Sunday, September 7, 2014

Horner's Law of pre-press blindness

I’ll never forget a phone call I received a few days after the magazine I worked on was delivered to its subscribers. A woman’s voice asked me if I had read the issue she just received. Now, as managing editor, I read everything cover to cover, more than once, mind you, and many articles five or more times throughout the publication process. I wanted to answer her question in numerous ways that were neither professional nor courteous, but alas, I refrained. I told her that I had.

She proceeded to tell me about an error on page 47, and I was mortified and embarrassed and I thanked her for her call and told her I would look into it and run a correction if necessary. When I hung up the phone I cursed a blue streak, followed by an afternoon of self-loathing accompanied by feelings of worthlessness, which were somewhat diluted later that evening with alcohol.

The funny thing is, my boss wasn’t upset, and said we could run a correction, and reminded me that overall we had had very few mistakes. I was proud of my relatively “clean” record, but it took just one little error to throw me into a tailspin. Even as I sit here writing this years later, I still feel frustrated. What could I have done to catch it? Why hadn’t I read that article one more time?  

I’m feeling that same frustration now as the second printing of my book “Strengthen Your Nonfiction Writing” is just around the corner. I’ve worked with my publisher, Lou Turner of High Hill Press, to correct some minor errors and update information about search engines that no longer exist (good-bye Alta Vista!).

For me, those are easy fixes, and I like doing them. I’ve worked in publishing for many years, and have written and edited hundreds of articles and chapters. But it’s still frustrating that I can miss something on the galleys, or proofs, only to find it EASILY once it comes out in print. Why is that, anyway? 

Let’s call it Horner’s law of pre-press blindness (PPB). It’s a thing, now, and it has a name. Since the first step is to admit the problem, now all we need is an awareness campaign and a fundraiser. How about we discuss this at happy hour, and although we may not find a cure, we can offer support and refills. And if you can't come to the meeting, then share your stories here so I don't have to suffer alone!

Write soon,


  1. Nice column today because it assures the rest of us that we can be human too. Oh, how we all have done something similar!

  2. I find little oopsies in the best of books and magazines. Everyone makes a mistake sometimes. Don't kick yourself too hard.

  3. And Mary, if you drink enough at the happy hour, you won't care about any typos once you drain the last bit from the last glass.

    Linda is right. I've found errors in books by big-name authors. If you kick yourself too hard, you might break a toe. As Dionne Warwick sang, "Take it easy on yourself." We're only human.

  4. I appreciate your reassurance that it's not just me!