Life of a (Rookie) Editor: Making Mistakes

Last month, something happened that I really did not expect to ever happen. I made a mistake. A really big mistake. Don’t ask me why I was so incredulous, I was just feeling like I really had the hang of things at TOKYOPOP.

The mistake was this: somehow the translator’s final script got lettered into a comic instead of MY final script.

In case you don’t know, the scripting process on a manga (for TOKYOPOP, at least) goes translator -> re-writer -> editor. I’m supposed to be the last person who goes over the script and approves it before the layout people conjoin text and art. Somehow the wrong file was sent to the layout people and I got back something that looked like your average scanlation. (No joke. I’ve read enough scanlations and printed manga to know the difference and the difference is large.) It’s not that the translator was doing a bad job, but the point of having a re-writer is to polish the rough patches over and make it sound normal instead of clunky. My job is to refine what the re-writer turns into me further and make sure all the stylistic things I want are in there. (That means, fonts, bolding, italics, etc.)

So basically, I had to re-write the whole entire manga. Except, I couldn’t really do that myself. I had to leave notes for the touch-up people on the entire book and they had to re-letter it. It took me a long time. It took the poor touch-up artist a longer time to fix and there were problems right up until the file date after multiple copy edits.

At first, however, I was freaked out and I couldn’t find a clear way for me to fix it. I asked layout if it could be redone, but their answer was no. So, I sat there, with a copy of the intended script, making notation after notation on the page. I went home for a doctor’s appointment shortly afterward and cried to my mother that they were going to sack  me for making such an awful mistake. I bought a gift basket to apologize to the touch-up artist handling my book. I didn’t know what else to do (and I had a recent discussion with another touch-up artist and close friend about editors being jerks to her, so I felt extra bad.) I was so scared that I wondered whether it would be weird to prostrate myself into a dogeza position to show how sincerely sorry I was for this big awful mess.

But nothing happened. No one pulled me aside to give me a verbal beating or tell me that I was being let go. So I did the only thing I could do: keep working on the book and make it the best damn thing I could manage.

The second worst thing about what happened was that the book was one of my favorite manga of all time. It was a series I started reading in my very early days of fandom and I was ecstatic to learn I’d be editing it (and reading it before anyone else.) So no matter what, I had to make things right. All I could think of is if I ever met the mangaka and explain that I’d fucked up this volume. I’d probably be sobbing on the train ride back to my hotel and everyone on the train would be thinking: what the fuck is this gringo’s problem?

Unfortunately, it was also a very talkative series and a little bit longer than most other manga. I didn’t get to make EVERY final correction I would have liked to make, but no one who reads it is probably going to notice. Despite my overflowing love of that manga, I’m pretty sure only about 100 people will buy it when it comes out. I’m OK with that, as long as I don’t let any of them down as they read. If the talk I had today with the person who copy-edited it is any indication, I might have done a good job yet. She hadn’t read the series before and she was immediately drawn in. It wasn’t even, to me, the most exemplary volume of the series, but since she also said that it seemed I’d done a thorough job, I can die a bit happier inside.

I guess this post has two lessons:

1) You’re going to fuck up. This is life.

2) If you’ve fucked up and you can still fix it somehow, this is the time to be that stereotypical die-hard, perfectionist editor and no clunky phrasing shall survive your red pen.

If you go through number one and apply number two to it as needed, you’ll come out feeling not as bad about it.

Oh man, I am so happy to still have my job. o_o

A few related links:

Being thankful for working in the manga industry, especially in this day and age.

A little bit more about being a comic editor.

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12 Responses to Life of a (Rookie) Editor: Making Mistakes

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  2. TWWK says:

    Here’s another possible lesson – this for all managers (and would-be managers) out there. Sometimes it’s best to let your employees be their own critics. For those employees out there that take pride in their work and who place a high value on their work ethic, it doesn’t take a supervisor’s harsh words to correct mistakes. It’s nice to see your supervisors have trust in you – I feel the same in my workplace when I’ve made a .

    And thanks for insight about how things work at TOKYOPOP – very interesting!

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  4. Kris says:

    As you said, everyone makes mistakes. You’re probably not the first to have done that or something similar. The thing is, you fixed it. You got it done before it was too late, corrected your mistakes, and it came out fine.
    So either 1) the higher ups didn’t know about your mistake, or 2) they knew you’d fix it (and if not, that’s when the ax comes down).

    • You’re right. I’m probably not. As long as I didn’t throw any cogs into the system, I guess no one thought it was that big a deal.

      I hope the higher ups don’t know about my mistake, but if they do know, I hope they’re happy with the product that went to print. I did my very best.

  5. JRB says:

    Everybody makes mistakes sometimes. Some of those are bigger than other. In my grad lab, my team sent the wrong sample to a big multi-lab sequencing project and got back tens of thousands of copies of the sequence of the insulin gene (whose complete sequence was already well known at that point). We were able to get the right sample sequenced afterwards, but we wasted weeks of their work and god knows how much money… Just be happy your book didn’t go to print like that.

    I know nothing about how the process works, but it sounds like you had to make notes on printouts of the pages; couldn’t you have sent the touch-up artist a copy of your final script and flagged the places that were different?

    • Ouch, that sample mix up sounds like it sucked hard. o_o
      I’m happy that my book didn’t go to print like that. That’s what the copy editing process is for, after all.

      Actually, this was all digital, so I was marking up a file on a computer. (That didn’t make it faster though) And I couldn’t just tell the touch-up guy to go through the script and fix it. That isn’t his job. His job is to correct the fixes I make notes about. So I had to write in all the lines that weren’t the same in both scripts, which was most of the book. Plus corrections to other things like sound effects, etc.

  6. Sesame says:

    I’m not sure if you can answer my question but I’m just curious: Would you say that the manga translator, re-writer, and editor usually have the same level of proficiency in Japanese and English? Basically how is the chain decided? Is it based on writing flair?

    • Oh man, that’s a bit of an odd question. I might not be able to give you the right answer, but I’ll try my best
      I’d have to say that a translator is hired for proficiency in Japanese, but fluency in the language (and in the language it’s being translated into) is not the only factor. It’s certainly to a translator’s benefit to have previous translating experience or a major in Japanese.
      For editors, I’ve noticed that we don’t need to be fluent in Japanese, but it’s certainly a huge plus if we are. Of course, we have to have a strong command of English (or whatever language the book is being published in), a sharp eye, experience and/or major in something like English or Journalism.
      For re-writers, it’s about the same as editors, from what I can tell, but Japanese fluency isn’t a necessity either.

      Honestly, I’ve never hired for these things, so these are just observations of the industry people I personally know. What I will say is that few people can really do all of these jobs at once and it’s not just a matter of “writing flair” for these jobs.

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