What authors need to know about errata strategies in book publishing: How can I fix errors in my book?

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WHEN ERRORS WERE CRIMINAL—Arguably the “worst typo in publishing history,” this text was included in the 1631 printing of what became known as “The Wicked Bible.” In addition to ordering all copies to be burned, the two men who ran the publishing house were fined the enormous sum (at the time) of £300 and, even worse, their license to publish was revoked. Their flawed Bible destroyed their publishing house. About a dozen known copies have survived to this day.

What should an author do when they find an error in their published book?

In the past, traditional publishing methods and technologies essentially only had one answer for this author: Wait until the next print run—and only then if your book sells enough copies. Such fixes could take years, or were never made.

Today, fast and flexible printing technologies mean post-publication changes—called errata—don’t have to wait until the current print run ends. Fixes can be incorporated based on optimal distribution timing.

Step One: Categorizing Errata

Major errors that endanger the credibility of the book and author should likely be incorporated as fast as possible, even at the expense of distribution uptime. However, before incorporating errata changes, authors and the publishing house staff need to discuss the error. Input should come from the publisher, editor, production and marketing managers, as well as the author.

At Front Edge Publishing, we call this level of error “a show stopper.” On one book a decade ago, for example, our staff failed to catch a typo in the title of the book on the cover—specifically on the spine, which had not received as much attention as the front and back covers. That was so obvious, when the flaw came to light, that it was a show stopper. (And, by the way, that error has never been repeated!)

Much more common, however, is low-level errata that concerns diction, style questions or the occasional typo. It’s not uncommon for an author to desire to reword a particular line, paragraph or section, especially after seeing their manuscript in print.

These low-level errata should be collected over time and incorporated all at once when the time is right.

Step Two: Timing Distribution Updates

Even though production files can be updated quickly, these changes should be done carefully to avoid disrupting retail distribution. Changing distribution files sends a temporary “unavailable” signal to retailers that sell just-in-time print books. Even if that signal is only broadcast for 24 hours, retailers may take longer to update their product information and metadata feeds, which can lead to lost sales as readers see “Out of Stock” or “Temporarily unavailable” messages on product pages, regardless of their accuracy.

Before updating production files, consider the following factors:

  • Was the book just released? New sales pages can be more prone to disruption, as they are still being generated by the retail platform.
  • Are you expecting a sales spike from an author event, media mention or other promotional efforts?
  • Is a natural sales spike incoming, such as the late-autumn shopping season?

If you answered yes to any of the above questions, consider holding off on the errata update until a natural lull in sales, such as a national summer holiday, when book-buying traditionally dips for a few days.

About Dmitri Barvinok

Director of Production Dmitri Barvinok works on the digital development, print layout and distribution of new books. He coordinates Front Edge editors and designers and works with the BookEdge software suite.