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typos

Hi, everyone.  The air has changed in Southern California.  The heat of late summer that drives my breath back into my lungs, has suddenly dissolved into a cool, clear breeze.  It feels as if the world has come back into focus.  I’ve broken out the Pumpkin Spice candles and the Gingerbread tea and wrapped the house in garlands of silk autumn leaves that I bought on sale at Michael’s because the trees in SoCal are not going to provide real ones.  (Sigh!)

Our new puppy has come home.  Summer Moon.  She’s an English Golden Retriever. She isn’t golden, at all, of course.  She’s as white as the full moon.  Hence her name.  “Moon” because of her color.  “Summer” because she came home in late summer.  She looks like an angel but is full of mischief.  Her big brother, Rhythm, doesn’t quite know what to make of her.  She has two speeds: “on” and “off.”  And when she’s “on,” nothing in the house is safe from her tiny teeth, including Rhythm’s tail.

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I’ve just finished uploading the corrected manuscripts for Mirror, Mirror, so now the paperback version will soon be available on Amazon.  I used three proofreaders this time for the manuscript, and the last one read every one of the 120,710 words aloud plus punctuation marks.  When I was an editor/proofreader, before I went to law school, this is the way we read the final version of manuscripts because we had the best chance of catching errors by reading aloud.  So this time I thought I was safe from complaints about TYPOS.  But alas!

About a week after Mirror, Mirror had been published as an ebook, I got the message from Irate Reader.  “I like your book BUT—” Insert drum roll, thunder and lightning. “BUT it has TYPOS!!”  No hint of what those TYPOS might be.  I felt as if someone had sent one of my children home from school with a message pinned on his/her back, “Your child has CHICKEN POX!  Your HORRIBLE EXCUSE for a Mother!”

My first reaction was to protest.  Three proofreaders, I told her!  Every word and punctuation mark scrutinized, aloud!  But, alas!  Irate Reader was unrelenting.   Her next email cut even deeper. She called me, “UNPROFESSIONAL!” I had a big Breneˊ Brown moment after that.  If you don’t know about Breneˊ Brown, she describes herself as a “shame researcher.”  She is a professor at the University of Houston, who has written on the topic of shame and how it affects our lives.  When Irate Reader’s wrath descended upon me, I had been reading Dr. Brown’s book, I Thought It Was Just Me (But It isn’t).  And I knew that the paralyzing, sick feeling in the pit of my stomach was shame.

Despite my best intentions, I’d humiliated myself in public, by telling a story that I had hoped many people would enjoy.  I wasn’t a woman with three post-graduate degrees, all cum laude.  I was an UNPROFESSIONAL with TYPOS.   Sort of like a careless excuse for a mom who’d sent her kid to school with CHICKENPOX and now the child had to be sent back to the incompetent parent.

I was deeply hurt by having my imperfections hurled in my face.  I thought about taking the book down.  FOREVER.  I’d worked so hard on it every night for six long months.  I’d worked on it on the nights when my heart had been breaking because my Golden Retriever Melody was dying.  I’d worked on it on the nights when I’d been so tired that I couldn’t see the page because I’d been writing for the courts of appeal all day.  But I had kept on going because I had thought my characters were telling me a story that would entertain and touch hearts.  And I’d launched that story into the world after so much time and care, happy and proud, and hoping to find readers with hearts to be touched.  But, now, within a week of its publication, it had been deemed worthless. TYPOS!  UNPROFESSIONAL! All because I’m not, and never will be, PERFECT.

“The quest for perfection is exhausting and unrelenting.”  Breneˊ Brown

Since self-publishing has become an option for writers, a myth has grown up that self-published writers are the only ones who launch books with typos.  That was the gist of Irate Reader’s “UNPROFESSIONAL” (SNIFF) label.   I got a does (dose, get it?) of this prejudice early on when I published my first novel, Dance for A Dead Princess.  At some point, one of the TOP 100 AMAZON REVIEWERS got her 3-star hands on it.   But she didn’t stop at 3 grudging stars.   She went straight to the top, to THE ZON itself and advised that I was illiterate. Why, there were whole sections of the book that hadn’t even been spellchecked!   REALLY!  THE NERVE!

Turns out, Ms. TOP 100 didn’t understand that the Tudor diary of Thomas, Carey, the First Duke of Burnham, is written in my approximation of Tudor English. That means the way Shakespeare wrote and spelled.   THE ZON backed way down after I explained the development of the English language and added, “Bet you wouldn’t have sent a QUALITY CONTROL NOTICE to Random House!”

So, just in case anyone else out there besides Irate Reader and Ms.Top 100 thinks that TYPO’s are the exclusive manifestation of the ignorance of self-published writers and that all the brains belong to the traditionally published ones, let me offer the following examples of TYPOS from novels you will recognize (and by the way, editions of these WITH TYPOS are worth hundreds of dollars)

Theodore Dreiser, An American Tragedy

Characters are referred to as “harmoniously abandoning themselves to the rhythm of the music—like two small chips being tossed about on a rough but friendly sea.”

Pearl S. Buck, The Good Earth

A wall against which people set up their huts being described as “It stretched out long and grey and very high, and against the base the small mat sheds clung like flees to a dog’s back.” Editions of the book that include the misspelling can go for as much as $9500.

J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone

Some copies of this book are valued at a small fortune for this reason. On page 53, in a list of school supplies that young wizards are expected to bring to Hogwarts: “1 wand” is listed at both the beginning and at the end. That said, the typo did reappear in a few later printings even after it was caught in the second round, so it’s only the true first editions that are worth beaucoup bucks. [This example illustrates just how hard these pesky little TYPOS are to eliminate even after they have been found.]

“The Wicked Bible”

The1631 edition of the King James Bible by Robert Baker and Martin Lucas included an accidental new twist on the 7th Commandment, informing readers that “Thou shalt commit adultery.” This managed to incense both King Charles I and the Archbishop of Canterbury—its publishers were hauled into court and fined £300 (a little over $57,000 in today’s U.S. dollars) for the oversight and they had their printing license revoked. Most of the copies were subsequently burned, and the book picked up the sobriquet “The Wicked Bible” or “The Sinners’ Bible.” Only about 10 copies remain today—one was put up for sale by British auction house Bonhams just last year.

As for me, I went back over the book one more time.  I found some commas that only I would notice were out of place.  There were a couple of repeated words, a few line breaks, and an “it” for an “in.”  One very kind reader wrote to tell me that my dates were wrong at the beginning of one of the chapters.  (Bless her.)

So the corrected version is up.  I’m sure there are more TYPOS out there because perfection is unattainable for me.  But here’s the deal.  If you find any more and email me with the error, its location, and your address, I’ll send you a Starbuck’s gift card for a cup of coffee.  And I’ll send you my greatest thanks for liking my stories and for being my friend.   Even though I’m not perfect.

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I started life as a listener, became a writer, worked as an editor, and drifted into being a lawyer. While a listener, I learned to love stories. While a writer, I learned to tell them. While an editor, I learned to tell them well.

It never occurred to me until I became a lawyer that the process of writing is a mystery to many people. Law schools have something called “law reviews” where students edit each other’s “case notes.” “Case notes” are not notes at all but are long deadly dull treatises on legal subjects not even a lawyer can love. The point of being on the law review is to learn how to pick a subject, write about it, and use a legal style manual to make sure all the citations and use of punctuation throughout the deadly dull case note are consistent. The theory is that later on, when lawyers write trial memoranda and appellate briefs (intended to keep the reader awake, unlike case notes), their written work will look professional instead of sloppy and haphazard. A legal brief with correct grammar and punctuation and consistent citation style is the equivalent of putting on a suit to go to court instead of appearing in your pajamas.

In the book publishing world, everyone knows traditional publishers have editors and proofreaders and copy editors. Their function is to make the fiction and nonfiction books the house publishes look professional. Like lawyers, publishers set standards for their written work by designating the style manual or manuals and the rules for punctuation, grammar, and citations that will make the house’s book internally consistent and appealing to readers. The point is not that every publisher uses the same style manual or follows exactly the same rules. Rather, the point is consistency within the works the house offers for sale.

One of the last steps in producing a brief for the court of appeal is editing and proofreading it. Proofreading yourself accurately is nearly impossible. Back in my editor days, we used to take turns acting as proofreaders for other editors’ projects because after anyone has read and re-read a document a number of times, the accuracy rate for proofreading slips into the toilet. Since I work without staff, I have to proofread my own work; and I have found that reading aloud and taking the sections of the brief out of order help me find my errors. And because I used to teach writing and grammar and punctuation, I do know where those pesky commas go. (They are logical little beasts; and no, they don’t go where you pause to breathe when reading out loud.)

This has always been my world. First, the story. Second, the writing. Third, editing the work. Whether writing poetry, fiction, non-fiction or legal briefs (a sometimes blend of fiction and non, but never mind), I never thought of deviating from this routine. And I’m not going to stop now.

But after I published my novel and began to read author discussions on various forums, I was surprised to discover that many who call themselves authors do not respect the process of editing. They see it as optional. That, in my mind, creates a problem in the world of self-publishing. Whereas a reader can rely on a traditionally published book to be edited and internally consistent, buying a self-published book can be a crap shoot. It might be presenting itself to the world in its professional dress. Or it might have been let loose still wearing its pajamas. I’ve downloaded a few of those books, and I haven’t gotten beyond page twenty-five in any of them. And failing to respect the editorial process leads to a divide among reviewers. A lot of them either won’t consider a non-traditionally published book, or they demand assurances a self-published book has been edited.

Treating editing as optional hurts everyone in the self-publishing community. Ignoring the editorial process is a mistake. A good editor has the art of cleaning up a manuscript while preserving the authentic and individual voice of the author. Good editing is never, ever optional. No reader wants to buy a book still in its pj’s.

Chicago Manual of Style

The Grandaddy of Style Manuals

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Legal Style Manual:  Dreaded Blue Book

Legal Style Manual: Dreaded Blue Book

California's Answer to the Dreaded Blue Book

California’s Answer to the Dreaded Blue Book

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