The post below is an expansion and clarification of a post I made on my personal Facebook account yesterday. I zipped that one off in about 45 minutes, and parts of it were not as clear as they could have been and not well explained, so I thought I should take a little more time to gather my thoughts and clean up the post.

I’m involved in a number of social media and email groups for editors and authors, and when the news  hit two weeks ago that Alec Baldwin was complaining about errors in his memoir Nevertheless, my corner of the innertubes was all abuzz. The editors came down mostly on the side of He must not have checked his page proofs and Authors! They have no idea what an error is. The authors were pretty much screaming Those horrible editors! That negligent publisher!

Yesterday, just as I was getting ready to leave to run some errands, a fellow editor shared Baldwin’s post with the long list of errors. All editors have nightmares about missing something crucial in a book, and this multi-page list is the stuff of which nightmares are made. And we all also hear about “errors” that aren’t actually errors at all, but differences in style or changes made for grammar or clarity. The list of errors is longer than I would expect for a high-profile book of that length (272 pages) and contained a few doozies. Could a major publisher really let so many errors slip through on a high-profile book like this one?

Out of professional curiosity (and love of a good trainwreck), when I picked up my reserve from the library, I swung by the new books section. Angels sang and luck shined upon me: there was a copy on the shelf.

When I returned home, I took a short break from making sure the verbs agreed with the subjects in my current copyediting project and got out my reading glasses, prepared for a juicy hour or so figuring out who was to blame here.

Spoiler alert: It’s (mostly) not the editor(s)/publisher.

Nearly half of the “errors” he lists don’t appear in the book at all. Of the remainder, about a third are style calls, not outright errors. One is not an error at all. There are indeed a few errors — about the number I would expect in a first printing — but only two of those shift the meaning of the original. And that last one of those, at the very end of the book? Yeah, someone should have caught that.

Life tip: Before you go off on your editor and publisher and make an ass of yourself, you should probably check to make sure that things you’re calling mistakes are actually mistakes.

My best guess is that he was working from an advance reader copy (ARC) and didn’t realize that it wasn’t the final version of the book. ARCs are bound galley proofs that publishers put out before the production process is complete to build buzz about a book and send out to reviewers. They are usually made from the post-edited but pre-proofread pages, although I have heard of some being made from pre-edited pages. ARCs will contain errors. An ARC usually (but not always) is well-marked as such and often contains a notice in the front pages of the book that it is a pre-publication copy and not the final text.

BUT, even if all those errors did appear in the final book, authors are responsible for reviewing and approving their proofs. Editors and proofreaders can be miracle workers, but we are not infallible. (Hell, I just had to look something up in the copyedited manuscript of the first book in the series for a project I’m working on now, and something I missed jumped right out at me. I hope the proofreader caught it.)

I don’t have access to the versions of the manuscript used in the production of the book, so I can’t comment on the state of the manuscript to begin with, and I’m not going to hazard a guess. I’ve worked on several high-profile books like this one, and famous people are Just Like Us, as they say in the celebrity magazines: Some are great writers, and some are… not so much (no, I don’t edit and tell). A handful of misses in the final product is not unreasonable, and if the manuscript needed heavy editing, perhaps even downright miraculous (but I have no way of knowing if that’s the case here). People often like to focus on the two misses, rather than celebrating the four thousand catches the editor makes and the couple dozen the proofreader makes.

Errors that are actual errors could have been in there to begin with, and the editor, author, and proofreader all missed them.

The editor could have caught them and queried them (I’m thinking especially of the two errors that changed the intended meaning), and the query could have been ignored or not answered clearly.

The original could have been correct, and the editor could have introduced errors that the author didn’t stet in manuscript review.

Sometimes things go awry in accepting and rejecting tracked changes (and a few of these have that feel to them); if the manuscript wasn’t locked, the author could have screwed that up, or whoever did the post-editing cleanup (whether copyeditor or production coordinator or intern) could have screwed it up.

The point is that there are any number of places where errors could have been introduced/missed.

So, on to the list. I’ve reproduced Baldwin’s post here, including the introductory paragraphs for context, with my response to each item below. His words show with a line next to them. Note that I have no association with this book, Baldwin, or the publisher, HarperCollins. (Although: Hey there, HarperCollins, if you’re out there reading. I’m a good editor, and I’m always looking to add new clients to my roster. Check out the rest of my site and get in touch.)

Needs further exploration indicates errors/changes/differences of wording that may have originated in the original or in the edit; there’s no way to tell why there’s a discrepancy without viewing the manuscript chain, which I (obviously) don’t have access to.

As I reported earlier, at the launch of my book, I found that the publishers (HarperCollins) had left intact numerous typos and editorial omissions when the book went to print. I would like to offer this index of corrections merely for the sake of presenting my book to you as I had originally wanted.

Many of these gaps were discovered during the recording of the audio book. Therefore, my thanks to Robert Kessler who produced the audio book of NEVERTHELESS for helping me compile the list below while we were working together.

vii: I’d hide away BEHIND ivy walls…

Nonexistent: The final printed book says exactly this.

viii: Opportunities arrived to appreciate LIFE’S beauty, mysteries…

Nonexistent: The final printed book says exactly this.

viii: And try to become immortal, like MARILYN Monroe…

Nonexistent: The final printed book says exactly this.

9: Our Winter Games were limited by topography (cut “here”)

Nonexistent: The final printed book says exactly this.

9: One winter you are building A snowman…

Nonexistent: The final printed book says exactly this.

9: The driver gets out and BANG! You hit him.

Nonexistent: The final printed book says exactly this.

9: …extra second for Maynard or Sauer to gain another step, you hang in. He comes at you like the Pittsburgh defense…

Needs further exploration: The final printed book reads (more text added for context): Imagine a car drives by and you hit it with a snowball. The driver gets out and BANG! You hit him. The driver spots you through the fence and he charges after you. But like Namath in the pocket, waiting that extra second for Maynard or Sauer to gain another step, you hang in. You go at them like the Pittsburgh defense, and BANG! You fire again.

The difference here does change the meaning, and if I had been the editor and wanted to make that change, I would have queried it. A sports-minded editor would have questioned it if it appeared as it does in the book, since the snowball throwers are obviously the offense here and the driver is the defense. An editor who doesn’t know anything about sports likely would have glossed right over it.

9: The skitcher would get down low and scurry in behind the car…

Nonexistent: The final printed book says exactly this.

12: On our TV, the Late Show broadcast MOVIES LIKE How Green Was My Valley…

Nonexistent: The final printed book says exactly this.

18: The bank threatened to GARNISHEE his salary to collect.

Nonexistent: The final printed book says exactly this.

26: However, in the meantime, my lonely, virtually homebound mother ONLY required that I join her on a trip to the lau[n]dromat…

Nonexistent: The final printed book says exactly this, complete with the n in laundromat that was missing from his “correction.”

26: …forging an emotionally incestuous bond that pulled ME, or at least attempted to…

Nonexistent: The final printed book says exactly this.

26: I could say that it was puberty that stifled my memory. [Cut “the fog of”]

Nonexistent: The final printed book says exactly this.

33: STEVE wanted to get this work over with as fast as possible…

Nonexistent: The final printed book says exactly this.

33: So he’d drive us to a house, WE’D leap out of the trailer…

Nonexistent: The final printed book says exactly this.

34: I began to wonder, had I not bothered to suit up, would they even have noticed.

Nonexistent: The final printed book says exactly this.

35: THUS, he came down on me hard.

Nonexistent: The final printed book says exactly this.

35: I assumed they must have a washer/dryer at military school, so I pondered… [Cut “though”]

Nonexistent: The final printed book says exactly this.

41: I planned to go to law school eventually, because I was most comfortable with WORDS and I suppose…

Style call: The final printed book says texts instead of words. While it is a difference, it’s not an outright error.

42: At that point… [Air Force should be capitalized] –> Also further down: I thought about how I would gladly give years of my life to the Air Force [capitalize]

Style call: The Chicago Manual of Style (which is used for most mainstream book publishing) governs capitalization of such terms in 8.111: “Words such as army and navy are lowercased when standing alone, when used collectively in the plural, or when not part of an official title.” If an author absolutely insists that air force be capitalized, I’d let it go, but this is not wrong.

47: I had taken an “Acting… where I performed scenes FROM Cat on a Hot Tin…

Style call: The final printed book has for instead of from. Scenes from is the more usual expression of this, but scenes for is not outright wrong.

49: They were around fifteen in number… from The Treasure of THE Sierra Madre.

Fact-checking error: I don’t know where that responsibility lies in the HarperCollins ecosystem. Most of my clients have me do basic fact-checking like this as part of copyediting, but others leave that responsibility squarely on the shoulders of the author. (Do any book publishers employ in-house fact-checkers anymore?)

55: During the summer of 1980 [not 1979]

Needs further exploration: If he intended that to be 1980, yes, that’s an error, but it’s only an editing error if it was changed from what was in the original and there was no context for making that change.

55: … where I rolled the most famous lines of the greatest playwrights AROUND in my mouth.

Actual error. It makes no sense without around.

76: And the movie I was shooting while staying in that hotel hardly measured up to the artistic standard that Tuck HAD spent his life pursuing.

Style call: Tuck is still alive, and you can argue that presumably he is still pursuing an artistic standard and the past perfect is not necessary.

93 – up 11 “Manipulating their public relations was a large order of business.” Changed to “Manipulating their public relations was a large order of business for the cast of Knotts.”

Needs further exploration: Yes, the second makes more sense here — but with the correct spelling: Knots. Without the context of for the cast of Knots, the sentence just kind of hangs out there, and you wonder what it applies to. But only an error if an editor actually took that wording out.

{These next four “changed to” items are a little hard to parse. In all cases, the original is what appears in the book; it was not changed to the second thing. I’m thinking that maybe these are notes of what was changed for the audio book and the “changed to” part is what should have been in the book, so that’s how I’m going to read them.}

111 – down 3 – “…and the choices you make for your character are only matter if they are revealed to the camera.” Changed to “…and the choices you make for your character only matter if they are revealed to the camera.”

Actual error: But it’s a different error than noted here; the are is not extraneous but misplaced, and it should appear earlier in the sentence with a serial comma following: How you have prepared, how you look, how truthful you ARE, and the choices you make for your character only matter if they are revealed to the camera. And I’m one of those sticklers for only placement; I probably would have changed it to matter only. (This is one of those that strikes me as a possible error in accepting/rejecting tracked changes, or perhaps just a cut/paste misaim on the paste.)

119 – General note. – Alec mentioned that it seemed like some of the backstory behind the “Calling Barney Keith Richards” joke was cut from the book. He expressed that this backstory was necessary to further set up the joke of him writing “Keith Richards” in place of Barney’s his name. Therefore, add to that Barney was heavily medicated during the rehearsal period due to his injury.

Needs further exploration: This is not an error unless the editor struck it out without querying. There’s also the possibility of a legal review decision here, since it seems to be talking about a third party under the influence. All high-profile books go through legal review for potential problems — especially memoirs for libel. As an editor, I would have flagged this kind of thing for legal review. And I don’t think the joke is completely lost without it. It might not be as crystal clear, but I think a reasonable person could make that leap from falling twice to “Keith Richards” and see what he was implying.

15[2] – up 4 – “Jake Bloom, who in addition to being an agent also one of Kim’s lawyers, told her…..” Changed to “Jake Bloom, who was also one of Kim’s lawyers, told her…”

Needs further exploration + actual error: A difference in wording, and the published version is missing a was. A quick glance at Google shows that he does make deals, too, although he’s not specifically listed as an agent. I haven’t read the book, other than the items in question here, and it doesn’t have an index, so I don’t know if he was earlier established as an agent in the book, in which case this could be a way of reminding the reader who this is. If the editor changed this without querying, it’s an error.

153 – up 6 – “Now, we all know what it feels like for the pretty girl in school to get everything she wants.” Changed to “Now, we all know what it feels like for the pretty girl in school who gets everything she wants.”

Needs further exploration: If the editor changed this, yes, it’s an error, because it changes the meaning of the sentence. Yes, the “changed to” version makes more sense, and the version in the book is a little muddy. But if I were editing this and it appeared the way it appears in the book, I’m not sure that I would have done anything to it, since it’s reported speech.

163: In a range of films from Golden Boy to THE Bridge on the River Kwai and Sabrina…

Style call: Initial articles on titles are often omitted for sentence flow. I probably would not have removed it here if it was there originally, but this is not an outright error.

165: He returned to the theater with some regularity, certainly [remove comma here], more than most at his level.

Style call: I wouldn’t add a comma there, but if the author had established a style that used a lot of commas after sentence adverbs like this, I probably wouldn’t delete it, either.

166: When I watched Cruise in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia, I thought he had won THE Oscar.

Fact-checking error: Cruise has been nominated three times, but never won, so it wouldn’t be another Oscar. Again, where the fault lies depends on who is responsible for fact-checking.

190: I didn’t want TO ever [cut “to”] miss a shot to see Ireland because I was in Prague or Sydney.

Style call. Ever to appears in the book. While to ever is the more natural wording, ever to is not wrong.

241, 5 lines up, should read “…office should be held by someone inside…”. The words “held by” are missing.

Actual error.

255: (at the bottom)—“ Karajan” should be “von Karajan”

Not an error: Nope. Sorry, but Herbert von Karajan goes by Karajan. See the movie made about him, his own website, and numerous other references to him in respectable publications.

257: As an actor, you are called upon to make the public private. It should be: “make the private public.”

Actual error: And kind of a big one, since it’s a keystone sentence that sets up a Big Thought about acting in relation to life. Even if it appeared in the original as make the public private, someone should have caught and queried that, because it makes no sense in context. However, without the manuscripts to examine, there’s no way to know where that crept in. It’s entirely possible that the editor did query it, and the query was ignored.

Final tally: 37 “errors” in the list. If I did my addition correctly, here’s how they break down:

17 of them are imaginary: they don’t exist in the final printed book.

1 of them is not an error at all.

7 of them are style calls.

2 of them are fact-checking errors.

6 of them need further exploration to determine if they are editorial errors or author errors.

5 of them are actual editorial errors, things that should have been caught by an editor or proofreader.

(The breakdown totals to 38, because one was a “needs further exploration” that also contained actual editorial error.)

(And yes, I broke with conventional style in rendering those counts as numerals instead of spelling them out, but with a purpose. Good editors consider the context and make choices to serve the specific situation, rather than just slavishly following rules.)

The thing I find most intriguing about this whole situation is way people immediately leapt to conclusions when the errors were first announced and then listed. People took the list of “errors” at face value and drew their conclusions based on their own biases. The editor(s) and publisher are terrible, horrible people and negligent to boot. Traditional publishers don’t pay for quality editing/proofreading anymore. The author must have completely blown off checking his proofs. The author is calling things errors that aren’t actually errors.

The truth is more nuanced. Publishing is a complicated process with many moving parts. There are multiple opportunities for errors to slip by or creep in and for misunderstandings to occur. It’s a rare case when you can blame everything that goes wrong with a book on one particular person or thing. We’re all human, and we all make mistakes.

I can understand — to a degree — Baldwin’s panic at thinking he found so many errors in his published book. But the grown-up way to handle it is not to throw a public temper tantrum and say that your book’s editors were “too busy to do a proper and forensic edit of the material.”* You pick up the phone, call your editor, and ask them to check into what went on. In five minutes, you’ll have the beginnings of an answer (“The first six things on your list don’t appear in the book. Are you sure you’re looking at the final print version and not an ARC or other kind of proof copy?”). And then your editor could go on to check the rest of your list and resolve the rest of the items, noting the actual errors to fix in the second printing (if there is one) and paperback edition (if there is one). Voilà, and you haven’t made an ass of yourself in the meantime. 

*For the record, forensic in that sentence would get a query from me, if I were editing that: AUTHOR: Is forensic the word you really mean here? Forensic typically refers to debate or application of scientific knowledge, and doesn’t really apply to the editing process.

I’d love to know what you think:

  1. What was your first thought when you heard about this list? Did you assume they were the author’s errors, or the editor’s, or some mix, or something else?
  2. What level of errors is acceptable in your view? Are you an author, editor, or simply a reader? Do these kinds of errors affect your enjoyment of a book?

NOTE: Please refrain from personal attacks on Baldwin or his character; they’re not relevant here, and that’s not a conversation I want to foster in my web space. You are, however, allowed to call him an ass, as I have, for not verifying before tearing his editor(s) and publisher apart and throwing them under the bus.

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