Recently, I’ve done most of my pleasure reading at laundromats and car repair waiting rooms. This afternoon was supposed to be laundry day, but a nail in a tire diverted me to the car repair waiting room. Without an appointment, my car was fifth in line, leaving me two hours to kill. I always keep some potboiler paperbacks in the car for emergencies, so I was ready. I grabbed my copy of Burn Notice: The Fix by Tod Goldberg, and took a seat.
I edit fiction in addition to writing it. Five lines down on page four, I read the following, “Miami-Dad’s finest: The Strategic Investigations Bureau.” I watch enough Miami based TV series to know that it should have read “Miami-Dade”. I stopped at that point to examine the text. It was fully justified, with extra spaces between the colon and “The”, “The” and “Strategic” and “Strategic” and “Investigations”. “Bureau” was on line six. Accordingly, there was plenty of space for the missing “e”.
I closed the book, and looked at the publisher “OBSIDIAN”. I didn’t recognize the name, so I checked the copyright page. “OBSIDIAN" is “Published by New American Library, a division of Penguin Group (USA)....” This was the “First Printing, August 2008.” It made me smile.
No, I was not thinking malicious thoughts (okay, maybe a few, but not mostly). I was thinking, in my capacity as a writer, about how upset I was over finding a punctuation error in the Earth Angel Kindle sample on Amazon. (No, I’m not going to tell you where.) I have read the text of Earth Angel numerous times. My editor read it at least once (I hope). Yet a mistake still appears in the sample that is meant to entice readers into purchasing my pride and joy! I called the error to the attention of my publisher, but the mistake was still there as of the start of the week. Naturally, I keep looking up to see whether or not the sky is falling.
Since the car wasn’t going to be ready for another hour and a half, I also had time to consider the matter in my capacity as an editor. In my Memorandum of Understanding with one company, I reserved sixty days to edit up to 100,000 words. This spring, I was given thirty days to edit a work that was longer than 100,000 words for said company. Before the author and I were through, we cut out over thirty pages of text. We rewrote dialog in virtually every chapter. I corrected grammar and punctuation. And I turned the work back in with as much work as we had done in thirty days. The publisher complained that I didn’t edit the work properly. Another editor was assigned to do the work properly. This editor failed miserably. At the insistence of the author, the publisher, with hat in hand, returned the work to me for additional editing. Over the next thirty days, the author and I tightened the text up further. I also found grammatical and punctuation errors that were present the first time, but that I missed flat out. I should have caught them. However, in our press to do so many other things, I didn’t. If I had another thirty days, I would probably find several more errors that would amaze me that they were not spotted sooner. However, both the author and I were quite pleased with our efforts in the time that we had to work on the piece.
Some of you more percipient readers are sensing a disconnect between my writer side and my editor side. My writer side wants perfection. My editor side wants the best we can produce given the time constraints.
This brings us back to Burn Notice: The Fix. The book is a 274 page mass market paperback. I have found several errors in it through the first eighty pages. However, I am enjoying the story. It’s a fast read. Would I prefer to read it with no errors? Of course, but I appreciate the problems that the editor may have faced in working through this novel. Perhaps the editor had thirty days or less to bring the book to press. (S)he did what (s)he could. If there is a second edition, undoubtedly some of these mistakes will be cleaned up. Regardless, a big name publisher put out a book with errors in it.
There is a lesson here. If a big name publisher can put out a book with errors in it, then it is acceptable if there is an error or even several in a published work. The trick is to minimize the number of such errors, and to make sure that they do not detract significantly from the reader’s enjoyment of the work. In short, my editor side is telling my writer side to stick a sock in it. It is not the end of the world if there is an occasional error.
My writer side is listening. This blog was written in lieu of a follow up e-mail regarding the Earth Angel Kindle sample. For the record, I only looked up twice.