When the boss or client complains that there are errors in the manuscript, how can an editor turn failure into success? We’ve talked before about style choices being erroneously perceived as errors. And we’ve talked about human limitations on perfection. Even though editors know there are perfectly legitimate reasons that a work will not be perfect, a strongly-worded complaint can throw all but the most confident editor into a panic. What can she do to make it right?
First, Say Thanks
After she panics, a most gracious editor says “Thank you. Feedback is hard to come by. I appreciate the chance to make it right. Can you tell me specifically where/what the errors are?”
Identify the Errors
To make revisions effective, the editor needs to know the nature of the “errors.” Ask for specific examples. Were they punctuation, spelling, syntax, or consistency? Does the style sheet need to be reapplied? I once missed an extra R in bury when my spellchecker was malfunctioning. It’s a sticky word for me, bury. I’ve since added it to my “problem words” macro. (See the Feb/Mar 2016 edition of the newsletter for instructions for that macro.)
If there were style sheet points that the editor missed, she can correct those, but she can’t account for unknown preferences (those that were not stated). And unless there is an arrangement for consulting, editors are not typically coaching clients on points of style.
Identify the Source
Before diving in, an editor should check for errors introduced after the file left her hands. A “compare documents” function will have software such as MS Word flag the differences. In Word, this is found in the Track Changes area. This function can sometimes flag large sections as new just because they were moved, but it’s a great improvement over doing a side-by-side read with two windows cut in a strip of cardboard to reveal only a couple words of the “twin documents” at a time.
Identify the Fix
Decide how to handle corrections.
Editors strive for perfection. If it’s possible to fix errors, they want to. Editors like to set things right when they can. If an editor missed things, she might offer to correct them at no additional charge—keeping in mind that 100% flawless takes more than one set of eyes and that re-editing a long document looking for unspecified errors is unreasonable. If errors were introduced after the editor finalized the file, then additional fees are reasonable. (new words + new edit = new money) Additional charges need to be okayed before the work is done. As busy professionals, editors will be courteous and matter-of-fact about the identified fix and cost.
Supply the Solution
Editors are in the solution business. They solve communication and quality needs for their clients daily. When returning a revised file, it will be clearly marked as revised and the transmittal note will outlined the changes made and why. Why means “because this was missed or revised per style change,” not detailed citations to back up each change or choice.
A new invoice will be issued if that was part of the agreement.
To avoid repeating this experience, the professional editor finishes up by adding to her own processes: a term or style added to her checks, a new question to ask during the briefing, or a review of pertinent points of style or language.