- When I was a writer on my college newspaper, I became the copyeditor and got a job as a proofreader at the printer’s shop so I could have complete control of my words, and no one else could mess them up. This also meant that no one else could correct mistakes I missed. That’s not a good way to work.
- When I was freelancing for Rolling Stone magazine, I was always rewriting until the last possible minute. This was in the pre-fax, pre-email era, and I’d drive to the airport and pay to have my column air-freighted from New York to California. There wasn’t much profit left.
- When I was working as an advertising copywriter, I was notorious for not “releasing” an ad until the last possible moment. Fortunately, someone older and wiser taught me a valuable lesson: sometimes “good enough” really is good enough, and I learned to let go. He also stold me that a perfectionist never finishes anything.
It was the fifth printed proof, and I was shocked to find two paragraphs that were printed in gray instead of black.
I was even more shocked when I inspected the previous four proofs and discovered they had the same error, but neither I nor Cynical Cousin Dave, my hawkeyed inspector, had noticed the gray.
While I doubt that more than a few readers would have noticed the gray, I could not let the book circulate in that condition. Since I had to delay publication, I decided to do one more read-through of the 520-page book.
Alas. I found 113 other things to fix or improve, but the delay gave me the opportunity to update my section on Borders, to include the bankruptcy. This meant that while my book would go on sale later than planned, it would be more up-to-date -- and that's good.
Yesterday, just before noon, Bill, our smiling UPS driver, delivered proof #6. Instead of tearing open the brown box, I tossed it to Dave so he could have the dubious honor of deflowering it, and providing the first inspection. He flipped through the book several times in each direction, and then went page-by-page and found nothing wrong. (TIP: It's important to LOOK AT, not just read every page in your books.)
Then, with both hope and dread, I went through the book.
I found just one stupid error. On page 351, one header out of hundreds that had previously been gray and was supposed to have been changed to black, was still gray. I decided to let it go. The hairs on my face and my head are now gray, so one gray header is not so terrible.
Actually, it is terrible.
But I can live with it (at least until it's time for a revision).
I decided I could also live with the extra space I found between two words on page 11. (This error was particularly annoying, because Microsoft Word had noticed the error, but I ignored the squiggly green underline.) I knew that if I fixed these bloopers, I would probably create new ones -- and the interminable cycle would go on.
In "professional" books, one error per 50 pages seems to be an acceptable standard, and my standard is higher than that. Maybe striving for perfection in publishing is both futile and an act of hubris. Maybe perfection is a trait of the gods, not us mere mortals.
Besides, I have other books to finish (including one that was supposed to be published last July).