Details, Details (Do They Matter?)

I was chatting with a reader the other day who told me about an advertisement she’d received about a new book.

She said, “I read the sample, but then the author said that Black-eyed Susans bloomed in May, but they don’t bloom until August. I didn’t buy the book.”

“Did you like the story otherwise?” I asked.

“Yes.”

“But you’re not going to buy the book?” I’m sure my tone registered surprise.

“No. I just couldn’t get over the Black-eyed Susans being wrong.”

I just entered the phrase, “When do black-eyed Susans bloom” in my search engine. In response I was greeted with a box saying “From June to October” in huge letters.

That’s all the author needed to do to keep from making this error.

My point? You never know what might keep a reader from either finishing your book or simply not buying it to start with. But let’s at least do our best to make our books as error-free as possible.

Your turn:

Have you stopped reading a book because of what might be considered a minor error?

If you found an error in a book, would you notify the author or publisher? Why or why not?

If your book had an error after printing, would you want a reader to tell you?

 

 

51 Responses to Details, Details (Do They Matter?)

  1. Avatar
    Michael Emmanuel March 31, 2016 at 4:21 am #

    I’ve had to take breaks from reading books but I got back to reading the stories. With the knowledge that publishing a book involves a lot of work, I wouldn’t inform the reader or publisher. I would rather wait till I get a book out with no reported error. And even that doesn’t guarantee its absence.

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    Ane Mulligan March 31, 2016 at 5:08 am #

    I absolutely would! I try to get things right. I research a lot, so these things don’t happen. But if I missed one, I’d want to know.

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    Diana Harkness March 31, 2016 at 5:17 am #

    Details are tremendously important. I have stopped reading a book because the author was not informed on her subject. If this was a pre-publication printing, I would inform the author. If it was already printed and not likely to go to a 2nd printing, I would do nothing. Simply reading that something happened which could not have, takes the book into the realm of fantasy. If that’s what it is, then the author can create any world they like. But if the book is set in this world, the elements of the book must conform to what actually happens or has happened in this world.

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    Jennifer March 31, 2016 at 5:19 am #

    I wouldn’t quit reading over a minor detail but I have stopped when a writer “suspended” belief…

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      Cynthia Herron March 31, 2016 at 8:45 am #

      Jennifer, I think that’s such a great point. Minor details may grate on my nerves, but if something feels off-key or unrealistic with plot or scenario, then Houston–we have a problem.

      For instance, social workers don’t just “take” children. There are state rules, regs, and laws governing specific situations and rightfully so. As someone who’s worked in this field, it would definitely bother me if the author painted an implausible story with incorrect info/details. It’s a little (or BIG) matter of research.

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    Jackie Layton March 31, 2016 at 5:31 am #

    If the minor detail was at the beginning of the story, and I didn’t know the author, I’d keep reading. But if I came across another minor detail, I’d probably quit.

    If the book is by one of my favorite authors, I’d keep reading. Would I tell them? I’d have to know the author well enough to share, and I’d do it in the most loving way possible because I wouldn’t want to hurt anybody’s feelings on purpose.

    Would I want to know? Absolutely. Your post today will encourage me to help an author the next time I come across one of these minor details.

  6. Avatar
    Richard Mabry March 31, 2016 at 5:33 am #

    I talked with an editor once who was reading a book by a NYT best-selling author, only to stop because she found an error in it. I’ve found medical errors in books by other best-selling authors, but other than shaking my head at his lack of research (to which he admits), I didn’t stop. I guess it depends on the person–and how good the book is otherwise.

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    Connie Stevens March 31, 2016 at 5:41 am #

    I wouldn’t quit reading over one minor error, especially if the story itself was good. But if I encountered three or four errors that could have been avoided by a little research, or if I encounter incorrect word usage (one of my pet peeves) I might set the book aside. The thing is, errors do two things: they cause me to lose respect for the editor/publisher, and make me much less likely to buy any more books from that author.

    • Avatar
      Tamela Hancock Murray March 31, 2016 at 2:19 pm #

      Connie, you raise a good point that though it’s the writer’s job to write and research well, the editor’s job is important also. I have read many book reviews with the statement, “This author needed more editing.”

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    Beverly Brooks March 31, 2016 at 5:51 am #

    A wake-up call. Thanks for the nudge in the right direction.

    My response to minor errors – I agree it depends on how good that story is but … one is enough to surmount.

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    Jeanne Takenaka March 31, 2016 at 5:59 am #

    A minor detail wouldn’t keep me from reading a book. I read a book by a bestselling author who misspelled a VERY well known ski resort in my state through the entire book. Overall the story was good, but that fact bugged me.

    Something that stopped me from finishing a book was implausible character actions—a character hating a character in one scene and kissing hated character in the next scene. Those things are enough to make me put it down.

    I appreciate your nudge to do our research, because the last thing we want is for a reader to put our books down, and worse to decide not to pick up our next one.

    • Avatar
      Tamela Hancock Murray March 31, 2016 at 11:55 am #

      Jeanne, I hate when an author gets anything about Virginia wrong. You were kind to stay with a book with such a misspelling throughout!

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    Yaasha Moriah March 31, 2016 at 6:09 am #

    I don’t think I’ve ever stopped reading a book because of a minor error, but I have ranted to my family about the mistake and we’ve all either laughed at it or shaken our heads. But an error like that isn’t enough to stop me from reading a book–unless I dislike the book for other reasons (poor writing quality, dull plot, etc). Would I tell an author about that mistake? Unless I knew the author, probably not.

    As for my own books, if I found errors after printing, yeah, I’d like to know. I’d keep track of the errors brought to my attention and, when it seemed like good timing, I’d release a second, corrected edition. I really, really try to do my research and proofreading ahead of time–at times, so fanatically that my friend quipped, “I’m sure if you find an error after printing, we’ll have to call the men in white coats to come for you”–but I’ve also learned that mistakes are human and we can’t let them distract us from the future. Correct what you can, then move forward.

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    Vickie Petz Henderson March 31, 2016 at 6:37 am #

    Though I have never stopped reading a book I have cringed. My family refuses to watch medical dramas with me since I am a physician and want to correct every inaccuracy. I guess it is no fun for any of us.

    When my children were young we read all of the books in the Nancy Drew series. We still laugh about a description of “identical” twins, a boy and a girl. Nope, that’s not identical!

    • Avatar
      Carol Ashby March 31, 2016 at 7:42 am #

      Vickie, I’m like you except for science fiction. Every time movies include sounds when something explodes in outer space, I smirk or cringe. (Sound is a pressure wave in matter, and in a vacuum like space, there is no sound.)

      I have a female friend with a twin brother. The doctor told her mother to count how many asked if they were identical, and it was more than twenty.

      • Avatar
        Vickie Petz Henderson March 31, 2016 at 11:35 am #

        I also have a female friend with a twin brother. Whenever she was asked that question she always pretended to look down her shirt before she answered.

    • Avatar
      Cynthia Herron March 31, 2016 at 8:56 am #

      Vickie, I’m smiling. ER was such a fave of mine. I always wondered if physicians critique medical shows.

      • Avatar
        Vickie Petz Henderson March 31, 2016 at 11:33 am #

        Fortunately I am not a big fan of TV and movies anyway because it is miserable for me and anyone who is in the room with me.

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    Carol Ashby March 31, 2016 at 7:32 am #

    If I found significant errors in a nonfiction work, I’d stop reading. If there are errors about what you know, can you trust anything the author writes about what you don’t already know?

    When I find errors in novels, I usually keep reading, but it lowers my respect for the author. A well-known author I won’t name who writes historical romances that involve riding horses didn’t use the correct words for various part of the saddle and bridle that anyone who’d even ridden rent horses should have known. That pulled me right out of the story.

    I try extremely hard to make sure all the details in my historicals are as accurate as I can get them. I’ve even altered plotlines to accommodate inconvenient facts, like how fast a dead body cools. I have PowerPoint files of pictures of everything from houses to horses to clothing to kitchen utensils. Those are super useful to refresh my memory when I’m describing something. I also consult many books and internet resources. I may be a bit anal about nailing the details, but I even looked at US patent diagrams for windmills so I could accurately describe what was sabotaged in my western thriller.

    What I do may be excessive, but I truly appreciate historical accuracy. I don’t want to disappoint my readers like I am when something is wrong.

    • Avatar
      Tamela Hancock Murray March 31, 2016 at 11:57 am #

      Carol, I am in definite agreement with you about nonfiction. There, the author is supposed to be enough of an authority to offer a reliable book on the topic.

      • Avatar
        Tamela Hancock Murray March 31, 2016 at 11:59 am #

        Oh, and by the way, though your readers don’t know about all your research, they appreciate it all the same. Accuracy in fiction does make the story seem more real. When a reader wonders if “this book is based on fact” then you’ve done a stellar job.

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    Daphne Woodall March 31, 2016 at 8:11 am #

    Interesting discussion. I’ve been turned off by books that had a boring plot or I once had to take notes to keep up with the characters.

    But years ago I contacted Author Susan May Warren about a copy of “Happily Ever After” I purchased from Barnes and Noble because I thought there were some missing pages.

    She quickly responded that the publisher thought they had pulled all those copies where the last page of each chapter was missing. She apologized and even mailed me a personal signed copy.

    It was a great read but I could tell something wasn’t correct. By then I was hooked on anything that she wrote and she was one of my biggest encouragers in my writing journey since.

    • Avatar
      Tamela Hancock Murray March 31, 2016 at 12:01 pm #

      Daphne, as you know, we are all big fans of Susie here! What a great story. Thanks for sharing!

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    Cynthia Herron March 31, 2016 at 8:52 am #

    Tamela, I thought Jennifer made an excellent point– “I wouldn’t quit reading over a minor detail but I have stopped when a writer “suspended” belief…

    I feel the same way. A little detail like you described might not bother me, but something that affects the story/character in a huge way would. (Of course, the reader obviously knew her flowers and maybe she was an avid gardener.)

    • Avatar
      Tamela Hancock Murray March 31, 2016 at 2:31 pm #

      Cynthia, more than once, regarding many books, I have stopped reading and consciously made a decision to suspend disbelief. It’s all about whether you are otherwise invested in the story and want to keep reading. If not, then an unlikely plot development gives a reader an excuse to stop reading. Not what an author wants.

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    Stacy A March 31, 2016 at 9:13 am #

    I do have trouble with stories where there are errors, but unless the book is bad for other reasons, I’ll usually keep reading. I’ve read a couple of novels written in/about the 1960s where they have hippies and the whole “flower child” movement taking place in the very early 60s. I was a child in that decade and don’t remember that going on until the mid- to late-60s. Just to be sure I looked up “hippie” on Wikipedia, and sure enough, the movement didn’t start (or at least become a common thing) until the mid-1960s. I did keep reading the books, but with a lot of cringing. We can’t always rely on our memories, or what we THINK we know, when we’re writing a novel. We have to do the research.

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    Kate Hinke March 31, 2016 at 10:39 am #

    I don’t read an extremely well known, multi-pubbed author who writes historical fiction because, in the one book I read, she had a cardinal flying through redwood trees in California. Cardinals don’t live in CA!! If she got that wrong, what other things didn’t she fact check?!? I don’t trust her veracity.

    • Avatar
      Carol Ashby March 31, 2016 at 12:21 pm #

      Since it was historical, it might have been an escaped pet from the time before US law prohibited keeping native songbirds as pets. Well, it is possible…

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    dianne1234 March 31, 2016 at 12:13 pm #

    I’m just like your reader. I read a book many years ago by a very popular, famous author and at the end of the book she wrote about hollyhocks blooming at high altitude in the spring. Hollyhocks don’t bloom until late summer where I live. It was a historical book with real history in it and I couldn’t get past the notion if the author made this mistake, what else did she get wrong? I hate being so nit-picky. But at the same time I’ve never bought or read another book by this author. (Sorry!!) While I did not inform the author or publisher, I would like to know if someone finds an error in my writing because I strive to get everything right, but I know I’m not perfect.

    • Avatar
      Carol Ashby March 31, 2016 at 12:53 pm #

      Diane, if something was written pre-internet, I cut a lot of slack on details in fiction. The hollyhock writer may have only had a garden catalog or a garden book by a low-lander for reference. Those often have wrong info for us high-altitude gardeners. Mine bloom June-August at 6700 feet in NM. If frost-free is May 15, does that make early June still spring?
      With the internet, it’s much easier to check details, but it still took me an entire evening to determine that the first wild berries of the season in what is now hill-country Germany near Mainz had to be strawberries to fit in all the plot events for someone to go a thousand miles across the Alps and back on horseback before winter essentially closed the passes. I could never have done that pre-internet.

      • Avatar
        rochellino March 31, 2016 at 1:37 pm #

        Carol, a clear message about your writing that comes through your comments is that one might actually LEARN something from your authorship.

        Knowledge and wisdom are great gifts from Our Father that are delivered by various and sometimes unknown means. I might choose the term “seepage” or “osmosis” as the means of delivery and acquisition of knowledge emanating from your work. I feel that at least three entities will benefit from your extreme and dedicated effort. the Kingdom, the reader and you!

        Hopefully, it won’t remain unavailable much longer.

        (Loved the space/sound explanation)

        • Avatar
          Tamela Hancock Murray March 31, 2016 at 2:18 pm #

          Very nice comment!

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          Carol Ashby March 31, 2016 at 2:26 pm #

          Seepage…that sound a lot like a leaking drain pipe. Don’t know if I especially like that comparison. Just saying…

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            rochellino March 31, 2016 at 5:41 pm #

            Meant from the context of “living water” (aka: the Word) seeping (or soaking) into one’s understanding (psyche) over time as they read. Not everyone experiences an instantaneous conversion like Saul of Tarsus to become St. Paul.

            At the very least I meant it to mean that your message could be unconscientiously educable while entertaining the reader, something I strive to do in my writing.

            God Bless!

            • Avatar
              Carol April 1, 2016 at 6:45 am #

              I was only teasing. I knew you meant something nice.

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    Tamela Hancock Murray March 31, 2016 at 2:21 pm #

    I am very interested to see that one takeaway of this discussion is that writers do want to be notified of errors, but readers are hesitant to let them know. Perhaps we as readers should hesitate less. I can tell by the tone of this comment thread that all of you would be more than kind. I have such wonderful blog readers!

    • Avatar
      Carol Ashby March 31, 2016 at 2:42 pm #

      Tamela, print-on-demand and e-books can be fixed post-publishing, but what can be done for a traditionally published work of fiction? Pasting a page of errata in the front works fine for a technical monograph or a textbook, but what are the options for first-run fiction?

      Maybe it’s better for the author’s peace of mind not to know. It’s like when you read your posting to this blog and discover the bad typos only after you can’t fix them. It can haunt us reformed and not-so-reformed perfectionists.

      • Avatar
        Tamela Hancock Murray March 31, 2016 at 2:57 pm #

        Carol, it’s true that not much can be done in the traditional print world until a new printing. I do know of a couple of cases where a book was withdrawn from stores and reissued, but the error would have to be drastic to warrant such action. For relatively minor errors, I believe it’s better to be informed than to have a second print run with the same error.

  19. Avatar
    Pegg Thomas March 31, 2016 at 4:18 pm #

    Some errors I can grit my teeth and read through. Being a horsewoman and loving historical fiction, well, you know. I can even forgive a little history blunder now and then. But if I hit 2 or 3 in the same book. Nope. I’m outta there. If the author didn’t bother to research their history … they shouldn’t be writing it.

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    Peggy Booher March 31, 2016 at 4:56 pm #

    Tamela,

    Several years ago I read a non-fiction book published by a well-known Christian company. I do not consider myself a Bible scholar but two mistakes about a person and a place jumped out at me.I was surprised, and a little saddened because the company also publishes Sunday school and other materials. I expected the details to be perfect, I guess, based on the company’s reputation. Although I thought of contacting the company, I never did.

    In reading your post and in remembering that incident, the lesson for me is to be very careful. Whether writing fiction or non-fiction, I need to keep in mind the reader is depending on me to make sure the details are correct.

  21. Avatar
    Natalie Monk March 31, 2016 at 5:31 pm #

    From a reader’s perspective, not much will stop me from finishing a book if I love the characters, setting, and plot. Even major errors I can overlook if I really love a story, because usually I’m reading for the emotional experience of the relationships portrayed in the book. In a non-fiction book, I’m sure this would bother me more.

    If the book is an e-book, I usually notify the author, especially if I know her. Sometimes, though, I feel a little awkward about pointing out others’ mistakes in that way. At the same time, the author part of me would be glad someone told me so I could fix the mistake. 🙂

  22. Avatar
    Christine Henderson March 31, 2016 at 5:42 pm #

    With information so easily available on the computer, details need to be verified. Your example showed the author did not do that. When I’ve seen errors in books and websites of authors I’m working with, I definitely let them know. I would want to know, too.

    A prime blunder I noticed in a story that takes place in the 1960’s was the statement that Jack Ruby shot Lee Harvey Oswald 11/22/63. Kennedy died on 11/22 and Oswald was shot 2 days later. This was a book written by a college professor of creative writing.

    I’m currently working on a novel that takes place in the 1950’s. Almost every time I start a new scene, I review details on the internet to see if I have the time frame right – like how much would a cup of joe cost in a diner? Or what songs would be playing on a juke box? Yes, it takes longer to write, but I know I’ll be able to bring my readers deeper into the story. And one of my readers may just be someone who was a teen in the 50’s so I better get it right!

  23. Avatar
    Frenchy Dennis March 31, 2016 at 6:50 pm #

    To keep costs down I decided to read a number of self-published books. It won’t happen again. There were too many historical errors for this historical nut.

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    Iola March 31, 2016 at 8:38 pm #

    I’m another reader who gets bugged by factual errors. I can live with small errors, like mixing up billiards with pool, but bigger errors which affect the plot annoy me a lot, to the point I will stop reading (unless it’s a review copy from NetGalley or similar, in which case I feel obliged to finish and post a review).

  25. Avatar
    Linda Riggs Mayfield March 31, 2016 at 10:18 pm #

    Carol and I think so much alike, I can’t add much except examples to what she has already posted to answer your questions, Tamela: I exactly agree. Mistakes damage or destroy credibility, and credibility counts. The details for my historical novels are researched so carefully that landform and waterways on Googlemaps led me to the location of the fictional town that is the setting for one; I put it on a level place where nothing else is now, so it could have actually been there in 1830. In another book, one set in a town that does still exist, even the name of the postmaster in 1838 is accurate, and the fact that the mail was carried in twice weekly by a horse soldier from a fort in the next county north, who then continued on down the Mississippi, leaving mail at town after town, where the recipients paid the postage, not the senders. I want my readers to feel like they have stepped back in time, and nothing is out of place. I check the casual expressions used in everyday speech, the clothing, street names, what particular buildings looked like, that dozens got sick after a Fourth of July picnic one year, how long it took to get from one place to another based on the condition and construction of the roads between them–everything that can be checked. I learn so much! I think readers can sense when there is truth in the fiction they’re reading, and that matters to me. It’s about gaining and keeping credibility.

    • Avatar
      Carol April 1, 2016 at 10:26 am #

      You’re my kind of writer!

  26. Avatar
    Nancy April 1, 2016 at 7:32 am #

    I rarely read a book without finding mistakes, but usually it’s a letter or word missing, which could be the publisher’s fault. I tell myself no one is perfect. Once I wrote a biblical novel, published POD. I checked several well-known resources, asked questions of my pastor and biblical teachers and read and reread scriptures concerning the life of Jesus until I could almost quote them backwards (not really). Still, when a friend who majored in biblical history, read it, she said she found several mistakes. Considering a rewrite, I asked her what they were, but she refused to tell me. How can we always know if our references are right? Or can it sometimes be differences of opinion?

    I am now working on a fiction novel about twins (identical girls), and worked diligently to get my timelines as far as birth and continuing aging correct. But after a rewrite to make the timeline work, i neglected to change my spring flowers to autumn flowers. Thankfully, a writer friend in our critique group noticed the mistake. Sometimes, you can study and study, but a rewrite may trip you up. I like a good story, even if sometimes there are mistakes. Better that than a perfect boring book. But I don’t like to see mistakes in my books!

    • Avatar
      Carol Ashby April 1, 2016 at 10:05 am #

      Majored in biblical history? Given that it is fashionable in academic circles to deny that the Bible is historically accurate, she may be too influenced by poor scholarship colored by anti-Christian bias. Since she wouldn’t even tell you what was wrong, I wouldn’t pay much attention to her criticism.

  27. Avatar
    Carol Ashby April 1, 2016 at 8:35 am #

    For historical writers, if you type”(word) definition” Into google , it brings up a boxed definition that links to the word origin. It can tell you when an English word first appeared. I used it a lot for my 1925 historical. For my Roman Empire novels, I use Google translate and another university translation site to make sure my English word or phrase has a Latin equivalent.

  28. Avatar
    Georgiana Daniels April 6, 2016 at 11:01 am #

    Incorrect details haven’t kept me from reading a book that’s already in my hands, but a glaring error has made me hesitate to buy additional books.

    As to whether or not I’d want to know–yes, if only to keep me on my toes in the future 🙂

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