When Things Fail to Go Precisely as Planned

Imagine you’ve slaved over your beloved manuscript, polishing each word, perfecting your plot, making your characters as real and engaging as you can. Your agent has sold your book, and you and your editor and copy editor have gone several more rounds to make sure your story is the best that it can be. Someone has designed a lovely cover for you. Review copies have gone out into the world, to newspapers and bloggers and anywhere else that might garner your book a little bit of attention. You have told all of your friends and family and local librarians and bookstore owners about your upcoming publication. Excitement grows. Finally, a box arrives on your doorstep, filled with copies of your brand new book. You crack it open, pull out the topmost volume, and run your hands lovingly over the cover. Then you start to read… and realize something has gone terribly wrong. The first sentence of your book is… not there.

This is what happened to author Mary Robinette Kowal this week. Her novel Glamour in Glass, the second in her Regency-with-magic fantasy series, underwent a printing mishap and was published absent her opening sentence. Instead, the book starts with sentence number two. The sentence was there when it left her hands, and her editor’s hands, but somewhere along the way there was an error regarding which corrections were to stay and which were to go, and the book went to press minus its opening.

So, what did Mary do? Well, she blogged about it and Tweeted about it, and she set about finding ways of fixing the problem. At her launch party last night in Portland, OR, she hand wrote that first sentence back into the books she was autographing. She’s offering to send readers bookmarks with a copy of that first sentence if they’d like one, and has also provided the same bookmark for download at her website. There are now adorable t-shirts for sale online that feature the book’s title and original opening line. She created a quiz where people see if they recognize the second lines of famous books, and she challenged people to write their own opening sentence for Glamour in Glass. In other words, she’s taken a mishap and turned it into a veritable party. Was she upset by the printing error? I’m sure she was. But rather than wallowing in her disappointment, she turned the tables on the situation and made the best of it. Future editions of the book will fix the printing error, but in the meantime, Mary is showing her spirit and class by handling the situation in a creative manner.

These sorts of printing errors are rare, but they certainly do happen. You hear about books where a section of 64 pages was bound into the volume upside down, or where a segment of the book is missing entirely — or else repeats. Pages are cropped unevenly so one margin is too wide and the other non-existent. And yes, occasionally the wrong version — an uncorrected version — goes to print instead of the most updated copy. No system is perfect.

Sometimes things are going to go wrong along the way to publication day. Just as with any aspect of life, it is impossible to control every single variable, and if you try, you’ll just make yourself crazy. The only part of this final process you can truly control is your reaction. You may never face this sort of mishap in your own publishing career, but if you do, look for ways to make the best of it and move on. Your readers will learn far more about you as a writer and as a person from your gracious behavior than they might have from a missing sentence.