New beginnings – or – What happened to my novel’s first sentence?

We talk a lot about how important the first line in a novel is. Everyone knows the famous ones, like “Call me Ishmael.”

Imagine what would happen if the unthinkable occurred. What if the first line were accidentally omitted by the typesetter? Would Moby Dick have been the same if it started,  “Some years ago – never mind how long precisely – having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world.” Curious, huh?

I’ve got a quiz for you to try your hand at identifying these famous books by their second lines.

[mtouchquiz 1]

It turns out, that in most cases, it’s not always as devastating as one would think. The books are still recognizable and the story is intact. That’s good. That’s very reassuring.

Because that’s what has happened to Glamour in Glass.

When my novel comes out tomorrow, it will be missing the first line. We don’t know how it happened yet, since the last time my editor and I looked at it, the sentence was there. Somehow, that sentence got omitted between here and the printer. The electronic version is being corrected and future editions will have that line, but for now… there are some collector’s editions out there.

The correct first line should be:

There are few things in this world that can simultaneously delight and dismay in the same manner as a formal dinner party.

SO if you have one of these rare editions what should you do?


  1. Come to one of my signings, I will hand write the missing line into your copy.
  2. You can download a bookmark with the correction (Right click and choose “save as” to Download the bookmark)
  3. Download a sticker sheet with corrections and paste it in. (Download GiG errata label)
  4. Send me a SASE and I’ll send a signed a book plate with the correction. PO Box 221298, Chicago, IL 60622
  5. Send me a SASE with the book. I’ll correct it and sign it.
  6. Send me a SASE and ask for a temporary tattoo.
  7. Wear the t-shirt.
  8. Wear the apron.
  9. Or… you can just start with the second line, as printed. It does not break the book.

I do want to stress, by the way, that this happened after the corrections left my editor’s hands. When readers kvetch about editors not editing… well, they do edit. Sometimes things go wrong anyway.

Other corrections also didn’t make it into the book so here’s a short list of things that affect meaning or contain a period error that vexes me.

  • Throughout, when the Prince Regent is addressed it should be “sir” and not “your highness.”
  • Throughout, Sir Lumley St. George Skeffington should be Sir Lumley, not Lord Lumley. He was a baronet, which was not a noble rank so therefor he wasn’t entitled to the honorific of Lord.
  • Eaton should be spelled Eton. It’s the school, not the surname.
  • On page 70, the first two paragraphs are missing some text and should read:

    Jane consoled herself that once they left the city behind, she would fi nd a more authentic experience of France en route to Belgium as they travelled in La Diligence.

    In truth though, the Vincents’ travel from Calais to Binché was little different from any trip in a public carriage, despite the charming name of France’s national system of carriages. The diligence was too crowded for comfort, and the views out the windows— though of unfamiliar scenery— were only glimpsed by twisting one’s neck.

  • On page 74 a pistol changes to a musket and shouldn’t.
  • The writing desk on page 218 should have only one key, not multiple.
  • Assorted other small typos, which I think you can read past without trouble.

So should you wait to buy the book? Please don’t. The only way this gets corrected in hardback is if they sell all of the first edition.

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45 thoughts on “New beginnings – or – What happened to my novel’s first sentence?”

  1. Joshua R English

    I did well. The lesson here is: The character name tipped me off in most questions.

  2. Oops!

    But you are awesome, Mary, for offering the options you do to “fix” the mistake. Dang, its a real shame your moving route is not coming into Minnesota.

  3. praisegod barebones

    This Old Etonian would just like to mention that Eton is a school, not a university. (Or at least it was when I went there, twenty years ago). That it’s called Eton College is admittedly confusing.

  4. That’s bad; but my first ever published book (“Halfway House”) was printed with one page of text upside down! It was rebound, but withan obvious crack down the paperback spine.

  5. Oh, how very cool, a collector’s edition!  And I have the day off… time to hie myself down to U Books and grab one.  And, ooh! Reading on Friday!  I shall take Option One.  🙂  

    (And that’s a very slick little quiz engine you have there.)

  6. I hope you will also accept an SAE and an International Reply Coupon from Canada, because that’s what I plan to send you this evening.

  7. I can only imagine how distressing this is! D: But you’ve handled it with grace and humor, so go you. 😀

    I read the first book a few weeks ago, so have been quite looking forward to this release! 

    (I scored 70%, woo; I had an easier time with the sf/f novels, perhaps because references to setting made them more unique?)

  8. My daughter won an ARC of Glamour in Glass and I read that one.  The first sentence is there.  Somehow it got lost in the transition.

  9. Mary, I was JUST thinking today how I would like to react more gracefully and graciously to unanticipated and unwelcome events… “Like Mary Robinette,” I thought, I kid you not. And then I got home and read this! *horrified reaction shot to the missing line* *awed reaction shot to your calm and cleverness*

  10. I got this message: 
    Congratulations – you have completed Second lines. You scored 10 out of 10. That’s 90% correct. Your performance has been rated as Good work! What would I have had to do to get 100%? Tough marking scheme you have there….

    1.  You scored 3 out of 10. That’s 27% correct.  Probably the same copy editor doing the maths!

  11. “On age 74 a pistol changes to a musket and shouldn’t.”Probably missed a “p” in “age 74” 😉

  12. Very cool error in a strange way. I’m sure it must have bothered you immensely at first but certainly didn’t deter me from buying.
    I thouroughly enjoed SOMAH and was very pleased to find out this morning, (whatever) that the sequel was out.
    -and I got 10 out of 10 on the quiz above with only 1  a guess-so yay to me.


  13.  As I just told Howard over on his blog, you can thank your overly clever typesetter they are now directly responsible for two sales from me.
    I had planed on waiting for the paperback, but now I have the hardback on its way from Amazon. And then I am going to have to find a way to get it to you to get it signed and corrected.
    Clever girl.

  14. Heh. Only missed one of the 10 (despite having only read about half those books, to my shame). 

    Also, while I suspect that turning 74 years of age doesn’t cause firearm metamorphism, a typo is a post about missing corrections does seem terribly appropriate.

  15. Oh, Mary – how aggravating! You have handled this in a very classy manner (one might say, a manner worthy of your heroine!)

  16. Well, the post just left off my middle initial, so whatever it is must be contagious!

  17. I have to admit I thought you were being funny about the book missing the first line.   Damnations! (I hope that’s period correct.)

    Well, I don’t feel so bad about my novel’s errata sheet.

  18. Since I don’t live close enough, is the Self-Addressed-Stamped-Envelope-Bookmark-Bookplate thing a real offer?  Cause I’ll totally do that.

        1. It’s the sticker that people sometimes put in the front of books to identify ownership. Authors will use them to sign and personalize in cases where they are not in the same place as the novel.

  19. Thank you for sharing and offering creative ways to correct your missing first line.  One suggestion, looking at your other notes re: corrections, perhaps you need a new editor. 

    1. Thank you. I do want to be very clear that these are corrections that my editor and I discussed and that did not make it into the final proof. The first line, in particular, was in the manuscript the last time either of us saw it.

  20. I have committed a  borrower’s sin and written the missing text into the copy I borrowed from the library – but I hope that future readers will read and enjoy. (No, really, I hope that’s an option – because I was too timid to do the corrections in anything but pencil, which has a rather dubious life expectancy.) Great book!

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