When Editorial Errors Matter

by Steve Laube

Broken Pencil

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.

Your Turn:
What errors have you found in a book recently that made you sigh with exasperation?


41 Responses to When Editorial Errors Matter

  1. Avatar
    Veronica Leigh March 11, 2013 at 3:56 am #

    Usually what I find is misspellings and historical inaccuracies. One time I was reading a book and the author/editors had missed that the wrong character name was used in a scene.

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    Diana Harkness March 11, 2013 at 5:21 am #

    All errors bother me: homonym confusion, excessive adjectives and adverbs, archaic language, misplaced modifiers, jarring similes, mixed genres, not explaining unusual terms, etc. I want to pull my hair out (oh, yes cliches bother me, also) but I settle for deleting the book from my Kindle without finishing it. That’s why I’m having a professional editor edit my book this summer. It’s very costly but I hope it will keep you or another agent from hurling my book against the wall or deleting it after a chapter. I am never bothered by errors when I read a novel from a large publisher. Why are some editors for Christian publishers missing the errors? Shouldn’t our standards be higher?

  3. Avatar
    Judith Robl March 11, 2013 at 5:56 am #

    Something that bothers me greatly is the misuse of cliches.

    For example, it is “I shudder to think…” not “I shutter to think…” If an author is going to use cliche and/or idiom in the conversation, he/she needs to research the roots and usage of said phrase.

  4. Avatar
    Anne Christian Buchanan March 11, 2013 at 6:13 am #

    It’s not just Christian publishers, though. I just finished a novel by a major mystery writer that was full of annoying little errors. In fact, you can sometimes see the point where an author either (a) got to big for her britches and pushed back against being edited or (b) publishers stopped bothering with good editing because they assumed her books would sell no matter what. The indie/self-publishing thing just adds another wrinkle. It’s such a temptation to think layers of editing are optional. But it does matter to the readers–makes the author seem less trustworthy.

  5. Avatar
    Deb Elkink March 11, 2013 at 6:23 am #

    The most annoying mistake I’ve recently come across in a published book was a wrong date in MY OWN NOVEL (I so hate to admit this)! While researching, I misread the fine print on the back of a museum postcard from the Louvre in Paris telling about the central work of art featured in the novel–I got the right date for the artwork creation but had the real-life artist die a year later (in 1832 rather than 1852). The mistake remains in some versions (p. 19 of THE THIRD GRACE) and annoys me every time I think about it.

    • Avatar
      Jack Rausch March 11, 2013 at 9:58 am #

      I am sorry but, is there something wrong in this picture?
      “I got the right date for the artwork creation but had the real-life artist die a year later (in 1832 rather than 1852).”

      • Avatar
        Deb Elkink March 11, 2013 at 10:59 am #

        Hm, Jack–perhaps I should have used more words to explain.

        I wrote a novel around a real-life statue grouping called “Les Trois Grâces” by Jean-Jacques Pradier (1790-1852). But I misread the museum postcard’s tiny print and wrote that he died in 1832 (instead of 1852). For the sake of fiction, this isn’t a big mistake–after all, he COULD have sculpted the piece the year before he died at age 42–but in actuality he lived 20 years longer, to age 62. I am embarrassed that I let this mistake through, and that the editor didn’t catch it, either. It’s NOT the sort of mistake that would necessarily cause a reader to stumble, but it’s a factual error that makes me blush.

        And all the more because I have to explain it again! I should have edited my original post better, I suppose. But this just goes to prove Steve’s point about need for excellence.

  6. Avatar
    Richard Mabry March 11, 2013 at 6:35 am #

    Steve, Interesting that this blog comes up right now. I’m re-reading some of the books of best-selling author Janet Evanovich (St. Martin’s Press), and just yesterday came upon not one but two errors–the wrong word creeping into sentences, bringing me to a jarring halt.
    So for those of you who think this only happens in self-pubbed work, or even just in Christian publishing, think again. When your work is going to be out there for multiple thousands of readers over a span of multiple years, you want it to be as close to perfect as possible. Thanks, Steve, for the reminder.

  7. Avatar
    Angie Breidenbach March 11, 2013 at 7:12 am #

    I’ve been drawn into the world of editing. Last week I took a test for a publishing company to edit for them in between my own projects. I was very nervous, but when the results came back a few days ago I’d aced the ten page test! My confidence soared. But I’ve noticed it matters how tired, distracted, and rushed I am for my skills. So even in editing, I take a break from the project and read it over more than once. I think it’s important to disengage and untangle all my thoughts so I see a piece with fresh eyes. It’s impossible for any human to be perfect. I like that editing gives the opportunity for a check and balance system.

    My book, A Healing Heart, releases April 1st. I believe it’s had my beta readers (about ten), at least four internal editors (for various departments) at Abingdon, and twelve endorsment readers. I imagine someone somewhere after the release will catch something we all missed or accidentally changed as the book moved through the year plus production process. With that many eyes, I hope I’ll smile and let it go.

  8. Avatar
    Rick Barry March 11, 2013 at 8:04 am #

    A carpet may be the best and most expensive in the world, but if muddy footprints track across it, you no longer notice the carpet. Your mind focuses on the muddy splotches. Ditto with spelling and grammatical errors in an otherwise excellent book.

    Quality editing cleans away the distractions and highlights the beauty of the story. Even good editors need good editors!

  9. Avatar
    Sally Bradley March 11, 2013 at 8:07 am #

    Years ago I saw a book where every time a certain letter combination was used, the text was changed to the word lieutenant–right in the middle of that word! I’m not posititve what the letter combination was (lt, I think), but all of a sudden there would be the word lieutenant in the middle of other words. Like builieutenantt (built) and welieutenantt (welt). And so on.

    It was so, so jarring, and to this day I can’t figure out how that happened because it went through so many editors. And it stood out so badly. I wonder if it was something that was accidentally done in the very last round of editing? Sometimes crazy stuff just happens.

    And I can’t even begin to tell you how many of my own typos I had to fix in this comment. DST, anyone?

    • Avatar
      Nancy Kimball March 11, 2013 at 10:06 am #

      Oh yes… the dreaded find and replace with a failure to check “whole words only”! This is part of why I like to run stuff i’m working on or critiquing through text to speech because I read somewhere our brain will fill in what’s missing or make it correct. Check this out:

      27-10-05, 05:11
      I thought this was pretty interesting, says a lot about the human mind. Give it a try:

      “I cdnuolt blveiee taht I cluod aulaclty uesdnatnrd waht I was rdanieg. The phaonmneal pweor of the hmuan mnid. Aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtsy, it deosn’t mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoatnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer be in the rghit pclae. The rset can be a taotl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit a porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe. Amzanig huh? Yaeh, and I awlyas thuhogt slpeling was ipmorantt.”

    • Avatar
      Stephanie Karfelt March 11, 2013 at 5:09 pm #

      Sounds like the evils of global search and replace to me!

  10. Avatar
    Carole Lehr Johnson March 11, 2013 at 8:16 am #

    A few minor errors do not bother me. In fact, it kind of makes me feel better as it reminds me that we are all human and make mistakes. I read a very well written historical novel that I liked so much that when I returned my library copy, I purchased a copy of the book for my personal library. On one page a character placed an ’empty’ cup on a table twice within two paragraphs of one another. It never mentioned that he had it refilled, etc. Yes, we need to strive for perfection–but we’ll never get there in this life.

  11. Avatar
    Nancy Kimball March 11, 2013 at 8:17 am #

    A Bethany House title released last month, second in a series I really enjoy from an author I really enjoy. And around the fourth or fifth chapter mark, the name of a main character was wrong in a sentence that referred to him.

    Here I was cruising along Route 66, top down, wind in my hair, with cool shades on and an ice-cold Coke in the cup holder in my reader experience and hitting that was like getting t-boned by a big rig.

    Yes, it took approximately ten seconds to figure it out and then keep on going. But you’re so very right. I wondered how could that possibly have happened with as many sets of eyes on it as I know there were. I’m more forgiving of that from small press and self/indie because I have a different set of expectations when I spend a dollar instead of six dollars and I have to be because as you state, that type of error occurs more frequently there.

  12. Avatar
    Connie Almony March 11, 2013 at 8:28 am #

    Though I am usually not a detail-oriented person, I must agree. I can usually pass an error or two, but I’ve read some books of late which were so riddled with defects it just made me mad. I loved the story, but felt the author didn’t care enough to do her best.

  13. Avatar
    Ron Estrada March 11, 2013 at 8:56 am #

    Mostly spelling and punctuation errors that really should have been caught. I did read a mystery by a well known secular author who referred to the “battleships” moored in San Diego. Since the story took place in the present, and the U.S. Navy hasn’t had an active duty battleship in a long time, it jumped out at me. I know, I was nitpicking, but it really stuck with me (obviously, I still can’t let it go).

  14. Avatar
    Shulamit March 11, 2013 at 9:27 am #

    A book (from almost 10 years ago) on social skills for people on the autism spectrum was poorly edited. Many phrases were repeated, I was getting frustrated: the medium is the message, and it was telling readers that repeating yourself is OK. Well, that is a major social skill issue for spectrum people.

    Then I got to a place where an entire paragraph was repeated, two pages after it first appeared.

    Not only can I not recommend the book, I couldn’t even get myself to finish reading it. Well known author, very small publishing house. It lacked professionalism. Disappointing.

  15. Avatar
    Nora Spinaio March 11, 2013 at 10:56 am #

    The last e-book I read had two words thrown together that needed a space. A simple typo. But, I noticed it. I kept reading the book and enjoyed it. And, if there were any other errors in it, I didn’t notice them. So, yes, everyone makes a mistake now and then. On the other hand, there was another e-book that I had read quite a few months ago, it had 6 that I remember. Funny, I can’t remember the name of that book.

  16. Avatar
    Rachel Leigh Smith March 11, 2013 at 11:01 am #

    You are most certainly *not* making a mountain of a molehill, Steve. Lack of editing in indie/self-pubbed books is a huge, huge problem, IMO. It’s why I read very few of them. If I Google the publisher name on an ebook and I don’t get a website hit with a catalog of other releases, chances are I’m not buying it. I consider it a waste of my hard-earned money to buy something that hasn’t been made the very best it can be.

    I will not dip my toes into self-publishing until I can afford to hire a professional editor for at least one pass, preferably two, and pay for a professional cover. I’m not putting anything out there unless it’s the absolute best it can be.

  17. Avatar
    Carrie Turansky March 11, 2013 at 11:23 am #

    I think the most jarring error I found was when the author switched the name of hero to the name of the other man in her life. It was in the final chapter, and it really startled me. This was a well-known author and respected CBA publisher. That was a few years ago.

    Another type of error that bothers me are cover errors – giving the heroine blonde hair when it described as dark brown in the story. I don’t understand how they let these kind of issues happen. I know we authors have to fill out a ton of forms to descirbe our characters for the designers who work on our books.

    I am very grateful for the proofreaders and editors who do an excellent job on my books. I know there may be an error or two once in a while. But they are rare.

    • Avatar
      Jennifer Major March 11, 2013 at 12:03 pm #

      Oh my word, YES! There’s a cover of Anne of Green Gables floating around with Anne as a BLOND.
      Umm, WHO picked that one out???

  18. Avatar
    Awnali Mills March 11, 2013 at 12:09 pm #

    I recently began a book by an author unfamiliar to me, and within three pages, at least three words had been used incorrectly–close to the correct meaning, but not quite. It was enough to jar me out of the story each time. After the third time, I just deleted the book from my Kindle. With a world of books out there, who needs to suffer to read one? It makes me really appreciate the time and effort that goes into getting it right. We don’t notice when there aren’t any errors, and rarely stop to be thankful for that.

  19. Avatar
    Candy March 11, 2013 at 12:53 pm #

    I tried to read a book several years ago that used “I” where it should have been “me” throughout the book. (Ex: “Catherine moved in next door to John and I.”) Catherine moved in next door to I? Nope. It absolutely drove me nuts! The story was good, but I got to the point I was saying aloud “There it is again!” every time it occured. I guess the person who edited the book felt he/she was correcting the author’s grammatical error, but how very wrong and annoying.

  20. Avatar
    Kate Hinke March 11, 2013 at 1:58 pm #

    I was recently given an opportunity as an influencer for someone’s debut novel, which unfortunately had already been published. I found at least two instances of subject/verb disagreement, and a country name spelled both correctly and incorrectly–in the same paragraph! After I emailed the author, s/he told me that at least five pairs of eyes had read the manuscript.

    Made me want to beg, plead & grovel for publishing houses to hire me as a freelance copy editor/proofreader, something in which I have over 35 years of experience. Any and all leads welcomed!

  21. Avatar
    Pat Jaeger March 11, 2013 at 2:36 pm #

    The last three books I’ve read (two tradionally published by large houses, the third book is indie published) had several (3-7) misspelled words, and the indie book re-named characters mid-chapter. It is annoying.

    My own manuscript has been through two editings and several beta readers. My sister read it and found typos (you instead of your; not instead of note)that the editors, my spell/grammar checker, beta readers, and I missed. Perfection is my goal, but I hope for forgiveness and kind corrections sent or e-mailed should a mistake(s) crop up in my book.

    Bake to mi editeing….

  22. Avatar
    Steve Laube March 11, 2013 at 2:37 pm #

    I appreciated all your comments! Wonderful dialogue. And a topic that does not seem to go away. I’ve had similar conversations many times of the past couple decades.

    In my opinion we should try to avoid cutting corners when it comes to our art. Your name appears on the final product not the editor. So you owe it to your reader to make sure the finest possible product is presented. It may take longer. It may cost more. But it is worth it.


  23. Avatar
    Steve Laube March 11, 2013 at 2:45 pm #

    By the way, two people found errors in my original post (since corrected). In one place I left off the “d” at the end of the word. The other was mixing up the use of “insure” vs. “ensure.”

    I’ve never claimed to be much of a writer. And two people today help me make sure to never call myself much of a copy-editor. HAH!

    At least they wrote me privately and did not display my dirty laundry to the general public.

    • Avatar
      Iola March 11, 2013 at 3:03 pm #

      Oohhh… ensure and insure! There are a great number of American authors who use ‘insure’ for everything, which is another pet annoyance. I find it distracting.

      • Avatar
        Steve Laube March 11, 2013 at 3:58 pm #

        And so we have a live example of an editor saving the writer from himself!

    • Avatar
      Diana Harkness March 11, 2013 at 5:24 pm #

      I noticed those errors also, but I gracefully ignore blogger errors since blogs are quickly written intermittent journals and not professionally published works of fiction or non-fiction.

  24. Avatar
    Iola March 11, 2013 at 3:02 pm #

    I most dislike factual errors, like having the King ruling England during the Regency period (think: it’s called the ‘Regency’ for a reason…) or using ‘Leftenant’ instead of lieutenant (perhaps to emphasise the English accent… despite the novel being set in England and not having any American characters).

  25. Avatar
    Peter DeHaan March 11, 2013 at 3:55 pm #

    I read a quasi-self published book where, to make their names dissimilar, someone changed the name of one of the main character’s sisters — in all but one place.

    It was jarring. The scene was clearly about the sister, but the name given did not appear anywhere else in the book.

    (Many years ago I read a book from a Christian publisher where the author had a Whip-poor-will making the sound “bob-white.”)

  26. Avatar
    Mocha with Linda March 11, 2013 at 4:58 pm #

    LOL on the insure vs ensure. I noticed it and wondered if anyone would point it out to you. 🙂

    It seems like errors are becoming more frequently. I haven’t read all of the above comments, but scanned some and agree with cover inconsistencies and wrong character names being annoying, as well as grammar issues.

    I also notice a fair number of continuity issues. For example, a character stands up and then two pages later he stands up again–and he never sat down between the two! I’m a visual person so I picture scenes as I read, and when things don’t line up, it’s distracting and a bit aggravating.

    As all of these errors begin to happen more and more, I’m seeing confirmation of my theory (based on experience with my own kids) that our educational system is graduating students who are lacking in the skills needed to produce quality work.

  27. Avatar
    Kara March 12, 2013 at 1:17 am #

    I read a traditionally published book recently and I got halfway through a chapter and I found myself feeling really jarred but I couldn’t work out what was wrong. Re-read the chapter and eventually worked it out.

    In the beginning of the chapter the hero rides into the scene on a horse, a few pages later when he goes to leave his horse has mysteriously turned into a truck!

  28. Avatar
    Nancy B. Kennedy March 12, 2013 at 8:10 am #

    It seems that no matter how many eyes are on a manuscript, errors always creep in. On the whole, though, editors do a great job. I review a lot of pre-pub books for Amazon, and I’m amazed at how many errors are spotted and corrected before the final version goes out. These days, it’s so easy to fix errors that do creep into a book… you just have to hope your book sells enough copies to get to another printing!

  29. Avatar
    Laurie Alice Eakes March 12, 2013 at 9:01 am #

    Not counting the historical ones?

    Change in eye color of a major cahracter
    A woman wearing slacks one minute, and in the same scene, wearing a skirt with no time in the action to change…

    Lots of little things. I can’t say enough nice things about my project editor at Revell. That lady has incredible skills at catching the tiniest inconsistencies. I’ve learned a great deal about making notes to make sure I catch them myself.

    I think too often we forget that one change can have a domino effect throughout the manuscript.

  30. Avatar
    Rebecca LuEllaMiller March 19, 2013 at 5:00 pm #

    Does rain in May here in Southern California count as such an error (it doesn’t rain in May, at least not for a week as this particular book said).

    Also on one page a particular team was up 3 games to 2 in a best of 7 series, then a little later they were 1-0 and a few pages later back to 3-2 but in the semi-finals. At least that’s how I remember it. Mostly, it did what you said. Pulled me out of the story as I wondered if I’d remembered it right from the first mention. Then on the third, thinking ah, the editor didn’t catch that–I wonder who changed the win-loss record, author or editor, but they didn’t remember to change them all. That got me to thinking they also didn’t have the home team right and a couple other matters. So, yes, pulled me from the story.



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