Errata Non Grata: How Fresh Eyes Can Save Costly & Embarrassing Book Errors

So you know those Commandments, right? The one about adultery? God definitely meant it was a sin. Definitely. So imagine the impact when publishers of a new Bible in 1631 accidentally left out the word not in that particular commandment. Proud and loud, it advocated, nay, required that its readers fornicate away with those who weren’t their spouses by saying, “Thou shalt commit adultery.” Oops.

You’d think if you were editing a work as important as a new version of the Holy Bible you’d take every precaution against errors, right? Well, the story of the “wicked Bible” just proves how hard it is to publish a book-length manuscript with zero errors…and how embarrassing and costly it can be to make just one.

The two gentlemen who had the honor of publishing the errant holy book were fined a

The offending line in the Wicked Bible. (courtesy of WikiCommons)

The offending line in the Wicked Bible. (courtesy of WikiCommons)

whopping £300 (worth more than $45,000 in 2015 dollars); had their publishing license revoked, and were severely tongue-lashed by Charles I and the Bishop of Canterbury.  All but a few copies of the book were retrieved and burned.

Granted, that’s not your standard oops. And not all mistakes will turn you and your book into errata non grata, but, even just a handful of errors can dramatically reduce the viability of even the most carefully researched and written manuscripts. Maybe if the wicked Bible editors had employed a final set of Fresh Eyes, this history-changing divine boo-boo might’ve been caught.

Fresh Eyes

The purpose of fresh eyes readership is obvious from its name: You are meant to read a well-honed manuscript for the first time and report all errors you see. The fact that you’re seeing it for the first time is what makes you as valuable as gold in the final stages of the editing process. The opposite of fresh eyes is, well, tired eyes. Those are the eyes of the author and the editor who together have put hundreds of hours to this point into reading and revising several hundred pages from front to back, and back to front, more than once. Their eyes become blind to errors that fresh eyes will see immediately, and so in final proofing stages (or even before), you are a critical member of the Zero Tolerance for Errors team.

Though a book’s credibility is based on numerous elements, one of the biggies is  errors–typographical, grammatical or otherwise presumably-avoidable errors. Most people don’t understand what it takes to make a perfectly clean book, and so expectations are that there shouldn’t be any errors. Even though as an author, editor, and publisher I know how painfully difficult this process is, I find myself as a reader just as easily influenced:  When I start reading a book I may forgive one oops, or maybe even two, but no more. If there’s a third strike, I start to wonder how much care was actually taken in the writing, research and thinking.

I think there are other appropriate comparisons: A hair stylist whose hair looks like she hasn’t washed or styled it in days; an oncology doctor who smokes–anyone who doesn’t essentially walk their talk. Their appearance doesn’t match the expectations of their profession. If it looks like a dog, barks like a dog…it probably is a dog. Right? We can’t help drawing these comparisons and making these judgments. It’s different if that oncology doctor gambles, for example; it might not be something a patient would agree with, but it doesn’t reflect on his or her ability to be a great doctor. Likewise, if a writer can’t balance his checkbook, it has no reflection on his ability to be a good writer. But poor grammar, spelling, sentence structure–those are direct clues that breed a loss of confidence by the reader.

That’s why Zero Tolerance for Errors should be the measuring stick of every writer and editor, every time. It doesn’t mean that it’s reached every time, but it should always be the goal.

fresh eyes tips

Your role as Fresh Eyes reader is not to edit the book. That’s been done, so resist the urge. You are proofreading (or proofing), which literally means to read printer’s proofs or other written or printed material and mark any errors. This can be extended to spotting any design-related errors — an unintentional space in between letters in a title, or a caption that’s centered instead of flush-left (if that’s the caption style of the book).

Here are a few tips to making your Fresh Eyes reader experience as helpful as it can be…

TIP #1: Make a plan. If possible, meet with the author and/or editor to develop the timeline, style guide (see point 4), and the method you will use for proofing and returning the manuscript to them. (See point 2).

TIP #2: Choose Your Proofing Method. You can proof either on the computer using an editing tool; a hard copy that you then correct the online version; or read from the online version and create a written corrections list. Each has advantages and disadvantages, so discuss your preference with the editor and author.

    1. Online. You’ll likely receive the manuscript as a PDF of an In-Design document. Make sure you have access to at least the commenting and proofing marks contained in Adobe Acrobat in order to properly comment and make suggested corrections. You can use free versions of Adobe Reader as well, and you can see a demonstration of how to use these tools in this video. If you’re using a specific version of Reader or Acrobat, you might want to make sure you consult resources specific to those products to make sure it’s the correct information.
      Proofing options in Adobe Acrobat PRO DC. Different versions of Acrobat or Reader may show these differently.

      Proofing options in Adobe Acrobat PRO DC. Different versions of Acrobat or Reader may show these differently.

    2. Hard copy. If you’d prefer to read the manuscript in hard copy, you can ask for this, or arrange to have it printed, but know that it will have a cost and take extra time. But if that’s the way it works best for you, talk about this with your author and editor before taking on the project (Tip #1). Make sure the production schedule allows enough time for you to do your job carefully and in the way that works best for you.
    3. Corrections list. You may also wish to read the document online and make a written list of corrections to give to the editor or author. An advantage to this is that you don’t have to learn any software tools if you don’t already use them. However,  there is a process for doing this that will save the editor/author a lot of time when they insert your corrections into the manuscript.

      A simple structure looks like this:
      Chapter 1
      page 6, para 2, line 3. Insert “s” after “product”
      page 12, para 5, line 1. Capitalize “s” of “sonoma”

(1) Clearly indicating the location of the error in this way saves the editor a great deal of time in finding and marking the correction. Without these breadcrumbs, it can be nearly impossible to find an error in an entire page of content…or it can take a long time.

(2) Be accurate in describing the page number. If it isn’t on the page you said, the editor has no idea where to find the error. NOTE: If you’re working with a PDF document be sure you’re working from the “single page” version and not the “spreads” version. The page numbers showing in the page number area at the top of the screen (see right) will be INCORRECT in the spreads version.

(3) Be as clear in your correction description as possible. You don’t need to explain the correction; the editor/author will know why you made it.

(4) This may be obvious, but create your corrections list in the order the corrections appear in the manuscript.

TIP #3: Educate Yourself.
Study the proper use of these proofing marks. Acrobat has made it relatively simple to choose comment bubble, highlighter pen, underline, strikethrough (for deletion), insertion, and replacement, as well as other less-used tools. It’s not very complicated, and 10 minutes of study before engaging with a manuscript will be well worth it to your author/editor, as well as making your life easier.

TIP #4: Use Comments. Use comments box when you just have a comment to make, rather than a specific suggested correction.

TIP #5: Study the Style Guide. A book’s style guide can be a one-page list of specific things in the book to look out for to ensure consistency. (I.e. a religious book might want to capitalize all references to God, like Creator or Son–words that in another text wouldn’t be capitalized.)
The second thing a guide might contain is common errors made by a particular author in writing style (like incorrect comma or semi-colon use, or misspelling of a certain word). If you received a style guide from the author or editor, you’ve been given clues to look for. Ideally, the editor  should’ve already searched the document using the Find feature for style inconsistencies one at a time to ensure these are caught, so you should only need to have your eyes open for any the editor missed. If you don’t receive a style guide at the beginning of the project, ask for one. It can save a lot of time and uncertainty for you as you’re going through the manuscript.

Here are some additional suggestions from the Writing Center at the University of Wisconsin.

If you’re asked to be a fresh eyes reader by a friend or colleague who’s writing a book, you are being given an honor, a privilege, and most importantly, a responsibility.  Don’t take it lightly, but, at the same time, be sure to enjoy it along the way!


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