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November 30, 2012 / benrovik

On Tough Love And Typos

Confession time.

I’ve been intending to start reviewing books here, focusing specially on free books because I’m poor.  And I’d been really looking forward to getting on my high horse for the first book in the review docket because this author committed the cardinal sin of the indie: he left TYPOS in the manuscript.

Giving indies a bad name– taking respect in your product– understanding your craft– rawr rawr rawr rawr

Oh man, it was gonna be great!  And I felt completely justified in my loftiness because I KNEW I wasn’t the kind of author who would ever let such things slide in MY books.

And then, the very morning I was planning to write that review, I saw a review of The Mask And The Master that included the following:

“Now, I’ve seen much worse editing than this, but then I’ve seen some extremely bad editing. Here, there are missing spaces, there are missing words, there are partly-revised sentences with doubled-up words…”

And my glass house had been so beautiful, too.

First, let me say that I’m very grateful that the reviewer took the time to point these problems out.  I took months to edit Mask/Master.  I had an editor and beta readers, and I combed through carefully to catch as many typos as I could. But typos are pernicious and tiny and, clearly, fell through the cracks in this case.

Without actually being told about these problems, I would have continued blithely promoting the book unaware of these flaws, figuring that I’d caught all the technical problems during that process.  Now that I know about them, I can take the time to correct the problems and publish a new edition that’s up to a more professional standard.

But the fact that this review showed up just before I was about to write a smug, superior review based (in large part) on the proliferation of typos in another indie author’s work made me stop and think.

When there are typos in a book published by a Big Six publisher, do we disparage the author and say that he/she has no respect for craft?  No intelligence?  No ability to string words together?  No!  We blame a big, faceless process, overworked copy editors, and a rushed production schedule.  The blame gets really diffused, and it’s much easier to ignore the errors and judge the book for its artistic merits.

But with a self-published title, there’s nowhere for the blame to hide.  When typos– especially lots of egregious ones– are still lingering in a book that the indie author is offering for sale, my sense is that, as readers, we think badly of that person, not some nebulous process.  My gut says that the little guy/girl publishing indie books is much more likely to get negative reviews for minor typos than some very successful late-career author with the same errors.  When you consider the fact that the author who’s already made it could care less about a little bad feedback, while the new writer could have an otherwise good book really hamstrung by a few slapdash one-star-reviews, it’s enough to give me pause.

What does this add up to?

Addressing typos is important.  I think that indie authors have an obligation to publish books that are as free of errors as possible.

But I was a little humbled by that review, even though it said otherwise nice things.  It made me realize that there’s a reason publishing has historically been the purview of an army of white-collar worker bees, and not authors putting their stuff out independently.  It takes a lot of mind-numbing work to go through a 130,000+ word novel and ensure that it has absolutely no formatting or typographical errors, especially if (like me) you’re working on spec, puttering away until your series takes off and you’re making a living at it.  You can do everything right, like getting an editor and other readers involved, and still not catch all the problems.

Luckily, there’s an awesome thing about ebooks.  It’s really easy to upload new editions.  Correcting typos in a print run of 50,000 copies takes a lot of white-out and doesn’t look so good.  Correcting typos on Amazon is just about uploading a corrected file.  Problem solved!

So there’s a new edition of Mask/Master on the way very soon, with (hopefully) no typos, and a few other new features.

And as I start posting reviews here, I’ll mention typos, but I won’t harp on them.  And if it’s a review of an indie book, I think I’m going to contact the author directly and let him/her know of the errors I’ve found.  If months and months go by and no new edition is released, then maybe I’ll get snarky at them here on the blog.  But there are plenty of other things to talk about in a review, and you’d probably rather read a deeper analysis than “typos. 1 star” anyway.

Not that I’m capable of deep analysis, but you get the drift.

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  1. Scott J. Robinson / Dec 1 2012 4:23 am

    I think if you’re noticing lots of typos a lot of times it’s indicative of some other problem, ie, if you’re into the story it’s less likely you’ll notice such things. Not always, of course, but some times.

    • benrovik / Dec 3 2012 7:12 pm

      Great point. I remember a radio DJ talking about a concert where she found herself more interested in the label art on the beer she was drinking than the band onstage. If your audience is getting distracted by little things, that means you have to work harder to earn their attention.

  2. helsworth / Feb 23 2013 3:32 pm

    Having recently launched my debut novel, I know there are still errors left over. Plot holes, that’s a whole different story. For that there’s no excuse from the author, however, the former is not the case. It’s really hard, because your eyes are seeing what your ears are saying. When I did the revisions and editing, I read out loud, as if reading to an audience. But letters out of place still remain. These errors just hide in plain sight, because once you’re reading, your mind knows the story, the scene; so you’re reading differently (the correct way it should be, while your eyes don’t alert you of these damned little flees).
    It’s not easy. All the stuff is going through your mind. You’ve got the story at hand, thoughts about the sequel, thoughts about marketing and promotion and book price. What’s fair, what’s not. You’re doing the book cover. You’re doing the researching. You’re doing the editing. And you’re not writing some crummy 20k words, you’re writing over 100k. There’s so much to cover and control.
    As you said, even with beta readers and proof-reading, errors are still going to be left unsolved.
    As long as the reader understands the meaning of the line; I don’t think eyes will bleed (at least not that much).
    And I agree with Mr. Robinson’s above post. When you’re into the story, you’re attuned to the essence and the melodic tune of the words, not the form itself.
    That being said, I don’t think typos should influence the stars of any review. BUT the reviewer must point out the level of such errors, if they’re spammed or really bad in their essence: “We loving to see you here so long ago.”
    The above line is an exaggeration. I don’t think logic consistency is a problem with ebooks from indies. But sabotaging someone’s work, on account of it having bearable typos isn’t fair at all.
    Traditional publishers have loads of people working on proofing and the like. Most of the times, an indie author works alone, and has to multitask. But since he or she is not charging 10 bucks for it, but rather around 2.99 to 3.99. I think people should have empathy towards the situation of indie authors. Some of them don’t even have English as their first language, and they earn less from sales than their american and british counterparts.


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