Oh, we’ve all heard that truth before. Nobody’s perfect. Nowhere is this more true than in the writing and publishing business. We all make mistakes, ranging from little typos that are easily overlooked to horrible, glaring errors that leave us shaking our heads and wondering, “How in blazes did I miss that?”
Each time a new book is released by a publisher, it goes through a lengthy editing process. Even before that process begins, of course, the book’s author has reviewed the manuscript, reading through it to check for errors, inconsistencies, or other problems before submitting it to the publisher. That’s only the beginning.
The manuscript is next assigned to the editor, whose job it is to read it thoroughly and point out any errors or inconsistencies. He or she makes comments and suggestions and sends it back to the author.
Again, the author reads the manuscript.
The author responds to any comments and addresses issues the editor has found in the story, its structure, and its mechanics — the words themselves. Reading finished, it’s back once more to the editor.
Round 2 begins. Editor reads, comments, resends to the author. Author once more reads and responds.
And on it goes. Back and forth between author and editor, reading, re-reading, and working to ensure that the story is perfect. At last, the editing process is complete. Next stop? Proof-reading.
By this point, it would seem almost impossible for any errors to remain, right? Consider how many times the author and editors have both perused the manuscript. How could anything be missed? Unfortunately, it’s easy. After months of writing and weeks of editing, an author’s brain begins to dull. Our eyes glaze over. We know what we wrote — or at least, what we think we wrote, or what we intended to write. Little slip-ups happen. It’s all too easy to miss them.
Same with editors. After reading and re-reading the same story during several rounds of editing…yep, editors get a little bleary-eyed and a bit brain-dead, too. It happens. It’s one of the unfortunate parts of the process.
So, the story goes off to a proof-reader, someone with fresh eyes and a clear head. Following the proof-reading, the story comes back to the author again. “Read through it. Be sure it’s right.” We read. We smile. It’s done.
Almost. In this day of ebook publishing, the manuscript still requires formatting and finalizing. The publisher sends it to us again. Once more, we read through it. We add our dedication, include a short author bio, and provide a list of our previous books and social media links where readers may contact us.
Hallelujah! It’s done, at last. Really, truly, DONE.
And, it should be perfect. But, all too soon, we’ll discover that it’s not. Somehow, despite the fact that we’ve read the story multiple times — as has our hard-working editor — and even despite the fact that a proof-reader has combed through the manuscript looking for mistakes, sure as the sun rises in the east each morning, we’ll come across errors.
With my most recent release, Keeping Faith, I set myself a goal of seeing a 100% error-free story. I did my best. But now, as I’ve been reading through it, I’ve stumbled across a half-dozen mistakes. Women’s instead of woman’s. A word left out here and there. Up instead of out. An extra a in a sentence.
How does this happen?
I hate errors. I don’t like them when I read books by other authors, and I absolutely cringe when I find them in my own work. Obviously, I’m far from perfect, no matter how much time and effort I put into my own proof-reading and double-checking.
Of course, there are different degrees of errors.
#1 Is it really an error? Or am I just being too picky and persnickity?
I occasionally come across alright in place of all right. The latter is standard English, the former is not, but it’s widely accepted and frequently used. I hate it. But, it’s there, and maybe I should learn to accept it. I’ve also learned that language itself changes. I was taught to always set off too — as in the sentence: I, too, would like to go. Or this one: I want ice cream, too. According to today’s rules of grammar, those commas aren’t needed. Things change. It’s only old-fashioned, old-school fuddy-duddies like me who look upon these as errors. Oh, well.
#2 A slip of the finger.
Typos happen. I know what I’m saying and how to say it correctly, but my fingers are moving too fast. Letters get left-out or re-arranged. Words get run-together. Maybe my brain is even working too fast, and I type the wrong word without even noticing it. Yes, these little slips should be caught during the editing and proof-reading process, but sometimes, they’re not.
#3 Oh, I changed that!
One of the easiest — and most frustrating — ways errors happen is when an author quickly rewrites a sentence or two. Suppose I originally wrote this:
She laughed at the sight of the fellow standing before her, dressed in his clownish garb.
Now, imagine, for some reason, I decided to change it. Instead of saying “at the sight of” I want to say “when she saw”. I hurriedly back up and make the correction. Or so I think. Later, I discover that in my haste, I wasn’t as careful as I should have been, and the result looks something like this:
She laughed when she saw of the fellow standing before her, dressed in his clownish garb.
Readers, you’ve seen mistakes like this before, and you might have wondered what on earth the author was thinking. Well, now you know.
#4 Oops! Nobody caught that?
I’d like to think that because my story is so gripping, so engrossing, so attention-grabbing that a reader — even an editor — might get so lost in it, he or she could easily read right over a little inconsistency. More likely, it’s a simple case of being too busy, having too many distractions, or multi-tasking. Yes, in the final stages of the editing process, I’ve found inconsistencies. In one story, I realized a character’s eyes had changed from teal to dark brown. The little church in one story began as a wood-frame building but turned to stone later in the story. Yikes! Fortunately, I caught these errors in my final read-through, but sometimes they slip right on through to the final publication. If an author happens to rename a character while writing a story, a global “search and replace” can still miss instances of the name. Yes, mistakes happen.
#5 There’s really no excuse for this!
Now, we come to the biggies. The glaring errors that leave me — as a reader — baffled and bewildered. These are the errors that, like it or not, also cause me to cast serious aspersions on authors and publishers alike. I’m talking about those horrible, glaring errors that should never find their way into print — or an ebook. Consistently using the wrong word, such as lead for led is an error no author should make. Another is principle in place of principal , and vice-versa. I’ve seen abolition used in place of ablution, and president for precedent. Don’t get me started on the frequent mis-use of peak, peek, and pique, or other errors of that ilk. Sad to say, there are too many instances to list. Yes, mistakes happen. They happen all the time. But with at least three sets of eyes upon a story, how do these obvious, glaring errors get by? Of course, self-published authors may not subject their stories to multiple readings before publication. Most of the self-published authors I know, however, do edit their books carefully, often hiring editors and proof-readers. Still, horrible errors happen. I have no idea how.
These horrible errors also include mistakes in grammar, punctuation, and spelling. Intrequecies? How’s that? Did you mean intricacies? Oh, yes. I’ve seen some doozies — or, to put it kindly, examples of creative spelling.
I’ve also seen a lot of bad writing, and from a reader’s point of view, I see these as errors, too. When an author tells me that “From beneath her skirts, he saw lacy petticoats peeking out”, I wonder what the fellow is doing beneath the lady’s skirts in the first place. When I read that “he quickly walked up the side of the schoolhouse”, I have visions of some spider-like creature ascending the outer walls of the building.
Again, I’m left wondering.
How does this happen?
I’ve ranted enough now. Nobody’s perfect, and most likely once this post is published, I’ll read through it and find a few little errors I’ve made. If and when I do, I’ll quickly hit the EDIT button and correct my mistakes.
That’s something we all need to keep in mind. Nobody’s perfect. We all make mistakes. We can also correct those mistakes.
How does all of this affect readers? Does it have any effect at all? Do readers notice errors? Do readers care about them? Will a reader simply shrug and read on? Is there a limit to how many errors a reader will accept before she closes the book and sets it aside?
For me, an occasional error in a book I’m reading can be overlooked. Especially a little one. But constant misspellings, incorrect grammar, and atrocious writing will make me stop reading. For me, it’s too distracting. There are too many good stories out there waiting to be read. I won’t spend time on one that requires me to struggle as I’m reading.
But…I’m picky and persnickety. I’m a self-confessed member of the infamous “Grammar Police”. Yes, I’m that fussy old woman who walks through stores with a red pen in hand, correcting bad grammar on those signs that say:
I’d love to hear other opinions. Readers? Authors? Speak up. Let’s chat about it!