An email arrived about an error. It was the kind all cookbook authors all dread. Someone was making the Mac and Cheese Pizza recipe in the cookbook I co-wrote, The United States of Pizza. But something was wrong.
Here’s the recipe error the writer pointed out:
“The ingredient list calls for 16 ounces shredded sharp cheddar (4 cups), but the directions say the following:
Stir 1/4 cup of the sharp cheddar into the thickened sauce and keep stirring until it is smooth and melted. Pour the cheese sauce over the macaroni and stir until it is all well combined. Scrape half of the mac and cheese into the prepared pan. Sprinkle with the remaining 1/4 cup cheddar.
And then he asked:
“Where does the other 3 1/2 cups of cheddar come in? Or should the recipe simply call for 1/2 cup of shredded sharp cheddar in the ingredient list? Any clarification would be greatly appreciated.”
My stomach twisted. I knew this mac and cheese recipe was one of our most popular recipes.
So, what do to next? First I controlled my impulse to berate myself mercilessly and call myself names. I failed. Then I had to figure out what happened. I dragged out the paper manuscript from my files. To my relief, the recipe I submitted was correct. But somehow, in the copy-editing process, someone (or maybe even two people) changed it to the incorrect version above.
The correct recipe should have read:
“Stir half the cheddar into the thickened sauce and keep stirring until it is smooth and melted. Pour the cheese sauce over the macaroni and stir until it is all well combined. Scrape half of the mac and cheese into the prepared pan. Sprinkle with the remaining cheddar.”
The polite email came from Frances Kim, Associate Editor of Leite’s Culinaria. I sent her the corrected text and apologized. And fortunately, the correct recipe for our decadent Mac and Cheese Pizza appeared. Also fortunately, the publisher will do another printing soon and fix the recipe. Phew.
This is much more frustrating than if I had a recipe blog. If I got an email like that, I could fix the recipe right away.
Caca pasa, as they say
I know errors like this happen to many cookbook authors. We’re probably all OCD-type perfectionists, which is a terrific combination of disorders for our job. So we really hate it when this happens.
Here’s what I plan for the next time: read the edited version closely enough to find mistakes; and check each copy-edited recipe against the original manuscript.
And now I’d like to hear from you. If you’ve ever had to go through this arduous proofreading process, how do you keep errors from creeping in? What is your process?
Kate McDermott says
I did have to go through this process. In the copy-edits for my book, all sorts of new and creative measurements were put in by the copy-editor. It was an “OMG what in the world am I seeing” moment…and definitely NOT a happy one. The bottom line is that I went back through the recipes, one by one, to check them out. I sincerely hope that I got them all.
I hope so to, Kate. Otherwise you might get an email like this one.
Kathy Strahs says
So frustrating! But it happens, as we know. It’s really hard for us to see this type of error too, because we get so close to the work. I found that when I had the final edits proofread a *second* time, by someone who had never seen any of the recipes but is an editor and an avid cook, she found a slew of items that still needed fixing. The more fresh sets of trained eyes, the better. 🙂
Hmm. That’s a good tip, to pay someone else to take a look. I get to the point where I can’t face looking at it anymore! But hence the problem. Thanks Kathy.
Thy Tran says
Yes, errors do come up during copyediting and even proofreading, which is why it’s good to know that a very small number of trusted individuals actually have the ability to change the manuscript files.
I don’t think you should beat yourself up about it. Mistakes are unavoidable, even stupid and embarrassing ones, in a project as complex as a cookbook. Fortunately, book manuscripts have a longer production schedule that allows authors to request a final proofreading copy. Depending on the type of files you receive, you can do automatic version comparisons. As you say, it’s a slog, but worth doing.
Magazine and newspapers, on the other hand, are a free-for-all when it comes to monitoring changes. I had a bad experience with a major national food magazine, in which an editor decided–without checking with me first–that a number must be wrong and so decreased the attendee count at a large event from 80,000 to 8,000. It ran that way, and the organizers who had been so kind to host me were shocked that I had reported only a tenth of the number of people who were actually there.
Sure, the correction ran the next month. However, the damage to an important relationship with a community organization was irreversible.
That is a terrible story about the magazine! How awful that they didn’t bother to check.
Re the book, I didn’t thnk about doing version comparisons. Are you saying to do so in Microsoft Word in two windows, or is there some other system I don’t know about?
Jason Sandeman says
Of you have a document sharing set up, you can see the changes the other people make, and the original version.
Oh okay. I’ll have to Google that to see how it works. Thanks Jason.
Maria Isabella says
There is a function in Word called “Compare.” You’ll find it in the Review tab.
Thank you! I will take a look.
Melissa Joulwan says
Ugh. I can so relate. I’m sorry you had to feel that sinking feeling, Dianne. At least you know it wasn’t your error! I’m doubly sensitive to errors because I’m a self publisher. If there are mistakes, I can only blame myself! It’s the worst.
Imagine this scene: We were throwing a dinner party for all the people who helped us with our first cookbook—my parents, our designer, friends, copyeditor. And it just so happened that we also received our first copy of the book that day. We were so excited! I was especially tickled to use my book to cook the food for the party. I turned to the first recipe on my cooking list—Spinach Muffins— and noticed, to my horror, that the recipe itself didn’t say how long to bake them. The baking time was included in a little clock graphic at the top of the recipe, but it wasn’t in the text. Embarrassing, but not a showstopper. I was disappointed, but I carried on.
I turned to the Bora Bora Fireballs recipe—the next cooking chore on my list—and found… not a typo, but a sentence in the instructions that was ambiguous. Again, not a fatal flaw, but as a first-time cookbook author, I felt like I’d failed.
As it turns out, it wasn’t a big deal. Most people figured it out or sent me calm emails, and we fixed it in reprints. But man! That first moment, when I saw the error, my heart stopped. It always makes me wonder: What else did I miss?
To combat that kind of thing now, we always use a professional copyeditor and proofreader, then as our last step, my husband Dave and I have the computer read the book out loud to us while we both follow along on hard copies. We mark anything that needs to be fixed, then tag-team in front of the computer and enter the changes. It’s a 2-day process, but it’s meant a lot of peace of mind. In our second book, we had only one typo. Fingers crossed for my new book 😉
Yes it was my error, Melissa, because I didn’t catch it!
Re yours, at least you could fix the errors in the next printing. They don’t seem too major to me.
It was probably the professional copyeditor who made the error, in my case. So hiring one can introduce errors too, not just fix them. Do you hire a separate proofreader?
I like the idea of having the computer read a file along while I follow along on the edited file. Maybe it would help me from keeping my eyes from glazing over, which is a big problem. I just looked up how to do it. Thank you!
Suzanne Fass says
Thank you, everyone, for not placing all the blame on the copy editor! 😉 A cookbook is a team effort, and every member of the team is human. So it’s important to remember that if the book comes (back) to you to check, you have to check it as if you’ve never seen any of it before. As some of you are sadly aware, there are copy editors and proofreaders who work on cookbooks who might not know much about cooking. So your job, as author, is not done until you have made sure no harm was done in the production of the book.
Along those lines: I’ve been having a conversation on Facebook with someone writing her first cookbook. She’s hired a professional editor–but he’s not a FOOD editor. I hope she realizes how much more of a burden it puts on her: first to make sure that everything is absolutely correct and clear, and then to check that any edits are still correct food-wise.
Suzanne, I could probably look up the files to see if it was the copy editor’s error, but to me, it’s beside the point. The point was that I didn’t catch it. What I find difficult is going over and over the same material. After a while, I just want to shoot myself!
MIcheline Mongrain-Dontigny says
You are so right about copy editor and proof reader. This year I wrote two cookbooks and when their work came back to me I completely read the reviewed manuscript. I had to correct and rectify many things and I suspected that as you say they do not cook very much. That said I am happy they also caught my errors! The more cookbooks we write the more we know errors will remain and this makes me more nervous than with my first cookbooks. I cross my fingers for my next one coming out in october
I felt anxious just reading about that email exchange! Probably because I’ve been there with my first book. For my second book I cross-referenced each and every recipe line (the final doc to the original manuscript). And I hired an editor to check too. I hear you on not enjoying that part of the process! Having something in print is terrifying when you’re used to putting things online. When my second book arrived on my doorstep, I didn’t open the package for 3 days. 😉
Three days! Oh my, that is quite telling. I can relate, though. You get this sort of feeling of terror, that you’re going to unwrap it and it isn’t going to be as good as you’re hoping. And of course, in your case as a bestselling author, that is totally irrational.
Very good that you cross-referenced and hired an editor. I think what I am finding out from these comments is that may people are all obsessive about this stuff, and I’m not very good in that department.
Denise Vivaldo says
Dear Authors- I don’t think reader’s are as hard on you as you are on yourselves…I’ve written eight books- of my own. I’ve had a few typo’s and mistakes found after a printing. I just pray that we fix them before next printing. Never gotten an email about a recipe typo-readers usually just want free consulting.
But, if this makes anyone feel better…
the first cookbook of Suzanne Somers- had just come out. Crown / Random House- she sold 1 million copies in 2 months on HSN. So, I’m styling segments for her -and I open the book and salt has been spelled slat in every single recipe…….. I was horrified – didn’t know if I should even mention it…. I did… And Suzanne’s return..” Yeah…….so damn embarassing- could be worse could have said slut….”
Big picture, big picture people…..She’s had over a dozen books on the NYT bedtseller’s… Nobody remembers.
Hah! What a great story, Denise. That is indeed horrifying about the slat. But as you say, it could be worse. At least Somers was kind about it, which helps a lot.
Pascale Beale says
A similar thing just happened to me. I just got a comment on an old blog post (one of my early ones) that challenged the amount of flour in the recipe: 3 tablespoons instead of 3 oz. Of course it should be the latter, I didn’t catch it, and in transcribing Word docs into WordPress I found (in the past) that I would have to retype some of the measurements as they did not paste into wordpress correctly. I should have checked and double checked. Lesson learned and now I’m going back through all past blog posts to make sure they are all correct!
Oh gosh, that is unfortunate. At least you can change blog posts, Pascale! That’s immediate, which is very satisfying.
Rosemary Mark says
My best method is to read out loud with another person. Do I do it? Not often enough, unfortunately. Instead I go over and over the recipes until I can’t stand it, like you Dianne! But if I catch even one error it’s one less I might lose sleep over IF I find out there was an error!
Sorry about your Mac n cheese, but it took this long for someone to notice, so not so bad.
I’m hoping you’re right, but it is a really fun recipe to make and people are excited about it.
I like the idea of reading the recipe aloud. It’s a change from just reading in silence. I also like Melissa’s idea of having the computer read it to you.
Annie Fenn says
Years ago, before I read your book — Will Write For Food — that gives tips on how to write a recipe, I self-published a cookbook for friends and family. I had that exact same sinking sensation in my stomach when a friend called about the empanada recipe: “Am I supposed to cook the meat filling before stuffing the empanadas?” She had a pan of empanadas stuffed with raw meat in the oven. It was a good lesson to learn early in my food writing career to never assume the reader knows what I intend them to do. It has to be crystal clear.
As for mistakes after reading a manuscript a million times? I think that happens to just about everyone. I have yet to find a cookbook that doesn’t have one single mistake.
That is so comforting to read, Annie — and there are some established writers here who are admitting in the comments they have screwed up too. So we all do it, but it’s hard to admit.
Great epiphany about what readers know versus what you know. It’s something many writers never figure out, so you’re ahead of the game. And thank you for reading my book.
Judy Bart Kancigor says
My tale of woe occurred when we were whittling down a 1,000-page manuscript to a more manageable 704. The instructions read: “Prepare the eggplant according to the directions on page 16.” After the whittling process, the directions were no longer on page 16. Neither I nor the copy editor caught it. Fortunately there was an eggplant preparation on page 16, but it was for roasting, not sautéing as I intended. Still good, but not what I wanted. Lesson learned.
Argh! At least there was an eggplant recipe, so it wasn’t so bad, Judy. Can’t believe you wrote a 1000-page manuscript.
Judy Bart Kancigor says
No wonder it took 4 1/2 years!
Elizabeth Minchilli says
I’ve realized over the years that I am completely blind to any and all mistakes. At the final passes I’ve read things SO many times that I just don’t see it. That is when I hand it over to several people, including specific readers to just check recipes. The more eyes the better.
Handing it over to several readers you trust sounds good. It’s way too big a task for one person. I suppose you wonder if they are as thorough as you, but on the other hand, since we’re blind to our mistakes, they have an advantage.
When I photographed my first cookbook, the author called me once crying and asking for help: the copy editor hadn’t caught a lot of mistakes, the designer was dislexic and 3 days before going to print, her book was not ready. She sent me the final manuscript and my mum, my best friend, and all her family went through every single page three times in a marathon style proofing experience.
Fantastic story, Marcela. What a gift from you, your mum and your best friend. Even if she paid you all to do it.
In one of my books, tablespoons got spelled “tablespooons.” I checked that against the final PDF that I got and I had it spelled right. So it happens, no matter how much care one takes in proofing the manuscript.
I panic big-time about typos, but on the other hand, a huge amount of people in the world don’t have food to eat at all. So while I hate making goofs too (and am completely OCD about them as well), sometimes it helps to put it all into perspective.
Yes indeed, it does help to put in perpsective, David. But at the same time it’s infuriating to see that extra “o” in tablespoons. This is part of our complexity as humans: To be pissed off and laissez-faire simultaneously. How fun to be us!
Cynthia Spivey says
Thank you Dianne for sharing your story. It seems you are not alone! My typo was on the back cover of my book which was the one paragraph that the line editor didn’t see because the cover was a different file that wasn’t included with the manuscript. There is always something 🙂 Fortunately, I was able to fix it before too many books were printed! I, of course, berated myself for it but I’m not sure anyone even noticed. It was a good lesson learned like Denise said…big picture. 🙂
Wow, that was a close call. How fortunate that you caught the error early on in the printing, Cynthia.
And yes, it’s so great to hear from other authors that it has happened to them, or get these great ideas on how to pay more attention.
Marisa Franca @ All Our Way says
This happened only once. It was a bread recipe and I omitted the amount of water in the ingredients. In the directions, I said add the water. Thank goodness a dear reader who has since become a friend pointed it out to me. I was able to correct it immediately on the blog. Hubby usually proof reads for me. I still go over and over it to make sure.
My husband also proofs the blog for me, but there are still errors. But that is an easy one to fix, because people can see that you left something out and can let you know. And then on a blog, you can fix it. The error is gone. But in our book, the error remains for all the people who have the first printing.
I like that those trying the reicpes described here made efforts to contact the authors or publishers – they didn’t just post snarly reviews on Amazon. 😉
Oh those snarly reviews are the worst. Although if you click on the corrected recipe link I put in the post, you’ll see that there is only one very grumpy comment. That is hard to take too.
Liz Posmyk (Good Things) says
Eek! The (edited) proof copy of my first book is now back with the designer and I am dreading that something like this will happen… particularly as the In Design program he uses sometimes messes with formatting and other text. Thank you for this post, Dianne. Much appreciated.
Well Liz, never fear. You can see all these great suggestions on how to avoid that situation. Thank goodness for these great ideas! And congrats on your first book.
MIcheline Mongrain-Dontigny says
Thanks for sharing Dianne. I now know I am not alone. I know how you feel at least the amount of cheese is specified with the ingredients. Readers will probably understand it was not intentionally that happens. Read your very interesting book and enjoy your blog.
Thank you Micheline. It’s good to know that we can all commiserate together, right? And that we all make mistakes.
Carolyn Phillips says
This is a wonderful thread. Thanks, Dianne! My big book on China’s cuisines is coming out next week, and of course I’ve already found typos in the first printing, despite it having been proofread six million times. My best source for corrections has been the recipes on my blog, where helpful readers ask questions like, “Where does the soy sauce go?” or “You’ve misspelled sugar. Again.” Most book editors and proofreaders and indexers are great, too, at asking sensible questions and challenging what I’ve written. I have a bad habit of memorizing my words, and so asking me to proofread is an exercise in futility, as I no longer see what’s on the page. Usually I’m just thinking about dinner.
Hah. We are in the same boat when it comes to proofreading. I get so sick of the copy that I can barely face it. How do all these other cookbook authors do it? They too must be thinking about food.
Re typos in the first printing, keep a file going, and with any luck there’ll be a second printing very soon, as it is an exceptional book.
Carolyn Phillips says
You’re a love. Thanks!
Jennie Schacht says
Hi Dianne. I completely understand why this upset you and yet, in the grand well of life, it’s an insignificant droplet. Chances are most people would either find a way to use all the cheese, or would make a pizza without enough cheese. No lives lost.
That said, I do scour each version of every book for this kind of thing. Earlier on, when you’re working with Word files. there are tools to compare versions.
Later, when it flows into the design template, is where I find strange things begin to happen. It happens with each and every version of each and every book, so you just have to be prepared for that.
In comparing corrections written on the layouts, I keep the previous version and go over it against the new version, page by page, checking each change I’ve made to be sure that (a) it’s been implemented, (b) it was done correctly, and (c) it didn’t trigger some new problem. Most new errors are associated with the making of some change or another, so this catches most of them. For the rest, as others have said, you just have to slog through the whole thing one more time to make sure it’s perfect.
And then you have to let go.
Very zen of you, Jennie. I appreciate that. And I really like your description of how you go through the layouts with the previous versions.
Mary Ellen Foley says
Mixed feelings here. MUCH sympathy for you. (Years ago I interviewed a medical researcher about his work on ‘uptake’ and ‘re-uptake’ (of chemical signals in the brain), but somewhere in the editing process, some bright spark decided there was no such thing as ‘re-uptake’ and so changed them all to ‘uptake’, even in quotations, making a hash of the science entirely — so I know the feeling. I was so embarrassed I couldn’t even apologize to the fellow I’d interviewed.)
And I appreciate that you don’t immediately just blame the copyeditor. It seems clear from the story about the “tablespooons” that the copyeditor got it right, because the proofs were correct, but apparently the typesetter was over-enthusiastic with the oo’s; there’s many a slip between cup and lip, as they say.
But most of the stories in these comments are of lines omitted, or pages renumbered, problems of a very different nature from the one that befell your text. To turn “half the cheddar” into “1/4 cup of … cheddar” isn’t a slip-up of the “my eyes glided right over it” variety; somebody *decided* to make that change, and I can’t think of any valid reason that a copyeditor would decide do that, particular as it left the description of the method using only a little bit of the cheese in the ingredients list! Recipes give you a second chance, a fail-safe: you can see whether things tally, to see whether the text is right, at least in that regard.
So thank you for your generosity, but in your place I’d feel really hard done by — and I’m an editor. I’m sorry that happened, and apologize to you on behalf of the whole profession!
(If anyone would like to hire me to be an extra pair of trained eyes, I’m available, and I don’t change quantities of ingredients! Is it bad manners to add my email address? It’s WordBoffin at gmail dot com.)