When editors make misteaks

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editors make mistakesDr. Freelance, I submitted an error-free article to a magazine, only to discover that mistakes were added to it sometime before publication! Since I’m relatively new to freelance writing, this is particularly embarrassing and painful, since I will find myself explaining the typos to potential clients and editors that I show the article to. My question is, do I say something to the editor, and if so, what? I obviously don’t want to burn any bridges and jeopardize the potential for future assignments.—It Wasn’t Me

I’ve worked in publishing long enough to accept that mistakes are inevitable, whether they’re in magazines, books, brochures, or anywhere else there are words and images. (Sometimes they’re on purpose, in case you’re cringing at misteaks in my headline. Got your attention, didn’t I?) I still remember in all-too-vivid detail the bigger goofs that have gone to print under my signature—some of which date back to the early 1990s. While I understand your disappointment, you have to accept it’s part of the deal.

As far as moving forward, here’s my thought: As you recognize, there’s no benefit to getting mad at the editor. My guess is that she’s not thrilled about the mistake either, if she’s even aware of it. It’s quite possible the error wasn’t made by her, but by one of the junior editors on her staff, and perhaps under the crunch of deadlines.

As a result, your goal should be getting a corrected piece for your portfolio—that way, you don’t have to be embarrassed, do any apologizing, or fear that someone will reject you over a typo.

  • Write her a polite note, first thanking her for the opportunity to write for her magazine.
  • Mention briefly that, as she may be aware, some typos sneaked into the article at some point during the process.
  • Be empathetic, saying something like, “I know that mistakes happen, especially when you’re under the crunch of deadlines.”
  • Make a simple request: “I’m sure that you’re probably busy working on the next issue, but is it possible that you could have your graphic designer create a clean version of the article? I’m proud of having written for [Magazine Name] and would like to feature it in my freelance portfolio as a pdf. No rush, whenever it’s convenient.”

I can’t imagine an editor saying “no” to a simple, politely worded request like that. You obviously can’t worry about the print copies that are out there, but let’s be honest: Do you really send print copies or tearsheets of anything to anyone anymore? Clean online or email-ready portfolio samples are all you really need.

If the editor is unwilling or resistant, you could hire a designer on your own to create a clean sample. In any case, it’s not worth burning any mental energy over. It’s not under your control, not something the editor can change after the fact, and not something you’re obligated to bring up with people to whom you show the article. My guess is that most won’t notice. If someone brings it up, compliment them on their eagle eyes and mention that the typos were added during the editing and design process.

In the comments: Have you ever had editors make misteaks…err…mistakes in your copy? How did you handle it?

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