Whoops! HarperCollins apologizes for printing errors

October 4, 2010

Jonathan Franzen - photo by Greg PhillipsOne can only hope, each time we reach a new zenith, that this will be the moment when everything changed.

You know … hope.

Anyway, Julie Bosman reports:

In a case of “Freedom” meets “The Corrections,” Jonathan Franzen’s British publisher has apologized for a printing error that left dozens of spelling and punctuation mistakes in the first edition of his new novel.

About 8,000 copies of the edition containing errors were sold before the mistakes were discovered, said Susanna Frayn, a spokeswoman for HarperCollins, the British publisher. The company has rushed to reprint the book and has promised replacement copies to customers who purchased the flawed edition.

Two anecdotes from my own library: I have a 1987 hardcover edition of Clive Barker’s Weaveworld, published by Poseidon Press, that includes an erratum page (II.7.iv; pg. 300) restoring three and a half paragraphs of omitted text. And then there are the books of Steven Brust, one of my favorite authors in the history of literature. The second volume of the Khaavren Romances (Five Hundred Years After) includes in its afterword an amusing tale about how the fictional author of the story threw a tantrum in a tavern while on a book tour, railing against his publisher for having refused to correct a one-letter misprint, the difference between “not” and “now”. In the context of some cosmic joke, then, I found my eye drawn to a ludicrous number of typographical errors and omissions, including one bit in which the dialogue switches characters so that an emperor is answering to his general, to the point that it seemed very nearly deliberate.

I always wonder about the red and green lines—

(Real time digression: If I ever want to hear from my mother, all I need to do is start writing a blog post, and rest assured that she will call before I’m finished. Not that I’m complaining, but … well, yes, I do digress.)

—that we see in our word processors. Is this how editing goes these days? If there’s no red or green line, it passes muster? To the other, what counts as a spelling error between British and American English? Oh, hey, that’s right … we have some editors we can ask.

At any rate, Jonathan Franzen won the National Book Award in 2001 (The Corrections), and was a finalist for the 2002 Pulitzer. So, yeah, it probably is a bit embarrassing for HarperCollins to feel the need to come out and apologize for a sloppy printing. Victoria Barnsley, chief executive of HC UK expressed her appreciation for Mr. Franzen’s “patience and utter professionalism over this”.

What else can he do? Or is there a Christian Bale-type temper tantrum waiting to pop up on a paparazzi site?



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