but hopefully no one dies as a result. If that ever happens, just let me know when you want your lawn done.

1 comment:

Doris Rose said...

Nice to know editors/proofreaders/ indexers are human and make errors. It is also good to know they are is the blogosphere. Thanks for providing some good insight into a field which is totally unfamiliar.