YOUR Typo Gets Printed in 5,000 Brochures – What Do You Do?

Shoot. Crap-ola. Aaargh. Happens to the best commercial freelancers several times in their careers, but that doesn’t make it any easier to swallow. I finished up a marketing brochure for a commercial writing client a few months back. Everyone loved it. We all looked it over probably 10 times each. How we all missed it is beyond me. Went to print – 5,000 copies. Finally got a few samples in the mail a few weeks back. Turned out nice. Then, uh-oh. Oh, man. Don’t tell me. There it was. Not as glaring as a misspelled word, thank heavens, but rather, unnecessary punctuation. Very unnecessary. Not one of those, “it-can-go-either-way-depending-on-which style-guide-you’re-consulting” kind of punctuation mistake. No, this was pretty clear cut. Though, in truth (he said, rationalizing), it seemed more prominent since I knew what I was looking at. If someone wasn’t looking for it (by definition, the overwhelming percentage of readers), they might or might not notice it.

Of course, first stop was my last file sent to them to see if the error was in there or was added after my hands were washed of it. There it was, in all its cringe-inducing glory. Ouch.

And they printed a 5,000 of them, because they got a good price. I’d emailed the graphic designer before I know how many they’d printed, to say, “Hey, hate to tell you, but I found this error that was MY fault, so in case they’re going to back to print at some time soon, you can fix it.” Course, at the rate they’ll likely go through them, I’ll be collecting Social Security before they run out… Sheesh. I didn’t feel good about it, but he and I decided on a vow of silence. You know, let sleeping dogs lie. But, I’m sure I’ll still lose a few winks over it.

Did I do the right thing?

Have you ever been in a similar situation? How did it unfold and how was it resolved?

Are you satisfied with your handling of the situation?

If you’ve never been in such a situation (you will, eventually…), how would you handle it if you were?

24 replies
  1. Graham Strong
    Graham Strong says:

    Hi Peter,
    I once worked on a project where the phone number was wrong on the reply card of a donor newsletter that went out to tens of thousands of people. It wasn’t my fault, but being the person that I am, I still felt bad about it.

    So now I do two things:

    (A) Ask them to include me in the final proofing process before it gets sent out — I often catch little things that other people don’t simply because I do layout, etc. and know where to look. The last newsletter I reviewed, I caught about 8 errors in spelling, spacing, layout, etc. Some minor, some not.

    (B) Stress to all my clients that they proof the name, address, and contact info. This is often overlooked because it is assumed to be right, and simply isn’t included in the review process.

    On a similar note, I recently had someone find a typo on my own web page. This person left an actual contact name and email address (with the URL in the email, so I was able to look up the company). He asked me that if I couldn’t ensure typo-free content on my own website, then why should he trust his own important marketing materials to me?

    I was a little miffed at first, I’ll admit. He didn’t even tell me what or where the typo was. (I found it though — my fast fingers and aging eyes missed “marketeting” — how ironic, actually!)

    But I fixed it, sent him an email thanking him for pointing it out, and told him exactly why he should hire me. Yes, his question was rhetorical, but why not answer it if I have the opportunity? I also explained, as you just did in this post, that after every 100,000 words written or so, a typo is bound to crop up with even the best of writers.

    Of course the great ending to this story would have been that I got the gig. Sadly, not the case — never heard back from him in fact. I was sorely tempted to call him up in person, but decided he might not be the best client to work with anyway, if he had no interest in my well-thought answer. (I suspect he was shouldered with the burden of finding a copywriter, and was not happy with the Directive from Above on top of all his other responsibilities. At least that thought makes me feel better…)

    It’s tough, but it’s going to happen. If you drive your whole life, you are bound to be in a car accident, minor or otherwise. And if you write, there is going to be a typo or two in your future. It’s usually easier said than done, but the best advice is to learn from the mistake and move on.


  2. Matt Ambrose
    Matt Ambrose says:

    Hi Peter,

    I’ve always wondered how this would pan out legally if/when it happens to me. Would the copywriter be liable/expected to pick up the cost of reprinting? I guess that’s why we pay indemnity insurance every month.


  3. peter
    peter says:

    Thanks Mike, for your usual valuable input (and story!) You’re right-it is bound to happen after writing a gazillion words. Though in most cases, and what I didn’t mention in the above, is that the client signs off on everything (usually with the designer, since he/she is the last one to touch it), saying that it looks good and is OK to go to print. To be honest, in my case, I’m not sure whether the GD did indeed get a formal sign-off. Obviously, he got at least an informal one since he wouldn’t have moved it to the printing stage without one.

    With a formal written sign-off, if an error is discovered after the fact, even if it’s the writer’s fault, he/she can’t be held liable since the client approved it. I’d still feel lousy about it if it were discovered by the client and I couldn’t be held responsible.

    And Matt, I don’t pay indemnity insurance every month. In 15 years of doing this, I’ve not only never had a problem with this, I’ve never even heard of anyone else having a problem like this (problem = being sued by a client). AND I discovered years back, that as part of my homeowners insurance on my house, I have personal liability insurance that could cover me if I got sued. But, I’m no attorney so do your own due diligence.

    Again, thankfully, it was, relatively speaking, not a glaring error – but if YOU wrote it and it gets printed wrong, it always looks glaring… 😉


  4. Cory
    Cory says:

    Wait a minute! You’ve been in this game for a long time. Why didn’t you (or the company) hire a freelance proofreader to look over the brochure? At around $30 an hour, we’re pretty cheap, and finding errors like the one you mentioned is our specialty. You know, like writing copy is your specialty. Like fixing pipes is your plumber’s specialty. Like fixing the other kind of pipes is your doctor’s specialty.

    My point is, it takes a professional — very few people can and do catch errors in their own copy. I don’t mean to make you feel worse about your error; I’m just genuinely surprised that you don’t have a real proofreader look over your copy before it’s printed. What gives?

  5. Mike
    Mike says:

    I wouldn’t assume that your homeowner’s liability insurance would protect you. Read your policy. Every policy is different. Some have an exclusion for a business in the home. Some have an exclusion if your home-based business has annual income of more than a certain amount (say, for example, $5,000). I think some insurance companies will sell you a rider to cover a business in your home, but I’m not sure. I did some research on this awhile back, and I found that Chubb had a pretty good policy for home-based business. Nolo Press has some good books on homeowner’s insurance. Also, the homeowners policy may have liability insurance, but what are the limits? Usually it’s $100,000 or $300,000. That may not be sufficient to protect you against a lawsuit for libel, trademark or copyright infringement, or some other torts. I’m not a lawyer either, but I would suggest an excess liability rider. Also, don’t tell people who threaten to sue you that you have insurance. That might just encourage them to file a suit.

    Using an LLC or incorporating might offer some protection against such a lawsuit. I did like the idea of a formal sign-off — I may try that myself.

  6. Judith
    Judith says:

    Thank you, Cory, for pointing out the obvious.
    When I write copy, I always have someone else proof it. My mind knows what the copy says and therefore sees what it’s supposed to be, whether it is or not. And I proofread for others. In fact I find typos and misspellings frequently in all kinds of places. Proofreaders are definitely worth their salt.

  7. Michele
    Michele says:

    I found your comment about a “formal sign-off” interesting, i.e. that a formal sign-off absolves you from legal responsibility, but perhaps not from “moral” responsibility. Since I work abroad and most of my clients have English as a second or third language they count on me to get it right and I can’t really count on them for back-up if I miss mistakes. So when something slips through, I feel doubly anguished because it is “totally” my fault. That said, the client may not even know there is an error unless I point it out. So it depends on the error. If it’s substantial and glaring and something the client’s customer may notice, I offer a discount in my fee as “good faith” for defective goods. What else can I do? Better that I point it out than someone else. Hopefully my conscientiousness will cause them to come back to me. (Someone once sewed some curtains for me. She was very late in the deadline, i.e. an error. Without my asking, she offered me an apology and a discount. I liked her attitude and would happily ask her to help me again.) If it’s pretty minor, I console myself with the notion that we strive for excellence, not perfection (says Dr. Phil!). In many cases, it’s usually me fighting the client that the text needs more work – that it can’t go out that way because it’s sloppy, unclear, etc. – and the client fighting me on the grounds that it’s “good enough” (even when it isn’t). So in addition to the type of mistake, it depends on the client. I take it on a case by case basis.

  8. Daniel Casciato
    Daniel Casciato says:

    I actually hire a copyeditor/proofreader for large projects like this one. I’ll still review everything very carefully myself, but it helps to have an experienced copyeditor eyeball it as well.

  9. peter
    peter says:

    Hi guys,

    Thanks to everyone for your helpful, insightful, and yes, scolding comments! Cory, Judith and Daniel, I hear you on the need to hire a proofreader, and I’m going to seriously consider that in the future (Cory, I’ve saved your contact info). But, in my defense, I’ll tell you why most in our business, including myself, don’t. I’ll admit upfront, that it’s probably not a good reason, but it’s that episodes like this are incredibly rare. The fact that I’ve been writing copy for 15 years and have had things like this happen literally, MAYBE 2-3 times – and never on a glaring level – underscores that. If most people were incredibly healthy and rarely if ever got sick in their entire lifetime, how many would invest in health insurance?

    Just having this discussion brings the issue to the front burner of our mind, which, in turn, makes it seem like it’s an everyday occurrence, and nothing could be further from the truth. And the reason it almost never happens is because of the nature of our business and that, unlike, straight articles, commercial projects are being professionally produced, and as such, are subject to many sets of eyes before they finally go to press. Not to mention that many projects are very light on copy (ads, direct mail campaigns, even brochures), so there’s fewer places to make errors. So, bottom line, errors are rare.

    And Michele, yes, the formal signoff doesn’t absolve one of moral responsibility. If this had been glaring, I would have pointed it out, and offered a discount, but it was a comma, which if you read it fast, you could pass right over. NOT great, but not in-your-face lethal.


  10. Lisa Manyon
    Lisa Manyon says:

    Hi Peter,

    Unfortunately typos do happen — even to the best of us. It’s always necessary to have more than one set of eyes review written material. That’s why I f I include a clause in all of my contracts that clearly states final proof reading is the responsibility of the client. I also have other solutions like a great relationship with a copy editor and for some projects I include that in the bid for the project. Most of the printers I work with are also very good about proofing before printing. Even thought that technically isn’t their job they want a proof perfect product, too.

    The process of including proofing responsibility in the contract ensures the final liability is that of the client. This eliminates any financial responsibility if typos do make it through to printing. And, of course, we hope they never do! ~


  11. Alan Stamm
    Alan Stamm says:

    Easy and risk-free (this time!) for me to frame this type of situation as an ideal oopportunity to solidify a relationship by showing honesty, integrity, professionalism and client-first prioritizing.

    Yes, I suggest proactively flagging the slip to your contact and offering to swallow the reprint cost IF s/he wants a do-over.

    And yes, of course I’d hope to heck the client says: “We’d never have noticed and neither will the vast majority of our readers . . . so let’s leave it.
    “The chairman and I are quite impressed by your openness and willingness to absorb the cost of a fix. That sure makes us even more comfortable about relying on you again, and recommending your services. We wish all our vendors were as honest.”

    It’s a longterm win, even a painful redo were involved.

  12. peter
    peter says:

    Thanks Alan,

    Sure know how to make a guy feel like a heel…;) I appreciate the idea, and if it were a true typo, as in misspelled word, I’d do what you suggest. Though chances are, she would have caught it herself if it were truly glaring (OR had it pointed to her by a client), so even more reason to do a pre-emptive strike when it’s a “neon-sign” kind of mistake. In this case, however – and yes, I know the odds are great she won’t want to reprint, but WILL appreciate my integrity – I’m not going to. And I’m OK with that… 😉


  13. Star
    Star says:

    I always have someone else proof. I am vision-impaired now so it’s even more important. I make lame typos all the time in blog comments, etc. Maybe even in this comment, who knows. I honestly think I would say something–offer to pay half. I doubt they will take you up on it–but the offer alone may save the client. This has happened to everyone. I once did a brochure for myself where the copy was so close on the address side that there was no room for any stamp or indicia made. I had to go back on the press. Ack! Always a horrible moment–I feel for ya. I also did a brochure once where the designer I picked used a stock so heavy it went to the next postage level! I offered to pay half–can’t remember if I had to or not–but they were NOT happy.

  14. bill
    bill says:

    Geez, misspellings and typos are so common these days that I wouldn’t lose sleep over it. I give a client clean copy, but I’m a writer, not a proofreader. If 6 or 7 set of eyes looked at a piece and everyone missed it, such is life. I sure wouldn’t alert the client to the error, because more likely than not, no one would ever notice it.

  15. peter
    peter says:

    Thanks Star and Bill,

    And while Bill, I agree with you that typos ARE common these days AND in this case, it’s NOT worth bringing up, I DO think we need to be proofreaders as well – whether it’s us doing it or hiring someone to do it. I say it’s one of the many things that add up to being well compensated as a writer: you’re turning in stellar copy that the client doesn’t have to go over with a fine-toothed comb. It’s all about making the client’s life easier and this is just one of the ways we do it. And the difference between a copywriter like me, who has an error slip through only once in blue moon and one whose copy routinely has a handful of them IS a big deal in the eyes of a client – and I think that’s as it should be. Here’s the thing: there are a lot of ways to put yourself ahead of the pack, and this is one of them, and the best part about it, is that it’s an easy one to achieve, given the investment of a little extra time or money to get it right.


  16. bill
    bill says:

    Yeah, Peter, but I think that’s really not the point. Sure, most of us read over our copy closely and turn in clean copy. That’s kind of a given to me. The real question, which introduced this post, is how upset to get over the occasional typo. Since I don’t plan to become perfect anytime in this lifetime, I accept some will get through on occasion. Such is life.

  17. peter
    peter says:


    Interesting discussion. Can’t argue with your logic, but I think it does depend on the severity of the typo. In this case, a stray comma wasn’t worth mentioning. But a glaring one? That gets a bit dicier… And if the client did discover it, I’m afraid I’d have a problem saying, in essence, “Well, Mr. Client, since I don’t plan to become perfect anytime in this lifetime, I accept some will get through on occasion. Such is life.” Not sure that would land well… 😉 But, fundamentally, you’re right. We do the best we can and cross that bridge when we have to and hopefully only on very rare occasions…


  18. John Paul
    John Paul says:

    Having worked in corporate marketing and training in my other life, we produced a lot of reports, promotional items, and training materials – and if a typo or some other visual error was found post-production, you would think it was the end of the world. And you know what, even if the error was minor, it WAS a big deal because it was a reflection of our efforts. Sure, mistakes happen, but I would never take the “nobody’s perfect/such is life” approach if an error slipped through…it certainly wouldn’t land well in my corporate job, or with my clients today. Like Peter said, hopefully this will happen only on very rare occasions.

    Not to belabor the point, but I had a book published a few years ago and it was proofread a million times – each time a draft was written, plus the final version before printing. A few months after it was published, I noticed a word was missing on one page. It was a relatively minor error and didn’t change the meaning of the sentence, but I was totally shocked that it slipped through. I thought it was omitted during typesetting, but, nope…the word was missing all the way back to my original first draft, some four years earlier. No one ever noticed it – myself, friends, proofreaders, the publisher – we all missed it! And to this day, it still bugs me! 🙂

    John Paul

  19. bill
    bill says:

    Well, of course, what I would think and what I would say are often entirely different things 🙂 I would never tell a client that. I would express concern about the mistake, if the client expressed concern, and then look into it and see how it happened, hoping someone else was at a fault. However, if I were the one to catch a typo in a printed document, I would see no reason to alert the client to that fact. Why give bad news unnecessarily? More likely than not, the mistake will never be noticed and if the material is ever reprinted — again, unlikely — it will be years from now. Why cause myself grief today for the sake of a small chance that somethig might be reprinted in the distance future when, for all I know, the client and I might have already parted ways?

    –Interesting discussion. Can’t argue with your logic, but I think it does depend on the severity of the typo. In this case, a stray comma wasn’t worth mentioning. But a glaring one? That gets a bit dicier… And if the client did discover it, I’m afraid I’d have a problem saying, in essence, “Well, Mr. Client, since I don’t plan to become perfect anytime in this lifetime, I accept some will get through on occasion. Such is life.” Not sure that would land well… But, fundamentally, you’re right. We do the best we can and cross that bridge when we have to and hopefully only on very rare occasions…


  20. ScullyWriter
    ScullyWriter says:

    Alan Stamm wrote:

    “Easy and risk-free (this time!) for me to frame this type of situation as an ideal oopportunity to solidify a relationship by showing honesty, integrity, professionalism and client-first prioritizing.”

    Alan, did you say “oopportunity”? I think you did. Alas, the irony. (Heehee! I think you just coined a phrase! Or should I say, coined a word?)

    Ten years ago I was working in a high-intensity corporate law firm. (No, I am not a lawyer… I just look like one.) One night I was working with this one associate who was poring over a one-page memo that was going to be the cover for a package we had to get out. If he found the *slightest* thing wrong with it, we had to fix it. (Well, *I* had to fix it.)

    I was amazed. At the time, I thought he was a little crazy.

    Now, ten years later, I am amazed at my former amazement.

    I can’t recall what kinds of things he was finding, partly because it was a long time ago, and partly because I can no longer process the concept of “typographical indifference.”

  21. peter
    peter says:


    As we’ve determined, it happens to the best of us, though truth be known, other than also misspelling “oopportunity” as did Alan, I can’t see another typo. If there IS one, shows my eyes are going and maybe I do indeed need to hire proofreaders from here on out… 😉 That said, while none of us wants to have a typo even in our blog comments, the stakes aren’t quite as high here…


  22. Graham Strong
    Graham Strong says:

    @ScullyWriter and PB – you both caught it!

    But that raises an interesting point. I feel that as a writer, I need to proof blog comments and even emails more carefully, including the casual ones. I guess it’s like one of those people from “What Not to Wear” being caught in sweatpants — tarnishes their image.


  23. ScullyWriter
    ScullyWriter says:

    1. Just to clarify, I was not saying “haha, Alan made a typo.” Merely that that particular one was ironic and intellectually interesting.

    2. Graham, I agree.

    3. Here’s another perspective on typos, albeit from a self-published author, not a copywriter:

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