The 29 Errors a Publisher Can Make…And Counting

In Guest Contributors & Editorial by Guest Contributor

Colleen Higgs of South Africa’s Modjaji Books recounts the myriad ways a publisher can screw up.

By Colleen Higgs

Colleen Higgs

Colleen Higgs

Publishing is not for the faint-hearted. Sometimes I wonder why I decided to go into publishing, using my own money when it’s a business that is fraught with so many hundreds of possible places where you can go wrong. There’s always a new possible error, mistake, blunder, oops, disaster. Some cost money, some cost face. It’s a business that keeps you humble and on your toes. A lovely bookseller told me that she worked in publishing only briefly, she found it way too stressful. I smiled happily.

I think publishing is teaching me a kind of Zen practice, of doing my best to make sure there are as few mistakes as possible and trying not to repeat the same ones and forgiving myself and others, and taking it in my stride and learning not to allow a publishing version of ‘road rage’ to get the better of me. Breathe in, breathe out. Red light, green light. Beauty and error. Error and beauty.

This is where I attempt to be, sometimes takes days, weeks before I can calm down enough to remember that however important, it’s never important enough to stress myself out enough to develop a heart attack or some other stress related illness.

Here are a few of the errors; please feel free to add your own, unless of course you have never experienced any. In which case, go away; this is not for you…

1. Allocate a previously allocated ISBN to a new book
2. Allocate the right ISBN but the book is printed with the incorrect barcode/ISBN on the back cover so that the ISBN on the imprint page and the back of the book aren’t the same
3. Random blank pages in the book
4. Spell the author’s name incorrectly on the cover
5. Typos
6. Book can be bound so that pages fall out
7. Book can have sections wrongly bound together so page numbers are out of sequence
8. Printing not good enough, too light, pixellating happens
9. Badly bound so it looks like a cat has eaten the book inside out
10. Incorrect printer in imprint page
11. Forget to acknowledge a donor
12. Not have wide enough inside margins (gutters)
13. Spine incorrectly aligned
14. Spine not wide enough
15. Spine too wide
16. Spelling error in blurb
17. Incorrect no of pages in catalogue or in BookData database
18. Publish a book that the reps don’t want to sub
19. Print too many copies of a book, way too many (new publishers beware)
20. Budget according to an old specification that has now changed to a more expensive one
21. Misplace an invoice book so you can’t work out the royalties correctly
22. Give authors too big a discount and thus run into cash flow problems
23. Pay authors their royalties in books
24. Think that if you go with a cheaper printer, the whole job will cost less
25. Think that if you go with a big, established printer that you will definitely get excellent service
26. Get some facts wrong in the book
27. Turn down a manuscript that goes onto become a best-seller
28. Contents page numbers don’t match the chapter page numbers
29. And then you get forgetful, because you have learned (the hard way) to always check the ISBN on the imprint page and back cover and catalogue against your spreadsheet of ISBNs that you get from the National Library and then one day you don’t check because lately you always get it right and then …. whoops, it’s wrong!

Oh and by the way number 23 refers especially to paying poets, in their own books, not as bad as it sounds for the writer, in fact quite good. Say the print run is 400 – you deduct 50 copies for marketing, freebies and prizes. So you give the poet 35 books (10% of print run) plus their 6 free ones. The problematic thing for the publisher is that poets are a good point of sale for their own books. So by paying them in books you effectively wipe out a big chunk of your potential sales. So much better to pay writers a cash royalty, (just don’t lose the cash sales receipt book).

Contact Colleen at Modjaji Books on Twitter at @modjaji_bks; at Facebook here, and at their website here. Or visit her at Frankfurt at Hall 8, Stand 024.

About the Author

Guest Contributor

Guest contributors to Publishing Perspectives have diverse backgrounds in publishing, media and technology. They live across the globe and bring unique, first-hand experience to their writing.