Thursday, January 21, 2010

Errors in books and manuscripts

I must confess: I’m a perfectionist, and never more so than when it comes to spelling, grammar and punctuation. So such mistakes do stand out to me. Even the errors I don’t notice, in my manuscripts, will be caught by my editor(s).

But what about writers who don’t notice mistakes/typos and who may not have editors? Anyone being printed by a vanity press is unlikely to have an editor – in fact, with many vanity presses, editing costs extra. MS Word’s spellcheck feature isn’t an adequate substitute. And writers who are self-published may have to hire editors, which is an additional cost.

As a result, many self-published or vanity-printed books are released with errors in them. That can be a learning experience for the writer. Or it can be excused away with justifications.

Other books have mistakes too.

My favorite example of this? A vanity-printed writer once expressed concern about the typos and grammatical problems in her book. Another writer (with the same press) told her,

Don't worry about a few insignificant mistakes. I have a copy of the first edition of "Gone With the Wind." It has six mistakes that didn't distract from great writing.

Man. Where to start?

Firstly, a new book by an unknown author can’t be compared to the Great American Novel. Secondly, I’m willing to bet that that writer’s book was considerably shorter. Six mistakes over the course of 1048 pages aren’t as noticeable as, say, six mistakes in 200 pages.

Finally, the one thing I do agree with is that GWTW has great writing. If a writer feels that his or her work is as good, such that it will compensate for errors and typos… well, the royalty statements will tell.

It doesn’t matter to me whether every other book published has mistakes or not – mine are going to be as clean and tidy as possible before they’re released.

The mistakes won’t interfere with the story.

This one’s a bit trickier because I can think of an exception to it.

I read Margaret Weis’s and Don Perrin’s The Doom Brigade and thoroughly enjoyed it. Stories told from the point of view of antagonists who have lost a war (and are now just trying to survive) are inherently interesting. So when I heard there was a sequel - Draconian Measures - I bought it at once, sight unseen.

There were two glaring errors in that book. One is where a gagged character screams for help, and the second is where an Aurak’s wings are described as “trembling in fear”… except the Aurak are the only draconian sub-class which doesn’t have wings. I still finished the book – it wasn’t really memorable, but it was a pleasant read.

On the other hand, those mistakes were jarring. When they turned up, I went over the relevant parts of the story for a second time to see if I’d misread something. So that did distract me from the story a little. I liked the characters very much – and if I like characters, I’ll put up with a lot of problems – but that won’t be the case for all books. Or all potential readers, for that matter.

It also helped that these errors didn’t crop up until at least the halfway point of the book. By then I was more or less settled in, curious to see what would happen to the draconians. If the problems had been evident earlier – and if I had been reading the first few pages in the bookstore to see if the book was worth buying – there might have been a different outcome.

Readers are forgiving.

Some are, some aren’t. And even if readers enjoy the story, excuse the mistakes or believe that if you can’t say something positive, you shouldn’t say anything at all, are unbiased reviewers likely to feel the same way?

Personally, I believe that a writer who doesn’t accept those excuses is more likely to improve than one who does.


Barbara Martin said...

Common typos are not that bad. I remember reading several books printed by TOR and BAEN years ago where sections of the story were actually missing. In one case there was a double section of the same thing.

An ARC I'm reading now has several typo errors in it which hopefully will be caught by the time it goes to the final print.

This is quite the problem in all books and manuscripts.

Mary Witzl said...

Typos drive me wild. Worse mistakes than that really stay in my mind. I comb over everything I write and keep an eagle eye out for typos. That actual published books have them is just unforgivable.

And that comment about GWTW...surely that should be 'detract', not 'distract' from great writing?

Anonymous said...

If I'm reading and enjoying a book, a few typos don't bother me. I put it down to human error. No one's perfect.

In my own work, I am as meticulous as possible.

Marian Perera said...

Barbara - That's exactly what I'd like to see done with typos: catch them before the book goes to print. Writers without editors do have to work harder, even if other books have typos in them.

Mary - Good catch! Of course, I'd have expected as much from an English teacher. :)

Tasha : So am I. Heck, I comb my blog posts for misspellings, so I'm almost obsessive when it comes to manuscripts.