Should an author… 10


…ever admit that there are errors in their book?

Books are written by human beings. They’re edited by other humans. And, as we all must admit, humans are flawed. We miss things. We make mistakes.

Always remember to proof read carefully to see if you any words out

As a writer, I find it almost impossible to read my own copy — I see what I think I wrote, and my brain fills in missing words. Microsoft Word gives me a little red squiggly line pointing out if I have duplicate words at least.  Then there are the weirder things I’ve missed — like changing the sex of a pronoun so all of a sudden “he’s pregnant” instead of “she’s pregnant”.  Ooops.

I don’t write in what I can call “this is my first draft, this is my second draft, this is my third draft” stage since I constantly go back and re-read what I’ve worked on and tweak during each “draft”.  So I may have read each line hundreds of times. That’s what also causes some problems — I may have tweaked a line by moving it to what I deemed a better spot and it creates a paradox.  In its original position, he’s still dressed, but in the new position, he’s in bed and naked. Yet he puts his hands in his pockets. Or I’ve changed my mind about some detail, or just plain forgotten, so on page 3 he has green eyes while on page 93 he has blue. Ooops.

That’s just one reason why I rely upon my beta readers and critique partners — they see the things I’ve missed. I generally have at least two others read my manuscripts before I submit them to my editor. Once they’ve sent me back their suggestions I go through the manuscript again. (Usually I print it off — for some reason, seeing it on paper makes things I miss on the screen jump out at me.) And I still manage to miss things. 

Once she’s offered a contract, my editor then goes through the manuscript and makes suggestions for plot changes as well as pointing out any errors. She then sends it back to me to make the changes. Once I’m done, she goes through it again and accepts my changes, then forwards it to a final line editor (who checks grammar, punctuation, and continuity, and repetitions, amongst other things.  Some publishing houses also used to have special editors to check things like historical facts, but that was a few years ago and with all the cutbacks the industry has faced, I’m not sure if that is an option anymore.) The Final Line Editor sends the manuscript back to my editor who goes through the FLE’s notes and makes more notes to add to those, then sends it back to me to correct yet again. Once I’ve gone through and accepted the changes, deleted half the overused em-dashes and even more of the repetitive whens and thats, and made sure the eye color is consistent all the way through 😉 I send the corrected manuscript back to my editor who goes through it yet another time.

Then she sends it to the person who sets it up for the various formats for release.  Once it’s properly formatted, they send it back to me yet again for the final proofread. By this point, I’m usually so sick of the manuscript it’s a chore to read it.  (I’ve heard of authors who read the manuscript in reverse as it forces their eyes not to anticipate what they think is going to be said.) And yes, I still find things we’ve all missed. But ultimately, that final proofread is all on me.

Yet still errors manage to make it through the system.

But you can bet readers pick up on those errors.

I should also mention that some things that readers think are errors aren’t. Often times when I’m watching a movie, I’ll drag out my iPad and pull up the IMDB app — I love that site. I love the trivia section, but I also check out the error section. In that error section there’s a category called “Incorrectly Regarded as Goofs“. That happens in books too.

Is there anything wrong with this paragraph?

‘I am sorry we cannot be of more help,’ Anna said. ‘As you know, we have a stake in this — and no one wants another person dead.  Perhaps if we knew more about the fae who took her or what exactly the killer was doing to his victims.’ She paused and said delicately, ‘Or is that “killers”?’

Patricia Briggs, Fair Game

Before I was published, I took a grammar class from a lady who teaches grammar at University of Toronto, and also worked as an editor for Harlequin. She told the story of how a book that had been edited using English grammar standards and had been successfully released in England was later released in the States. The powers that be at Harlequin decided that since it had been through editing already, they shouldn’t need to re-edit it. So it was published with the English grammar standards. So yes, words like colour and valour and honour all had the u that has been dropped by the Americans.  But the punctuation was different too.  Instead of dialogue being enclosed in double quotes, English dialogue uses single quotes. Just like the example above. According to her, Harlequin was then flooded with complaints about how terrible the editing was, offering to come work for them because their editors were obviously not fit to edit.

I should also mention that grammar rules are fluid. That most American authors and publishers use a book (and site) called The Chicago Manual of Style that sets out the guidelines for punctuation and other grammatical issues.  And that CMoS, as it’s often shortened to, changes and updates every so often. So the rules I learned in high school and college, about comma placement have changed.

Which is correct?

I liked it too.

I liked it, too.

According to the way I was taught at school? The second version. According to the latest version of CMoS? The first. (According to my editor. And it makes me cringe every single time. Don’t even get me started about whether it should be “too” or “as well.”) And each publisher has their own particular “style sheet” that may be different from another publisher.

So what should a reader do? Should they email the author to say “Hey, did you know…?”

If it’s a self-pubbed book, I say yes, let the author know. I really appreciated it when I was told of a couple errors that had been missed in the original edition of Perfect Proposal. (And yes, I went through a very similar process as above before I published it — I sent it out to several other author friends of mine, and hired my Carina editor who also freelances.  Yet errors still made it through.) The beauty of self-publishing meant I had the power to make the changes and upload the new version to the various vendors. So readers could download the newer version, and future buyers would never see those errors.

BUT, if it’s not a self-pubbed book, especially if it’s in print, there’s nothing an author can do about it once it’s “out there.”

If it’s really bothering the reader, they can contact the publisher and let them know. Maybe if they do a second print run they might fix it? (It’s doubtful.)  E-publishers such as Samhain used to tell their readers that if they found an error in a book to let them know because they could correct it. I’m not sure what the policy is anymore now that most digital books are sold through third party vendors these days.

What about bigger issues? Should authors publicly acknowledge errors, as Diana Gabaldon did on her F.A.Q. page? (When her Outlander was being printed as Cross Stitch in England, her proofreader said it really should have been set in 1946, not 1945, to properly reflect the conditions in England and Scotland at the time. The English book was changed, but the American book couldn’t be.)  Or should they ignore it, and move on? 

As a reader, what effect do errors have on you?  Do you contact the author? The publisher? Does it change your buying habits?


10 thoughts on “Should an author…

  • Marika Weber

    As a reader little mistakes do not take away from the book. Everyone is human and it happens. That said, I HATE when a reviewer takes off for that in a review. Its not the author’s fault. Things like that are going to happen sometimes.

    Now, if the book is completely riddled with errors than yes, it is distracting. In fact, I had to stop beta reading for an author because the formatting was so off and the sentences were completely out of whack. I was getting a headache.

  • JoAnne Kenrick

    Absolutely fascinating blog and thanks for raising such an interesting question. I shall be watching to see how folks respond!
    As for me, I say let those eyes skim those errors if they are few and far between, and just enjoy the story. It’s already published, so it’s not like the author can do anything about it. I’m sure getting an email, letting the author about a slew of errors in one of their books would be like getting a stinking review. They can’t change it. And it ruined that readers experience. Yeah. I’m sure they won’t feel fantastic about that. Perhaps if it bothered the reader so much, an email to the publisher would be more appropriate. unless of course it’s self-pubbed.

  • fedora

    Awesome post, Leah–as an editor (and all around picky person ;)), I do find excessive errors distracting and as you mentioned, if it’s a self-published book, I’d consider letting the author know in case she wants to look over the list 🙂 On the other hand, I mainly read for the story, so if you’re doing a great job with that and the characters, chances are I’m skimming over those errors for the pleasure of the journey.

    As Marika mentioned, I don’t think that reviews should necessarily focus on grammatical errors, but if the story isn’t compelling, I know that I will find even more “excuses” to look for problems! Not that your stories EVER slip into that area!

    • Leah B

      What about bigger issues, Fedora? Story issues? Someone uses the wrong type of gun, or has some device in the wrong era or something like that? Is it worth mentioning to the author? Or the publisher?

      • Fedora

        Yes, if I cared enough about the author and the story, yes, I probably would let her know so that if she could, she could address it in a revision. So, if you ever hear from me, Leah, you know it’s because I love 🙂

  • Karla Doyle

    Great post, Leah. And you’re so right about our eyes seeing what they want to see. Despite what felt like a bazillion reads by myself and two betas, my editor still found a scene where my hero was um…pleasuring himself, orally…and no, he definitely wasn’t supposed to be doing that! (Pretty sure I didn’t write him as being *that* flexible.) LOL.

    Mistakes do happen, even with all of the sets of eyes that read a manuscript prior to publication. This is what I do when I find them in a published book:
    “Huh, somebody missed that one.”
    And I continue reading. If it was a big enough error to reduce my enjoyment of the story, I’d quit reading and move on to another book in my giant TBR list. It has never occurred to me to let anybody know about wardrobe glitches or eye-color changes, etc.

    In your reply to Fedora, you asked if issues such as wrong information about a gun, etc., should be brought to the author or publisher’s attention. I haven’t seen something like that myself, but in that case, I might email the publisher/author with links to a reputable information source. Then again, maybe I wouldn’t bother. I suppose it would depend on how much the mis-information bugged me.

    • Leah B

      Karla, you’re right, mistakes do happen. I like to try to take the “huh, somebody missed that one” attitude too.

      I think the biggest “glitch” I can think of happening was when about ten pages was left out of a particular NY pubbed author’s book (I won’t name names). I’m hoping that was a printer error, and not a manuscript error. But oh man, wouldn’t that be awful? Both for the reader, and the author.

  • Cynthia D'Alba

    Screw-ups happen. Eye color or wrong gun usually goes right past me. No problem.

    One of the biggest screw up I remember was with a Stuart Woods book. At the end of book XXX, the girlfriend of Stone Barrington (the her) had a baby girl. When the child was mentioned in the next book, the gender had changed to a baby boy. It was an error but it at least the child remained a male in future books.

    • Leah B

      Ouch — changing sex between books. That’s … yeah, that’s big. It’s sort of like Patricia Cornwell’s books — her character’s niece was 10 in one book, then jumped to being 18 or so in the next, though only a year or so had passed. But I think she said she did it deliberately…still…

  • Joan Leacott

    Most errors don’t bug me, unless the story is starting to bore me. Then it’s reason enough to move on. If I know the author, I’ll send her an email. I catch a lot of those errors in my own work by using a text-to-speech program (MS Word 2010 comes with it built in) to get my computer to read the text back to me. Silicone Sally doesn’t auto-correct like humans do, so all those little he/she it/at things get caught as does awkward phrasing.

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