Monday, April 05, 2004

Everybody makes a mistake.. 

..but some of them come back to haunt you, again and again.

As already well-documented here, Lawrence Block is on tour across the United States promoting his new book, THE BURGLAR ON THE PROWL, and he's blogging about each stop he makes. It's generally been a good one, but some things are less wonderful than others. Especially because various picky readers are pointing out the same mistake over and over:

In PROWL, I referred to the song about loving the girl one's near. And I---or Bernie, if you want to be technical---identified it as being from My Fair Lady. Well, it's from Finian's Rainbow, and I knew that. I suspect Bernie knew it as well. But somehow it got past both of us, and my editor and copy editor and proofreader, and indeed everybody who saw it, and the book came out that way.

And so far six readers have let me know about it. Boy, do I ever know about it. We'll fix it in the paperback, and we may even fix it in future printings of the hardcover, although that's not as easy to manage as you might think. But one thing I don't need is to hear any more about it, and I know I will. Sheesh, the book's only been out there for two and a half weeks.

I wish I could say this kind of fan behavior is unusual, but it isn't--not at all. There's a joke in the mystery world that fans can let major plot and character details slide but god help you if you get something wrong about guns--especially if you write that there's a safety on a Glock. The pickiest, tiniest little detail, which normally shouldn't even be noticed by the common man--that's the one that people write in time and again to say, "by the way, I just wanted to tell you...."

Anticipating further emails on that regard, Block has come up with a solution:

This morning I prepared a form email to respond to the next three hundred people who drop me a helpful line. I mean, I don't want to seem ungrateful here. All the people who've let me know about it did so as an act of kindness, and made a point of saying nice things about the book. They just wanted to be helpful, and they were indeed helpful, or at least the first one was. But. . .oh, never mind.

And now, a confession: I read the proof of THE BURGLAR ON THE PROWL about a month ago, and enjoyed the book very much. But on page 100, I came across that musical switch, and wondered how the mistake had gotten past everyone. (Also, FINIAN is truly one of my favorite musicals, due in large part to the humor of Yip Harburg's lyrics and the sheer melodic quality of Burton Lane's score. Oh, and David Wayne. He rocks.) So...I dropped an email to Block, trying to be nice about it. If I wasn't the first to point it out, I think I was close to it. But even at that time, I knew--just knew that I'd be far from the last to write in. And so it has come to pass...

But the question is, what can an author do once such a typo or mistake is out there? Beat everyone to the punch? Post a standard response on his or her website or mention it in the pre-amble at a booksigning? Seems rather much, really. I guess the trick is to find humorous ways to respond while still being nice about it--because of course, every person who reads a book is brand new to it, and coming across the content for the very first time, and isn't always magically aware that a zillion other people have alerted the author to the same mistake before he or she did.

Still, I can imagine why some folks get driven up the wall by such things.....

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