As has been well-documented here, I had a bit of an...er, issue with the proof-reading on my novel, The Wild Roses. I said I've tell the follow-up story, and here it is.
As quick background for those who might have missed the exciting opening feature: I'd hired a proofreader who came recommended and at first glance did a nice job, catching a lot of small stuff. So, I trusted the work and went ahead. Rule #1 -- even if you trust the work, do a follow-up proof yourself. Live and learn.
I found about 60 typos, mostly small but some whoppers -- in a chapter about one character, calling her another character in one line. Having an errant asterisk suddenly appear in the middle * of a sentence. Having chapter numbers written out, but switching to numerals. Blatant misspellings. Things like that. I had to spend a good bit of coin to make things right. But mainly I was mortified and asked people not to buy book until it was fixed. It's now all fixed.
(Side note: over the weekend, I was with Mark Evanier, who's written several books. He told me Evanier's Law. "When you've written a book and open it up for the first time to any page, there will be a typo.)
When all was just about finished, I sent the proofreader -- we'll call her Abigail-- a pointed, but extremely polite and low-key note about liking much of the work she did, but noting the 60 missed typos. I described several of the most obvious ones, as noted above, quoted from a Goodreads reviewer who suggested I hire a professional editor, and gave up reading the book. This is her reply (which shocked me) -- followed by my reply which I think was incredibly restrained and polite, considering how I actually felt.
Sent: Sunday, July 28, 2013 9:08 PM
To: Robert J. Elisberg
Subject: Re: Update
I appreciate your update and I am truly sorry you had to go through all that hassle and expense to re-issue your book. I have been quite bothered by your email since I read it the other night and have been wondering what could have been done differently on both of our ends to prevent the situation.
I believe I told you previously that I am a perfectionist, so any missed errors really get to me. Alas, we both are also human; therefore mistakes will happen. Although you don't seem to be looking for a solution, I do have two suggestions for next time. By all means, hire a proofreader, and make the corrections that are sent to you by that person. Then send the corrections and the revised manuscript back to the proofreader to double check that all the corrections were made and that no additional errors were created during the revisions. Then have the proofreader read the entire manuscript again (the third or fourth time for that person). The benefit of time between readings (and having clean copy to look at) will increase the odds of catching all the errors.
Secondly, try to keep track of the tricky things/known issues (such as the foreign language words you use, double spaces after a period, etc.) throughout the book and search for them, checking that all are italicized, bolded, deleted or whatever.
Regardless of who you hire as a proofreader next time (if you do), please understand that it is difficult to be an outsider to the story and proof it with 100% accuracy. The proofreader can't get into your mind and interpret your intent. You are your best, last line of defense. Hopefully when the book comes out again, you will be happy with it.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
This was my reply --
I enjoyed working with you. But honestly, that wasn’t a very satisfying note. It felt like you were lecturing me about what I did wrong.
This wasn’t about knowing my “intent.” The wrong character name was typed in a chapter about a different character. An asterisk sat in the middle of a sentence. There were misspelled words. Chapter headings changed from words to numerals. That’s not a question of intent or 100% accuracy – there were so many missed typos that I had to withdraw the publication until it was fixed.
I’ll just leave it at that.
Honestly, I understand making mistakes. Hey, I made a lot of typos. I tend to have typos here all the time. It happens. Maybe she was having a bad week, I don't know. I wasn't happy about it, but such things occur. That's life. But what I don't understand is a response like that. The other day, I posed an article here by Nell Minow about mistakes and apologies (one my often-commented bugaboos.) This was not that. This was like trying to ensure you won't get hired again, and please tell all your friends about not hiring me. The best I can figure is that, considering herself a perfectionist, she was so embarrassed by all the mistakes that she went into defensive mode. And attacked -- "it's you're fault for all my mistakes."
Ultimately, there are big problems in life, and this isn't one of them. And it's resolved now, so you move on.
(Apparently Abigail has moved on, too, since she never replied.)
But as low-key as my reply was, I have to admit that my fingers were itching with other responses. And among the things I dearly wanted to write were --
“I know you consider yourself a perfectionist. You’re not. You missed 60 typos.”
“When you suggest things I could do next time to avoid this problem, one thing that came to mind was finding another proofreader.”
“I don’t expect 100% accuracy. I was hoping for more than about 80%.”
“My author’s intent when a wrote a chapter about one character was not to have another character’s name typed in a sentence instead. My intent was not to have an asterisk show up in the middle * of a sentence. My intent was not to have misspellings.”
“And yes, more passes to proofread this would have been great – but if you missed * that asterisk in the middle of a sentence TWICE, what makes you think you’d have caught it the third time around?”
But I didn't say any of that. And so you move on...
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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