Micro Mentor

Are you just starting out as an editor? Do you have questions that you'd like to ask someone with a bit more experience and knowledge? Ask away! We'll pass on your query to one of our fabulous and generous editors for some considered and wise advice.

Q: Help! I'm a new freelancer, and I've made a mistake in a job I did for a publisher I've been hoping to get more work from. Worse, the publisher picked it up, not me. Should I grovel? Send flowers? Pretend it didn't happen and hope they'll forget? Find another publisher?

A: We know just how that feels. First, no one is perfect. Get that tattooed on your forehead if you think it might help.

Yes, do apologise, but in measured tones. Reply in the same medium used by the publisher (email, letter). Be up-front. Fess up cleanly and offer to fix the mistake. If possible, demonstrate that you treat the lapse seriously and have spent time on the problem. For example, if appropriate, tell them that you have gone back over the files and can pinpoint how it happened. Give reasons, not excuses. If you made the mistake when you were working on Chapter 3, by accidentally pasting, being interrupted or not cross-checking the list of global changes, for instance, then say so, particularly if that might conceivably help the publisher.

Any information that could help the publisher by isolating the problem (eg to a particular chapter) reassures them that it is a one-off aberration rather than an indication of something more worrying, such as a mix-up of files or a failure of version control. It might help them avoid the same thing happening again. Or they might add the issue to their editing brief. If it is down to your ignorance, say that you should have realised X but didn't and that you've added the matter to your own checklists to ensure you don't miss it again.

If you think there is an easy way to fix it, add that. If it will take a lot of time, offer to re-do the work or come in-house to do it. Then thank them for picking it up (better earlier rather than later), and repeat that you are sorry about the error. In brief, fess up and fix.