Kyle Simonsen is an Assistant Project Editor who loves scotch, hip hop, and mowing the lawn.
I still remember finding my first typo. I don’t remember the book now, though given that I was about twelve or so, I’m sure it was some sci-fi paperback; I read a lot of those then. Nor do I remember what the error was. What I do remember is feeling a sort of confusion at the error, and then a dawning awareness that mistakes like those I sloppily made at school (somehow misspelling “bump” on a spelling test B-U-M-B is one my mother still teases me about) could make their way into the books I read. This revelation was quickly followed by a sense of superiority: I’d caught a mistake that the author had missed! I knew more than this guy! I’m sure some authors will tell you that their editors have their chests as puffed today as I did when I was twelve, but I sure hope I’m not one of them now.
Today, of course, I find mistakes much more frequently. As a project editor at the press, I am tasked with finding mistakes in manuscripts, sometimes mistakes authors don’t even know they are making, and figuring out the best way to correct the problem before some uppity twelve-year-old finds it in the finished book.
The reality is that errors still often make their way into the final product. Sometimes they are rather embarrassing. In one instance, we accidently referred to a gentleman in a book’s introduction as “the late” Mr. So-and-So even though he was quite alive! Though he was a good sport about it, we quickly corrected the text for the second edition.
I’m comforted by the knowledge that we at UNP aren’t the only ones making mistakes. Even the Chicago Manual of Style—that nigh-holy book by which every good book editor swears—has mixed-up words and wrong page locators in its index.
In truth, no work is ever really complete. For as long as readers are eager for new material, works get revised and added onto, with new introductions, extra appendices, and so on, and yes, small corrections do get made.
When I talk to authors who are concerned after proofreading the manuscript for the last time and who know they won’t see the text again, this is what I tell them: Our goal shouldn’t be to remove every miniscule error from a book, as much as we might want to. Our goal should be to have crafted the most functional, enjoyable, and beautiful text possible for readers. If we’ve done that, then those savvy enough won’t begrudge us a missing comma or a dangling modifier. They’ll be too busy loving their new book.
The editorial, design and production department at the press goes through a book several times, as I tell authors: we develop the text, format it, copyedit it, design it, typeset it, and proofread it, at each stage looking carefully at each element of the book. At the end of that process, the biggest errors are fixed, I know, and those slight slip-ups that may remain are usually noticed only by the author and editor. And perhaps a cheeky twelve-year-old who will realize that he might someday make a good editor too.