[This column was first published in the May/June 2022 issue of Writer's Digest.]
My novel published this spring and there was a sentence used twice in one of the chapters and no one caught it—not my editor, my copy editor, or myself. This is embarrassing and frustrating whenever a reader emails me about this.
Is there anything that can be done?
I hear ya. I wish humans were infallible, but then how would we have penicillin or X-rays or Splenda? Mistakes happen. I understand how you can feel frustrated and embarrassed, but also? Can I be honest? I kinda dig it when a reader is not only reading close enough to catch a mistake, but takes a second to write an email and say, “Hey, did you folks see this?” That kind of engagement feels like we’re doing something right, even when we are doing something wrong.
Insofar as anything to be done, yeah, sometimes we can at least fix it in the audio and e-book editions. But at the very least, it can be fixed in any future print runs—so sell through that first print run, wheeee!
The one thing I would discourage you from doing is to complain on a public platform about this, and instead use any eagle-eyed emails as a chance to engage with your reader; they are rooting for you or they wouldn’t reach out in the first place.
My debut published in 2021, which was both exciting and painful because although it was a dream come true, many of my hopes of touring and in-store signings were of course off the table—also, we had to push my pub date four weeks because of production issues! My second book publishes this fall … are things going to be different? Are there still going to be printing/shipping issues? Will I get to go on tour? Actually meet my readers? What does publishing in Fall of 2022 look like?
(No) End in Sight?
Dear No End,
This past winter, on a particularly fatiguing day, my little family was feeling tender and cautious, like we all had sea urchins in our pockets. Husband and I decided to rally for the kiddos, and even though it would have been much easier to day drink (us) and binge watch “Bluey” (fine, also us) we pulled on our game faces and announced we were going to take the kids ice skating at Rockefeller Center.
There were roughly 19 reasons why this endeavor was going to be unpredictable, exhausting, and most likely riddled with roadblocks, but we decided to approach it by playing to each of our strengths. The little one is excellent with details. She laid out every element of outdoor gear each of us would need on the floor as if we all had been raptured out of them moments before. Older one? Snacks, snacks, snacks. Husband, logistics. Me? The constant oversight and communication between these departments to make sure we stayed focused and on task to get out the door.
On the way there, I fielded a lot of questions about what to expect with crowds, time allotment, skate availability, and oh goodness the concerns about falling. I answered to the best of my knowledge based on experience, online data, and my estimated projections using other comparable family journeys. Oh, and said, “Welp, falling is a part of learning!” A lot.
When we arrived, we discovered that we had been able to predict some of the bumps along the way and others we had to just adjust and trust. But oh. All of the attempts to outsmart the variables? They evaporated as the four of us stepped onto that ice. Gliding forward, into the joy of it.
Yeah, yeah, OK, I have never been accused of being particularly subtle: See what I did there? You have a team; lean into them. Ask for what the variables are and what you need to prepare for them. Look to the sales and performance metrics on other sophomore novels pubbing around the same time to provide yourself not only accessible road maps but realistic expectations. Check with the publicity and marketing teams to feel out how the experience is shifting for authors from as recent as the previous month. Have that one last call with your agent about how damn unpredictable readers can be, and how is it that the weird book about the crime fighting cockatiel is still number one on the Times list?!
But the fact of the matter is, prepare as you will, in any given situation, there will still be sweaty train delays, broken skate laces, and a couple of epic tumbles on the ice. That’s OK. Because while you have prepared for the variables, you have to also let go of the idea that anything is predictable in this industry. (I mean, that cockatiel?) Just as long as you remember: Once you step forward?
Have a question you'd like answered by Barbara? Email firstname.lastname@example.org with "Funny You Should Ask" in the subject line.