Copy Errors in Pulitzer-Winning Books

Nobody likes errors when an editor sends back a final copy of a manuscript. I always tell my clients that when I return a “final” draft it should be 99.9 percent error free. But on a 89,000-word narrative, this could imply there are 89 miscues that slipped by. I certainly don’t believe that’s ever been the case, but no matter how hard I and my copyeditor try, gremlins can make it through the cracks. Now, what I’m going to write next is not to justify editors making mistakes in not catching writing boo-boos, but I just finished rereading Richard Ford’s INDEPENDENCE DAY (I read it initially in 1999). This book was published by Knopf, and it won the Pulitzer for fiction in 1995. On page 351 of the Knopf hardback edition, there are three obvious errors. One is the misuse of “appraised” for “apprised” we learned in junior high, and there were two other miscues that were of a more “mature” nature.

I hardly look for errors when I’m reading for pleasure, but wouldn’t it be realistic to believe that Sonny Meta’s team at Knopf would’ve discovered three elementary copyediting errors on one page? I reread AMERCIAN PASTORAL right before INDEPENDENCE DAY, and even the text by a writer as esteemed as Philip Roth did not escape scot-free, as his Pulitzer Prize winner had a couple of syntax errors I noticed. And in my last Newsletter I discussed the errors I spotted in GONE GIRL—yet how many times has this book been reprinted? It’s really amazing how hard it can be to spot the obvious at times, which is no excuse for any of us who edit for a living—just factual.

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