Digital Typesetter Makes Headlines . . . Oops!

POSTED ON Oct 8, 2010

Joel Friedlander

Written by Joel Friedlander

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Did you see the story the other day about Jonathan Franzen, the novelist whose latest book, Freedom, has made quite a splash?

Franzen was off to England to promote the release of the book there, when there was a glitch. As reported in the Telegraph UK,

Book firm apologises to Jonathan Franzen for publishing wrong version of novel

It seems that there was a mixup in the typesetting department. Not surprisingly, the last proof of the book had over 50 typographical and other errors. That’s not really that many for a 576-page book.

Apparently the typesetter made all the corrections, saved his file, and then, somehow in the heat of production, sent the uncorrected file to print.

The printer, having no way of knowing he had a file full of errors, dutifully printed and bound the whole press run, and the truckers dutifully distributed them around the realm in anticipation of publication day.

A spokesman for HarperCollins UK, the publisher, said, ”We are doing everything in our power to reprint the book over the weekend and rush it out into the shops early next week.” The print run was 80,000 copies, of which 8,000 had already been sold.

(It didn’t get any better for Mr. Franzen after he got to Britain, either. At a reception in his honor a lunatic ran up and snatched his trademark thick frame glasses off his face and jumped in a lake. It took a local contingent of police to recover his glasses.)

Typesetters Shouldn’t Make This Kind of News

When you’re dealing with a lot of books, and each book is a complex and long project, inevitably mistakes creep in. I had a lot of compassion for the poor typesetter who cost his publisher a fortune due to an inadvertent error.

We create systems to try to avoid errors like this. But systems are only as good as the people operating them.

Over the years I’ve made some pretty creative errors of my own:

  • There was the time I finished a book ready for press, and went to write the final files. Except somehow I had a 5.5″ x 8.5″ 300-page book block (interior) with a 6″ x 9″ cover. How did that happen?
  • One client received a proof of his 276-page nonfiction book right on schedule. The problem was only 70% of the pages had been formatted. You would think this would be noticed, wouldn’t you?
  • A set of lovely page designs went out to a client. I had slaved over the typography, tweaking like mad. When I got the client’s response back, it included a request to fix the typo in a chapter title that appeared 15 times in the sample’s running heads. Ouch, now I see it!

Mistakes like these happen, and despite being careful and having good systems, there are times mistakes that seem impossible slip through the cracks.

But that’s not what matters. What matters is what happens next. Rising to the challenge to overcome a mistake, or finding a creative way to adapt to a circumstance that’s changed, that’s what matters.

Being nimble is valuable. Being creative. Looking for the unexpected solution to a problem that should never have occurred.

A few years ago I was having sets of lectures copied at a local copy shop. They called and asked me to come down, they had a problem.

When I arrived I saw huge stacks of my lectures filling boxes. “The operator misread the job ticket, Mr. Friedlander. Instead of 10 copies he’s produced 100 copies of each lecture.”

We looked at each other. I knew he had to sell them to me at a very low price, if he could. Otherwise they were trash. We quickly reached an agreement and we were able to offer special “sale” pricing on collected sets of lectures for months afterward.

But I guess there’s nothing creative to be done with the 80,000 copies of Franzen’s book: it’s pulping for sure, and that’s a shame.

Photo by David Shankbone (David Shankbone) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 or GFDL], from Wikimedia Commons

Joel Friedlander

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Joel Friedlander

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