That’s What Editors Are For! (In Case You Were Wondering)

It’s happened to the best of us. We can polish a piece of writing for weeks and still overlook an outrageous gaffe staring us right in the face.

If you’re lucky, you’ll catch it before anyone else sees it. if you’re somewhat fortunate, the only other person who sees it will be a friend who discreetly calls it to your attention. If it’s just not your day, the mistake gets mailed off to an editor and jinxes your chance for a sale. And if the gods really frown upon you, nobody catches it at all before it gets published!

Worst comes to worst, at least you can hope it’s funny.

One of my earliest howlers occurred in the first novel I ever attempted, during my college days. Writing about a theater student, I opened a scene with the line, “Ginny had not been back to the school cafeteria since The Night of the Iguana…” A friend who read this commented, “At least she finally identified the ‘mystery meat’!”

By the time I finished a draft of my second published novel, Ride a Dancing Horse, I had begun working with a critique group–lucky thing. I read the group a scene in which the hero silently admired the heroine’s outfit. I intended him to be referring only to her sense of style when he thought, “That wasn’t an easy top to pull off.” Only after they began giggling did I notice the double-entendre.

I often rewrite my old stories, and with the rapid social changes today that can be perilous. Around 2004, I was reworking Black Flowers, a book I’d first drafted about 10 years earlier. I had a wealthy, sophisticated woman, at an art gallery reception, hunt for a wall phone to call home and check on her kids. Someone in my critique group gently suggested, “Wouldn’t someone like that carry a cell phone?” Duh!

A couple of my fellow New Jersey writers shared with me tales of their own literary faux pas. Jo-An Reccoppa, author of New Math is Murder, once submitted a newspaper review of an Italian restaurant in which she praised “a delicious, zesty marina sauce.” She meant marinara, of course, but her spell-check didn’t know the difference. We assume it was served over seafood.

John Picinich, while a youthful copy editor for Reuters, sent out a horror short story about an Egyptian god with the title “Sorbek’s Present.” After it was accepted by a magazine, he learned that the correct spelling of the god’s name was “Sobek,” and quickly emailed the editor to make the correction. (Fortunately, he only incurred the wrath of Sorbek, who’s a lot mellower than Sobek.)

Finally, think how embarrassed you’d be if you had penned this sign, seen in the vestibule of an old-fashioned Catholic church: “Candles with be lighted by St. Joseph on request.” (For a really big donation, he’ll personally call the numbers at your next Bingo game.)

Can you match these bloopers? If so, please share in “Comments”!

About Eileen Watkins

Eileen F. Watkins specializes in mystery and suspense fiction. In 2017 she launched the Cat Groomer Mysteries, starting with THE PERSIAN ALWAYS MEOWS TWICE, from Kensington Books. The second book in this series, THE BENGAL IDENTITY, comes out in spring of 2018. Eileen previously published eight novels with Amber Quill Press, chiefly paranormal suspense, and most recently the Quinn Matthews Haunting Mysteries. The first of those, DARK MUSIC, received the David G. Sasher Award at the 2014 Deadly Ink Mystery Conference. The second, HEX, DEATH & ROCK ‘N’ ROLL, was a Mystery finalist for the 2014 Next Generation EBook Awards. Eileen is a member of Mystery Writers of America, Liberty States Fiction Writers and Sisters in Crime. She serves as publicist for Sisters in Crime Central Jersey and also for New Jersey’s annual Deadly Ink Mystery Conference. Eileen comes from a journalistic background, having written on art, architecture, interior design and home improvement for daily newspapers and major magazines. Besides these topics, her interests include the paranormal and spirituality as well as animal training and rescue. She is seldom without at least one cat in the house and frequently visits the nearest riding stable. Visit her web site at www.efwatkins.com.
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6 Responses to That’s What Editors Are For! (In Case You Were Wondering)

  1. The only two I can think of were both never caught by the editor and were published.

    In one it was “Rapped package” instead of “Wrapped package.” The other was “He had a gravely voice.” It should have been “He had a gravelly voice.”

    My critique partners caught an obscene word in one of my first novels, but we can’t remember what it was. Considering Barbara almost fell off her chair reading it, we should have written it down. Oh well, it’s lost forever.

  2. Ray Engelberg says:

    I work in the Data Processing industry and m job consists of writing documentation and working long hours. That being said:

    After tracking down a particularly elusive production problem after a sleepless 24+ hour stint, I wrote up the Incident Report meaning to state that the data was uploaded to our Data Repository. Being exceptionally punchy, I wrote: “The XYZ file was uploaded to the Data Suppository.”

    Fortunately, my boss had a sense of humor.

  3. Cara says:

    I’ve probably made several but people were too kind to inform me. That said, I’ve caught many in my past life as a book editor for a major publisher. One memorable blooper comes to mind. Back in the early 1970s, while eyeballing a manuscript submitted by a friend of a senior editor, it didn’t take me long to discover this one. In a historical novel about the EARLY push westward in the US, a damsel-in-distress type fell off her horse, hurting her arm. But–wait for it!–“after a quick x-ray, she learned that no bones were broken.” Even without the availability of the Internet for an on-the-spot fact check, I knew that the western frontier was settled long before the invention of the x-ray machine. The novel was riddled with similar anachronisms and hilarious dialogue. It was returned to sender, but with a lovely note…

  4. Steven Rigolosi says:

    My greatest embarrassment was completely my own fault. A reader wrote to tell me that one of my books had a line about being “resolved” of responsibility (instead of “absolved”). Sure enough, I looked at the book and the mistake was there. I thought to myself, “Of course I would never write something like that!” I assumed it was a mistake in the editing or proofreading or typesetting, so I went back to the original manuscript I turned in to the publisher – and, you guessed it, it was completely my fault. And nobody caught it, until that one eagle-eyed reader. Eek!

  5. Derek Long says:

    I worked for a major educational publisher at one time as a Regional Promotion
    Coordinator. We sent out a mailing to Reading Coordinators and English Dept. Heads at
    secondary schools. I wrote the cover letter. Somewhere between my desk and the
    typist keying in my letter on the Wang (remember those?) the word “grammar”
    became “grammer.”
    To put the icing on the cake, the mailing contained a full-color brochure from our
    national office proclaiming that this particular textbook was “Undisputedly
    the best in it’s class.” This was printed in large boldface type just inside the first page!

    OMG! The mail we got. I was forbidden to sign anything, and nearly got fired.
    Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed. The letter was proofed by at least three other
    people. I learned two things from this. If it looked OK once, it will probably look OK
    more than once. Never be a Regional Promotion Coordinator.

  6. “Rapped package” sounds like a gift for a hi-hop artist, and I’ve heard a few horror actors with “gravely” voices. Typos and misspellings can be unexpectedly creative at times!

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