by Jenny Kimura, Collaborative Designer
Recently, one of my colleagues shared this piece of advice they’d gotten from a former boss when discussing when one should stop making corrections and let a creative piece of work out into the world. Many, many people who are attracted to publishing and writing are often perfectionists, hoping that one last word switch, one added comma, one tiny move of an object to the left, will somehow give a creative piece of work that elusive quality of perfection. And we certainly don’t want mistakes or bad design in our work—ideally, we are catching any issues early on in the writing, editing, or design process. But what is the line between making corrections because something is flat-out wrong versus something we personally do not like and wish was just a teeny bit different? I think sometimes we perfectionists (I say “we” because I most certainly am one) fixate on the littlest things that we perceive as wrong that we are sure every single person will notice, and our fear deep down is, to put it plainly, that one detail could be why someone picks up a book and buys it or not. It truly seems life or death!
But when we take a step back, when we actually ask people what makes them buy a book versus not, it is quite simply impossible to pin down, and it is rarely anything so trivial as a typo (I mean, unless it’s on the front cover…then maybe). I myself might pick up a book because I liked the title, but put it down again because I’m just not in the mood for that kind of story. And one of my favorite series growing up was Harry Potter, which had a few typos even my fourteen-year-old self caught. These books sold millions of copies, were edited by a huge publishing company, and were passed through dozens of sets of eyes, multiple times, before printing. And you know what I thought when I caught a typo? I congratulated myself for catching it, and I kept reading my story, as did, I assume, millions of readers around the world. I don’t mean to call out the editors of Harry Potter here. Mistakes happen because people are human, and, as a colleague of mine once quipped, “We’re not brain surgeons. Nobody dies in publishing.”
Maybe you’re thinking, so what? There are people who are perfectionists and people who aren’t. Why should it matter if we correct a book a bunch of times, as long as it means we get it exactly perfect and we have the time to do so? The big question is, are all of those minuscule adjustments going to ultimately make a better product? Will the benefit be worth the extra time and energy that everyone from the designer to the editor to the writer must add to the work?
I’m not advocating that we carelessly let typos and other egregious errors fall where they may! One should absolutely correct errors when they are found and make changes to produce the best product possible. The kind of changes I am talking about are the ones that come from overthinking it at the last minute: Is this word too aggressive? Should I replace this em dash with a semicolon instead? Is this drop shadow on the type the wrong kind of black? (Yes, I really have thought that a day before I sent out a book cover.) There’s nothing wrong with any of these fixes—but if you find yourself asking them right before you’re about to send a book to print, I would challenge you to take a deep breath, think about why you are asking those questions now, not weeks ago, and ask yourself, honestly, “Will this change sell one more book?”
Jenny Kimura is a full-time book designer at a Big Five publishing house and a part-time collaborative designer at Indigo: Editing, Design, and More. She is one of those people who can’t turn off her editing brain even when she’s doing design, and she thinks there is no greater thrill than finding a typo that’s been overlooked in previous stages. You can see her design work at www.jennykimura.com (and if there’s a typo, please let her know).