by Steve Laube
Writers make mistakes. It happens. Often an editor’s job is to be the safety net and catch those tidbits that find their way into an early draft of a manuscript for any number of reasons.
- The simplicity of “cut & paste” has created more opportunity for error than ever before. I’ve seen half sentences left in their original place because the writer failed to cut and paste accurately.
- Many books evolve over time with additional research or new thoughts. Errors can creep in this way. I’ve seen an author actually contradict himself between chapters.
- There are too many details to keep straight so the writer overlooks the inconsequential trusting the editor to fix things. I remember talking to a Bethany House editor who revealed that an author accidently brought a character back to life, forgetting that the character had died earlier in the story.
None of the above examples ever found their way into the final edition of the book and the public never knew the error was made. An editor caught it and fixed it. That is why errors found in a finished and published book are so jarring.
There is much talk about the ease of self-publishing and that traditional publishing is going to die the slow death of the dinosaur. But at the same time we read of complaints about poor editing in the plethora of self-published books.
This past weekend someone showed me a minor mistake in a recently self-published book by a well-known author who is diving into the “indie” world of publishing in addition to their traditional publishing efforts.
It is a simple error, not an egregious one. Early in the book a character has possession of a piece of jewelry that was apparently purchased at Target. Less than fifty pages later the same piece of jewelry is described as being purchased from Wal-Mart.
“Who cares? Really Steve, you shouldn’t be ranting about something so trivial.” That was the conversation in my head. But I bring it up anyway as a reminder to all writers and editors. We make mistakes. (And I would not like it if all my editorial and writing errors were exposed. It hurts enough to have my grammar corrected in the comment section below!) But when we do make mistakes the reader is pulled out of the story and the nature of the reading experience has been changed. The reader who found the above inconsistency did not come to me extolling the virtues of the story or its fine packaging or its literary style. Instead the conversation was about editorial errors and author errors.
The author missed it. The substantive editor missed it. I hope there was a copy editor who missed it. And I hope there was at least one, if not more, proofreaders who missed it. If so? Okay. It happens and we fix the file so that future editions will be corrected and we move on. At Bethany House Publishers we had a file on every book that when it came up for reprint we would fix the errors. In today’s digital world the e-book file can be corrected tomorrow and uploaded with relative ease. (It is not “easy” due to all the various outlets and file formats, but it is relatively easy.)
But if this Indie author did not run it past multiple editors with a variety of skill sets (substantive, copy-edit, and proofreading), then we may have a problem. And one that is showing up with more frequency as we cut editorial corners, both in the Indie community and the traditional publishing houses.
Am I making a mountain out of a molehill? Yes, and I apologize for the bombast. It is done to make a point about the need for excellence in all things. Our readers demand it. They are a relentless group of people who deserve our best. They find typos and are annoyed. They find errors like the example above and make that a topic of conversation. And after a while they stop trusting us to provide them with information and entertainment that exhibits the finest we can produce. Yes, we all make errors and it isn’t always a big deal. Let’s just make sure we have worked our very best to ensure that it doesn’t happen again.
What errors have you found in a book recently that made you sigh with exasperation?