Do-overs? I’m having one now, and it’s kind of a humbling experience.
My best client e-mailed me a couple of weeks ago, asking if I could edit the second edition of a book I had edited for them back in 2001. Technically it’s not really a do-over but a do-again, as the authors have made changes and added new material.
In professional and scholarly psychology books, references are done in what’s called the author-date style. In the reference list, authors of sources used in the book are listed as “Smith, J., & Jones, T. (2007)”. When the book author cites this source in the book text, he or she cites it as (Smith & Jones, 2007). Part of the copyeditor’s job is to make sure that all text cites match the references they refer to and that every cite in the text has a matching reference in the list at the end of the book.
In the first chapter I found eight “floating” cites—text citations without a corresponding reference. And when I went back to the published first edition, I found that they were also floating in that one.
I took a huge gulp.
Now there are three possibilities:
1. I completely missed all of these when I copyedited the first edition.
2. I marked them all for the authors to fix but they ignored my notes.
3. For some reason the cites were inserted after copyediting but before publication.
Number 3 seems the least likely, and of course I would like to believe that number 2 is correct. For one thing, I can’t believe I would have missed that many orphaned cites spread throughout a chapter. It’s sometimes easy to miss errors that are clustered within a short passage; paying attention to one can take away from your attention to the others. But over multiple pages? and the same kind of error?
Of course, there is still a fourth possibility: that is that my skills have improved over the past ten years. That’s a much more pleasant thought. After all, this client has continued to give me steady work, as well as compliments on my work. Besides, the rest of the text that I previously edited is in very good shape, so I must have done that well.
Maybe it’s a good thing that life doesn’t offer us do-overs. We might find out that things were far more complicated than we remember. Maybe the mistakes of our past should stay buried--if others don’t remember them, why should we?