Editing Mistakes: How Forgiving of a Reader Are You?

by Jami Gold on September 10, 2015

in Over-Achieving Perfectionist

Wadded-up paper spilling from wastebasket with text: Do You Forgive Writing Mistakes

An interesting conversation grew out of Misti Wolanski’s guest post earlier this week. On Tuesday, Misti (also known here in the comments as Carradee) shared with us how editing varies between non-fiction and fiction.

Misti obviously knows her stuff when it comes to editing. In fact, I know from personal experience she’s the kind of perfectionist-type editor indie authors appreciate having on their team, as she copyedited my short story.

Her position is that no matter the type of editing…

“‘Good’ editing improves a piece of writing’s ability
to do what the author intended it to.”

Yes! I’ve written many times about the importance of being intentional with our writing. A good editor won’t remake our story in the image they want (they can write their own story to do that), but they’ll push us to make our story live up to the potential we envisioned for it.

So it was a bit surprising to see this gem as part of Misti’s post after that definition of good editing (emphasis mine):

 “Sometimes that means dropping the adverbs. Sometimes that means stripping the voice out. Sometimes that means leaving a few intentional typos because that brings greater customer satisfaction overall.

(That last one has been verified as true by big-ticket marketers, by the way.)”

When prepping the post for my blog, I’d taken the line to mean that sometimes being too nitpicky about grammar in general can lead to less satisfaction (such as if we strangle our voice to avoid fragments). While that’s certainly true, I wasn’t sure if that’s what she meant.

Kathryn Barrett reminded me of that question when she asked about it on Facebook, wondering if customers (readers) enjoyed picking out typos. The unspoken-yet-obvious second part of that mystery was that if the answer was yes, what did that mean for us as authors? Were we supposed to leave typos in our work?

Wait…Are Typos a Good Thing?

I brought that question back to the post’s comments to ask Misti, and she replied (emphasis mine):

“Per more than one big-ticket marketer I’ve communicated with, customers/readers enjoy picking out typos.

The reason told to me was that the feeling of accomplishment that comes from finding them gives the types of people who see such typos more satisfaction than giving them a completely error-free item. (And those who told me this are the type who charge a lot of money for their product + run their own A/B testing.)

As a writer, I don’t intentionally leave typos that I know are there, in part because I know that some will slip through regardless. I’ll fix such typos when/if I find them—and be mortified if my pre-proofing file gets mixed up with my final file (has happened)—but I don’t stress over it.”

So, yes, some people do like picking out typos. And I can understand how those readers would get satisfaction out of finding them—even more satisfaction than they’d get from an error-free book.

How Can a (Rare) Typo Increase Reader Satisfaction?

For one thing, the type of satisfaction readers feel when encountering an error-free book is likely to fly under the radar. We simply don’t pay attention to what we don’t notice. When we finish a book, a lack of errors will mean that we’re able to focus on the satisfaction from the story itself, but we’re not likely to close the book and sigh contentedly about a complete lack of grammatical mistakes.

In contrast, when we find a typo in an otherwise error-free book, the nitpicky types might feel a sense of “Ha! I’m better at finding these than their editor.” (Not that I know anything about being nitpicky. *cough*) That “Ha!” feeling is a sense of satisfaction above and beyond what we feel as a result of the story itself.

As I shared with Kathryn on her Facebook post about the question:

“Personally, the book has to be close to error-free for me to get that sense of satisfaction from finding a typo—otherwise it’s like shooting fish in a barrel.

I still remember finding a typo in one of the Harry Potter books (the wrong character’s name had been used in a line), so I guess the fact that I remember it means that it really made an impression on me. But again, I think that’s because it stood out as unusual.”

Serena gave another example in the comments of the post:

“In the CBC (Canadian news) website, there’s a section where you can report typos. I’ve actually reported typos twice, haha and I did feel a great satisfaction when I saw that they corrected it the next day. That made it feel like I had the power to influence them—not really, but it still felt good.”

Emphasis on the Rare Typo…

While others might take the marketing research to go to the extreme of intentionally leaving (or even creating) typos in their work, Misti’s insight should close the door to that kind of thinking.

As she said, we’re likely to leave some typos in unintentionally no matter what we do, so by no means should we purposely leave any typos in just for the few people who enjoy that sort of thing. This isn’t about letting any typos slide, but just about not stressing about the ones we inevitably miss.

Where’s Your Line between Acceptable and Annoying?

I’ve been a proponent of quality editing here at my blog for a long time, so nothing about this post should be taken as backing away from that view. I’m going to continue scheduling three rounds of editing for all my stories because my goal is still to make my books the best they can be.

However, the fact is that no matter what we do—no matter how many rounds of editing or eyes we have on our work—there will be at least one typo somewhere in a novel. Maybe it’s a misplaced comma or a missing word or a single quote instead of a double, but it will be there.

That said, there’s a huge difference between a handful or less of typos over a whole book and an amount that’s annoying. A single error in an otherwise clean book won’t make me think badly of the author or publisher, but a bunch of errors will.

As a writer, I know that typos slip in despite the best intentions of everyone involved in a book’s publication. So of all the different types of editing, I’m most forgiving of copyedit typos.

  • A poor developmental edit will affect the story arc, characterization, pacing, plot, etc. Issues like plot holes and nonsensical character motivations (also known as Too Stupid To Live) grow out of the big-picture elements like the premise, plot, and characters—which are usually why we’re reading the story in the first place—so these problems are often not forgivable.
  • A poor line edit will affect pacing, scene flow, clarity, characterization, motivation, etc. The issues often affect my enjoyment of a story, but they usually aren’t “throw the book against the wall” problems, so depending on the context, they might be forgivable.
  • A poor copy edit will affect readability, sentence flow, voice, etc. These problems might trip me up for a moment—as I’m trying to parse a sentence with a missing word or comma, or I’m debating which sound-alike word the author really meant—but they don’t affect the story itself, so depending on the number of these issues, they’re often forgivable.

(These differences in my willingness to forgive based on the type of problem are yet another reason why a story that’s only been copyedited hasn’t really been edited.)

Plus, to be honest, I’m most forgiving of typos because missing words are something I struggle with in my own work constantly. No matter how many times I (or my editors) read through my stories, there’s usually at least one missing “the” or “to” lurking about.

(In that short story mentioned above, Angela Quarles, my ebook formatter, found a missing word as she was double checking her work just before release. It happens, and those typos aren’t always caught.)

Even with that willingness to forgive, there are limits. While it’s inevitable that a typo or two will slip in, if I see one on the first page (especially those such as reign instead of rein), I’ll be watching for other typos.

If I see a couple more errors like that in the first chapter, I’m not going to think “Eh, typos happen.” I’m going to think the writing is sloppy and choose a different story.

So this debate over whether readers get satisfaction from finding mistakes doesn’t indicate that editing isn’t important. The sense of satisfaction a reader might experience would likely come only when they trust that the author and their editors were trying their best and the reader out-did them anyway.

However, as Misti pointed out, maybe the thought that our readers might forgive us (and even enjoy) one or two typos means we can dial down our panic over the ones we do find after the fact. *smile*

Have you ever felt a sense of satisfaction from finding a typo in a story? Was it for an overall cleanly edited book? Or can you still feel that way from a mistake-ridden book? Do some editing errors bother you more than others (and if so, which ones)? Does quantity of errors affect your forgiveness?

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63 Comments below - Time to Add your own.

C. C. Cedras September 10, 2015 at 7:32 am

LOL, I had trouble filling out the comment form without typos. I don’t really know whether I am a grammar nazi naturally or whether it comes from a professional career where every document had to be perfect, error free. Either way, I do NOT get any satisfaction from finding typos, word choice errors or continuity problems in a book. I really am a reader who “sigh[s] contentedly about a complete lack of grammatical mistakes” at the end of a book.

That said, there is one particularly favorite writer for whom I’ve done copy editing because the published books were rife with typos, and occasionally continuity errors, but the plots! The characters! The writing! All so amazing…I just wanted to help make them better. I believe it’s the only time I’ve read novels where I forgave and forgave and forgave because the writing was so stellar.

Now that my co-writers and I are near the end of the first draft of the first book in our series, we are sweating how we’re going to make it/them as error-free as possible. Professional editing — all kinds — is at the top of our list.

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Jami Gold September 10, 2015 at 8:19 am

Hi C.C.,

Yes, for me, any typos in the first few chapters will get a side-eye. After that, I almost feel sorry for the author when I find them, like “oh no, and they were trying so hard.” So while I might feel satisfaction at finding them, I’m not necessarily happy about it.

So I agree that circumstances (how much do we love the writing and were cheering for the story?) have a lot to do with it. Thanks for the comment–and good luck on making your story error-free! 😀

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Carradee September 10, 2015 at 9:22 am

🙂 It’s interesting how a side comment can result in such spinoff discussions.

Story trumps grammar. See, if your story’s engaging enough, it’s possible to find a sizable audience even if your writing’s rough (case in point: Amanda Hocking’s first series). Perfect grammar without story? Nope.

Some forms of typos and errors affect comprehensibility. I have especially low tolerance for those, perhaps because I naturally read things looking for all possible meanings. Those issues outright fling me out of enjoying the story.

As long as I’m engaged in the story, though, I can overlook a lot. That’s how I can enjoy Patricia Briggs (prone to homophone and similar-looking-word errors). It’s also how I can enjoy the Death Gate Cycle, where the last two books are particularly rife with errors. I still enjoy (and own) them, even while I lament that they were evidently rushed through production.

The frequency and type of errors (and type of book) can also effect how much I’m willing to pay for the rest of the series, even when I have the money to do so. Case in point: what I read last night (a freebie I’d picked up), which had a fair number outright wrong words and impossible speech tags (“hissing” requires sibilant sounds…). I’m curious about the sequel, but unless I happen upon it on sale at some point, I’m not likely to nab it.

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Christina Hawthorne September 10, 2015 at 12:34 pm

“Story trumps grammar.” Absolutely. I’m sure we all have our limits, of course, but I’m more forgiving if the story is excellent.

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Jami Gold September 10, 2015 at 5:04 pm

Hi Christina,

Yes, and I liked the point Carradee brought up about how forgiveness might just mean “not closing the book”–we still might not forgive the author/publisher when it comes to buying the next book. Probably as you said, if the story is excellent, we’ll be more willing to overlook those mistakes. 🙂 Thanks for sharing!

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Jami Gold September 10, 2015 at 4:41 pm

Hi Carradee,

LOL! Yes, it’s great when conversations take on a life of their own.

I agree–story trumps grammar. So I probably should have qualified that even a single typo in a meh story will get a side-eye, while I might give a pass to 5 typos in an astounding story. 🙂 Heck, if I’m engaged in a story, I might not notice any typos unless they’re really disruptive to the readability of the prose. LOL!

And that’s a great point about comprehension. Some typos will just cause us to rewind and struggle to parse a sentence, but others will remain incomprehensible even with effort–such as when a critical word is missing (rather than just an article or preposition). For the latter, I’m obviously going to be taken out of the story pretty severely, and it’s going to be harder to forgive.

Good point too that while we might forgive errors, the experience might affect our willingness to purchase other books by the same author. Thanks for sharing those insights, and thanks again for the great post that brought up the question! 😀

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Rona September 10, 2015 at 10:31 am

That’s such an interesting question. I abhor typos in a book, but I’m pretty forgiving of them. Having just completed my first short story, I’m amazed by how many can sneak in there, so I understand that some will just be inevitable. I’m actually most irritated with typos in menage or mega-menage stories, because there are too many people to try and keep straight, and if you use the wrong name I’m forever confused :). That’s just me though.

Also, I wonder if people are more forgiving of typos with books published by publishing houses rather than self-published. I think that people who self-publish and have typos, even if they’re extremely rare, will be accused of not putting in the same effort to make the story as perfect as possible. Did anyone have thoughts on that in the prior conversation?

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Jami Gold September 10, 2015 at 4:46 pm

Hi Rona,

LOL! Yep, the wrong name in menage can definitely cause issues. 🙂 And I think that brings up a great point–if we understand what the author intended, we’re going to be less pulled out of the story (and maybe more forgiving) than if we don’t.

Ooh, interesting point! No, that topic didn’t come up in the previous post, but I think you might be right. Those who have been burned by self-published books before might be faster on the trigger to be annoyed by errors in selfpub books than by errors in traditionally published books. We might be more willing to give the benefit of the doubt that the team tried when we trust the publisher. Great insight–thanks for sharing! 😀

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Gina September 10, 2015 at 11:00 am

I don’t mind a few editing errors if they don’t wreck the flow of the story. I have a problem when it looks like spell check was used to edit. I also have a problem when I can’t figure out what a sentence means even when reading it aloud. Use of the wrong word, like mixing up to, too and two bugs me and makes me wonder if the writer speaks English as a first language.
I used to be much more tolerant before I had a kindle. I read everything. I’ve actually read the phonebook. I just don’t feel the need to finish things that do nothing but frustrate me anymore.

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Jami Gold September 10, 2015 at 4:49 pm

Hi Gina,

Yes, great point! We’re pulled out of the story more if we struggle with comprehension. There’s a difference between a stumble and a full-on stop while reading.

LOL! at having the bounty of a Kindle making you less tolerant. I understand. 🙂 Thanks for sharing!

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Robin September 10, 2015 at 11:48 am

Satisfaction at finding typos in published works? Nah. There’s no joy for me in noticing where someone fell a little short. More like that slightly embarassed feeling I have when I notice a collegue has his zipper down… :-/
Typos break immersion, and every time that happens, I decide whether or not to continue. If there’s a typo in the amazon/goodreads sample, I won’t buy it.
I still find them in my own manuscript, even though I’ve been through it at least a thousand times. It’s really hard to get them all. When I find another typo in my work in progress, that is a good feeling.

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Anne BB September 10, 2015 at 12:04 pm

Excellent point about the reading samples. I do the same thing.

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Jami Gold September 10, 2015 at 4:53 pm

Hi Robin,

LOL! at the zipper analogy. 🙂 And yes, it’s very unlikely that I’ll buy a story with problems in the sample. As I said, I have to trust that the author tried their best, and at the beginning of a story, that trust doesn’t exist yet.

Hmm, when I find a missing word in my own work, I just feel frustrated. For every one I find, I wonder about how many I’ve missed. Glad you can enjoy it! 😀 Thanks for stopping by!

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Anne BB September 10, 2015 at 12:03 pm

Once again I don’t fit into marketing standards. I hate finding typos in a published book. More than two or three in 100 pages and I lose respect for the publisher. Bad or questionable grammar, I begin to lose respect for the author. I’ve quit reading many books because it’s not worth my time to dodge errors and force myself back into the story. No matter how good the story seems to be. Too many good books exist to waste time on books that are hard to read.

These mistakes take me out of the story and make me more aware from that point on that I am reading a book and keeping score, not immersed and transported by the story.

On those expensive marketing campaigns I’ve looked at (I read a lot of them just to see what they’re pushing), either mistake will make me take a pass. I’m not handing over my money to people who can’t spell, can’t punctuate and can’t spend the money to hire someone to proof copy.

I give the benefit of the doubt to any new writer

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Jami Gold September 10, 2015 at 4:58 pm

Hi Anne,

Agreed. That’s why I emphasized the rare typo. In a novel-length book (say…300+ pages), a handful of errors would be pushing it for me, so the 2 or 3 per 100 pages cutoff you mentioned would be past my line. I can usually forgive about 1 typo per 100 pages–more than that makes me question the quality.

As you said, each time we’re taken out of the story, we’re more aware that we’re reading words on a page and not immersed in the characters’ lives. Thanks for sharing your take! 🙂

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Robert Doucette September 10, 2015 at 12:13 pm

When typos take me out of the story,I find it difficult to forgive them. “Harrry” instead of Harry is not too bad, once, but not Mary instead of Harry. Even to overlook more than a few typos requires the book to be much better than average.

One little anecdote. Recently, the Perry Mason novels have appeared in Kindle format. I enjoy them, but most books have typos caused by flyspecks smearing the print. The publisher simply scanned in old manuscripts without carefully editing and now offer them at $5.99 each. (Fortunately, many are listed with Kindle Unlimited.)

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Jami Gold September 10, 2015 at 5:01 pm

Hi Robert,

Yes, the style of typo–how much does it affect our comprehension–can make a big difference. And like you, when I say I can forgive a few typos, I mean 1 per 100 pages or so. 😀

Great point about ebook scans! Those are often the worst. The publishers have no business charging money for something that wasn’t even proofread. Thanks for sharing that insight! 🙂

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Debra September 10, 2015 at 12:37 pm

I have to agree with Anne BB. There’s no joy for me in finding a typo.
A recent best selling novel I read had several typos in the first chapter. I checked to make sure it hadn’t been self-published. It hadn’t. Published by a top tier company. The story was good, and I finished it. But it definitely left me wondering what went wrong during the edit.

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Jami Gold September 10, 2015 at 5:06 pm

Hi Debra,

Ugh. Yes, my forgiveness extends only as far as about 1 typo per 100 pages. LOL! So several in the first chapter? No, that’s not acceptable, and like you, I’d be giving that publisher the side-eye. 🙂 Thanks for sharing!

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Christina Hawthorne September 10, 2015 at 12:42 pm

When it comes to typos I reside on the Forgiving side of the reader spectrum, but I agree that developmental and line edit issues are difficult to swallow. A few days ago I finished an old Sue Grafton mystery and discovered a handful of typos in the last several chapters. I lifted a brow, but didn’t stop reading. Still, just because I don’t hold an author/editor to grammar perfection doesn’t mean they shouldn’t strive for it. Same applies to me.

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Jami Gold September 10, 2015 at 5:09 pm

Hi Christina,

Exactly! And as I’ve mentioned here in the comments, my forgiveness extends about 1 typo per 100 pages, so there’s definitely not room for sloppiness there. 🙂

But as you experienced, if the mistakes occur late in the story, I’m generally going to be more forgiving. a) By that time, I’m into the story and won’t want to stop, and b) I’ll also have built up a level of trust that the author intended to do a good job. That trust doesn’t exist in early chapters the way it does in later ones. Thanks for sharing your thoughts! 🙂

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robin witt September 15, 2015 at 11:26 am

“Still, just because I don’t hold an author/editor to grammar perfection doesn’t mean they shouldn’t strive for it.”
Well said! 🙂

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Jami Gold September 15, 2015 at 11:43 am

Exactly, Robin! 🙂

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Evolet Yvaine September 10, 2015 at 3:10 pm

Interesting. I don’t find satisfaction in it. At all. To be honest, it annoys me because it takes me out of the story. Like when you found the wrong name used in that Harry Potter book. That kind of typo doesn’t happen very often when I read, but when it does, I end up pausing for the barest of moments and thinking “Isn’t this person’s name Mike?” If I find more than one typo, I’m wondering–in irritation–if the author had the book professionally edited. I stopped reading an author altogether because of her excessive use of parentheses. For reals. That sh*t gets annoying fast. I wanted to read all the books in her series, but couldn’t get past the first two because of that issue. Granted, parentheses aren’t considered to be typos, but in this author’s case, it was to me. And yet again, I couldn’t help but think, “No professional editor in their right mind would let this occur over and over again.” I’m sure that if I had been the editor working on her novels, I would’ve said “Ok, knock it off with all the damn parentheses. This is getting ridiculous now.” I honestly don’t know what the other books were like, but I was done after Book Two and that’s a damn shame. She lost a potential reader for life. So to answer your question, “Do I forgive writing mistakes?” Apparently not! LOL. But I know that seeing someone else’s mistakes will make ME a better writer because I’ll know what NOT to do. LOL.

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Jami Gold September 10, 2015 at 5:18 pm

Hi Evolet,

Yes, a lot has to be in place for me before I could feel any sense of satisfaction.

  • The typo would have to happen later in the book (not in the opening chapters) so that I’d have built up a trust in the quality intentions of the author.
  • The typo can’t affect comprehension of the story on a second read (meaning that while I might need to reread it once to understand, if I still can’t understand it and the confusion affects the story, I’m less forgiving).
  • The typo can’t be followed up by several more (which might indicate that only the opening chapters were edited well.

So I can forgive, but I have to trust that the author deserves it. 🙂

Interesting point about parentheses. As you said, they’re not actually a typo, but they are unusual in most fiction styles. I know of one author who uses them, but I don’t remember her using them very often (about once or twice a chapter maybe?). So it didn’t affect my enjoyment, but if they were on every other page, I’d be right there with you. Like you, I find them far more interruptive than em-dashes, and that’s a good lesson for us as fiction authors. Thanks for sharing that insight! 😀

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Carradee September 10, 2015 at 9:09 pm

That’s interesting that you find parentheses more disturbing than em dashes. Em dash “side notes” are still related to the context, while parentheticals can by definition be removed and what remains will still make complete sense.

To a large degree, the parentheses are a style choice, so I’d consider that a matter of taste (unless the parentheses were misused or used to the degree that the text was unintentionally or unnecessarily repetitive or choppy). Parentheses also aren’t odd to me, though; the sci-fi I read can even have colons in it. 🙂

Still, you’ve provided an example of how different readers differ. 🙂

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Jami Gold September 10, 2015 at 10:03 pm

Hi Carradee,

Hmm, I think parentheticals often read as choppy to me, so maybe that’s the interruption I feel? When I don’t find them choppy, I’d bet I read right over them without notice. LOL!

I tend use about one or two colons a story, it seems…much to the consternation of my line editor. 😉 However, I use them only in narrative, never dialogue. Maybe I don’t find them odd in fiction because I do think in lists and logical steps.

But I guess that’s another example of how different people can find different things noticeable and therefore disruptive to the text (like differing views on semicolons too). 🙂 Interesting! Thanks for bringing it up!

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Taurean J. Watkins (@Taurean_Watkins) September 22, 2015 at 1:43 am

Hope my use of parentheses isn’t annoying to people!
(Cowering behind a chair)

Seriously though, I have used them much in my stories. I think POV plays a part here.

If you’re telling the story via first person narration, they can flow just fine.

But I think they’re more common in nonfiction or those of us who have blogs where it’s easier to compartmentalize related or other any variant of ways we blog.

We often use parentheses for effect as much as for clarity, provided they aren’t misused or overused. At least that’s my take on this.

It might be more common in nonfiction overall. But I know novels use them, too, but maybe in a far smaller amount and not to annoying extremes. We often point out similar issues with misusing/overusing commas, colons, and exclamation points.

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Jami Gold September 22, 2015 at 9:17 am

Hi Taurean,

Yep, parentheses are common (and perfectly acceptable) in nonfiction, so definitely don’t worry about it here. 😉

I think you’re right that POV/voice plays a big part in what feels right. For me, parentheses feel like a stronger interruption to the flow of prose for an aside than just em-dashes. But they’re also used to provide additional information (like these here), and those uses are both common and valid in nonfiction.

To me in fiction, as in real life dialogue, I think we’re more likely to use transition words to indicate interruptions (“Oh! That reminds me…”), so the “more info” type asides might be the more common usage of parentheses. However, a shallower POV could certainly change that approach for interruptions too–especially in narrative rather than dialogue. And with asides, it’s a voice thing to choose parentheses over em-dashes, I think. 🙂 Thanks for weighing in!

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Carradee September 28, 2015 at 9:48 am

I think the narrator has the most to do with it, but the narrator is often influenced by the PoV, narrative distance, and the author’s writing style(s).

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Serena Yung September 10, 2015 at 5:03 pm

Yay, I got mentioned! LOL hopefully that example will show the entertaining/ amusing side of a reader reporting typos and feeling gleeful about it, haha.

LOLL Jami, I’m actually one of those weirdos who will close the book with a sense of satisfaction that I didn’t find any errors in it. I was so impressed by the complete absence of typos in the Bible, which may be the longest book ever published, that I even made a Facebook post about it to express my awe!

Yet I get a subconscious belief that traditionally published books are error-free, so I do feel stressed out by typos in my work because I don’t want readers to think I’m an amateur, haha.

For developmental editing, plot holes and character motivation-action mismatches bother me too, but I’m more accepting of the former because I think it’s impossible to eliminate every single plot hole.

This is especially difficult in sci fi, fantasy, or in any other stories set in worlds that have their own fictional logic. They don’t have the world already made in ours; they have to try their best to make everything logically consistent.

I’ve actually read a lot of funny posts pointing out the many, many illogical things in the pokemon world and anime (both in the plot and in the world). So because of the pokemon and other fandom examples, I’m more forgiving of plot holes and worldbuilding logical inconsistencies, because it’s hard (if not impossible) to eliminate each and every hole.

But I am more bothered by character inconsistencies, though. It’s okay if it only occurs once, but if it happens many times, that would really bother me. So I like it when a character does something that doesn’t make sense to me, or seems out-of-character, and the author quickly explains to me their motives. I would then heave a sigh of relief that it made sense after all.

As for line-editing, I think I’m more forgiving of this than of typos (lol!) because I know not everyone has such fantastic writing. (Or has the funds to hire a great line editor to work wonders with their draft.) I would only be bothered if the problem was something very conspicuous.

For instance, I hate confusing sentences and try really hard to avoid having them in my stories. By affecting characterization and motivation, do you mean when authors don’t use the right words or proper word choice to describe certain things, and thus make the reader misunderstand a character or their motivations?

BTW, Jami, about how we want to help an author achieve their intended goal with their book, what do you think of this situation?

Yesterday, someone brought up on the FB Writer’s Group the central importance of focusing on the main character’s emotional growth. Really emphasize and make the most out of scenes that relate to characters changing in their emotional arcs. This poster describes that the plot is just the general direction of how things are going, but the main character’s emotional growth is the heartbeat of the story.

He also talked about how Author Intrusion (ten chapters of social commentary, anyone?) would really interfere with (or kind of suppress) those emotional arcs, so that’s why too much A.I. can make a book less engaging or even boring.

This was very insightful for me, because I was wondering why I felt so emotionally detached from the characters and story of my friend’s book. 🙁 I had simply assumed that it was because they were not MY TYPE of characters, but maybe it had more to do with the lack of focus on character emotional arcs. There were only a few short instances related to character emotional/ psychological change, quite underdeveloped.

And maybe it was because my friend’s story is too history/ politics-focused (overthrowing of the Sui Dynasty in ancient China) and plot-focused, that it really lacked character emotional development. That really might be the reason why I feel so detached!!

However, back to helping an author achieve their goals, what if my friend’s goal is to focus on the historical-political background, and not on developing characters and exploring their emotions? I was thinking of advising him to maybe do more internal dialogue, expand more on character emotion passages, etc., but maybe that would just be molding his story to what I want, not what he wants!

Well, I guess I wouldn’t know what he wants for his story until I’ve asked him, lol.

But I love this “character emotional growth is the heartbeat of the story” idea, as it made me think of the emotional and psychological issues my characters have to go through. Some issues are resolved, some improve a bit, and some are never resolved, unfortunately, like in real life. Sometimes I worry that my story is too realistic on these things.

It made me think of Treasured Claim and Pure Sacrifice too, how you concentrate on specific issues the protagonists have to deal with, and how they grow emotionally after overcoming those issues. E.g. the issue of being lonely and friendless!

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Jami Gold September 10, 2015 at 8:48 pm

Hi Serena,

Exactly! That’s why I wanted to include your example. 🙂 I know plenty of authors who get emails from readers pointing out typos (and plenty of authors who ASK readers to email them if they find any), so I think that sort of satisfaction from feeling like you can make a difference is a real thing.

Good point about some kinds of plots holes. When I go through dev edits, many of the comments along “plot hole” lines aren’t really plot holes, but just where I didn’t properly explain an aspect of worldbuilding. So it’s possible that readers might come up with some interpretation that the author didn’t know to explain in a more explicit way, and that interpretation can later seem like a plot hole when it doesn’t line up with other things.

I just recently read a YA book (Wreckless) that placed the heroine into some pretty harrowing situations that in real life would likely end up on a police blotter. So when the story went in another direction, it first looked like the author took the easy way out. Luckily, the story perfectly explained later why characters behaved as they did.

If I’d stopped reading, however, it would have been easy to assume plot hole or characterization issues. But the author’s writing was tight and clean enough that I stuck with it, trusting that she had her reasons. This author was a new-to-me author, so the littlest mistake would have destroyed that trust before I got to the end. And if she hadn’t pulled it off, I wouldn’t read any of her other stories.

This is another way that subjectivity comes into play, I think. Some readers wouldn’t have brought real-world expectations into the story to begin with, and other readers would feel a different level of trust for the author (and might quit before the end).

Yes, line editing is also very subjective. LOL! It’s SO important for a line editor to get your voice. Probably that’s one of the most important considerations, and line editing is where it’s most important that an author does get our voice.

But as you guessed, line editing is important for making sure characterization and motivation are clear to readers–that things are described in the right way or emphasizing the right aspects. Or sometimes, a line editor might say, “I’d cut this line because I think it would give readers the wrong impression.”

As for the comment on that writer’s group, some stories are plot-focused. Especially in certain genres, such as mysteries or thrillers or horror, the characters might be there just to move the plot along. However in other genres and stories, the focus is on the characters, and for those stories, we definitely want to flesh out their emotional growth. As the poster said, in character-focused stories, the plot is there to push characters along their arc.

Either way is valid. They’re just two different types of stories. For a long time, writing craft education focused on plots. However, recently the push has been for more character development.

There’s nothing wrong with that change. But much of the newer education assumes that everyone wants character-focused stories, and that’s not necessarily true. So I’d hate for authors to get the message that there’s only “one right way” to tell a story. Thanks for bringing up those points! 🙂

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Serena Yung September 11, 2015 at 2:54 pm


Either way is valid. They’re just two different types of stories. For a long time, writing craft education focused on plots. However, recently the push has been for more character development.

I really wonder what caused this social change in the writing community. 🙂

Yes, I remember some online posts saying that the reason why readers will come back to read our sequel novels, is because they love the characters. This seems to be true for me. (True for me in terms of continuing to read the CURRENT book too!) But hmm, yeah, some other readers might feel differently.

I have a feeling my friend might have SOME interest in character development, though. But I’ll ask him after I finish reading this story. 🙂

Yeah, there’s no one way to write! But certain stories might attract a smaller audience than they could have because of e.g. way too long social commentary essays throughout the book. That didn’t stop these books from becoming bestsellers and literary classics, but that does turn off a lot of readers who are more interested in the story or characters and don’t want to read very long social critique essays. :/ I don’t mind reading these essays if I’m interested in the topic, but otherwise…I would be annoyed as well, haha.

There’s a stereotype that describes sci-fi as being world-focused and having limited character development. So I can see why that would target a specific audience who aren’t too bothered by less developed characters and can enjoy intriguing world-building instead. I do love sci-fi, but I would prefer it if there was more character focus…This is a stereotype, however, as Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card had great characterization for the protagonist!

Btw, I realized that actually plot-driven stories are also character-driven. The plot event could happen because the murderer killed someone. I.e. it was driven by the murderer, who is a character. Many plots are villain-driven! It could also be, for instance, king-driven (the king orders that this new rule should be established), or people-driven (the people rebel against the kingdom.) The king and the people are technically characters too, even if they never appear in the story. So maybe when we say “character-driven” stories, we should say “main character-driven” instead, haha. Just a fun thought!

Yet in the plot-focused or world-focused stories, I think they would still benefit from doing a little more with character development. Even for Arthur C. Clarke’s Space Odyssey sci-fi series, there was some more character development in the sequel novels, including some character backstories. The second book in the series was my favorite because the characters were more developed and interesting as a whole, though we don’t get to see evil HAL anymore, haha. But it’s ultimately up to the author what they want to do.

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Jami Gold September 11, 2015 at 4:11 pm

Hi Serena,

Yes, I agree that “character-driven” refers to the story being driven by the protagonist(s) rather than other characters. 🙂 Interestingly, back when I was first starting out, I attempted to differentiate in my head between “driven” and “focused,” but I’m not sure if my thought process would make sense to others. LOL!

I originally thought of this while working on my Urban Fantasy currently-in-a-drawer story. I’d call that story plot-driven, meaning that the protagonist is slightly more reactive than proactive because the plot (or as you pointed out, the villain/antagonist) drives what happens. However, I’d also call the story character-focused because most of the actual writing delves deep into the effect those plot events have on the protagonist.

In my head, I think the “who/what is driving the story?” question comes down to: If the protagonist became a completely passive lump, would the story events still move forward? If yes, plot-driven. If no, character-driven. Either way, character development is possible through the “focus” aspect.

Hmm, I wonder if this is a potential blog post? LOL! Interesting question–thanks for bringing it up!

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Serena Yung September 11, 2015 at 5:27 pm

Hey Jami,

Yes, I remember you mentioning this before, and the distinction does make sense to me. 😀

Well for my WIP martial arts story, the action-adventure plot is villain-driven, but the romance plots are definitely character-driven. LOL at the protagonist becoming a passive lump image. XD

But on the whole, my WIP is very character-focused, as much of the actual writing, is on character development. The character development is not just via descriptions of thoughts, emotions, backstories, psychological issues, and internal dialogue. The development is probably mostly through the characters’ dialogue exchanges with each other. By seeing how they interact with certain others, and what things they say, etc., the reader gets to know them as people.

I like this “plot-driven” yet “character-focused” idea, and most of my other novels and series are also plot-driven but character-focused. Lol if this becomes a blog post, I’ll be looking forward to reading it! 😀

P.S. Don’t know if you’ve seen my reply on the Tangents and Subplots post, but there, I said I wanted to keep Yang Mingshan’s story inside my story and not separate it. But now I changed my mind! His story is ridiculously long too (though not as long as mine) and I wonder when it will end.

At first, I thought that it would end very soon after climactic event X happened, but no, some new plot starts and woo, when will his story ever finish? I’m not even exaggerating when I say that his story takes up over 400 pages of my story, lol. So that would be an easy way for me to cut down substantially on length…

I would put his story up as a free kindle story (won’t be free for a print copy, though!) and also free on maybe my website. However, I would title it (in Chinese) “Sections in Shuang Long Ru Huo” by Yang Mingshan, compiled by Serena Yung or something like that. And in the book, I would write a disclaimer at the beginning that the writing itself is not his. It’s just my approximate rendering of his story.

There are parts of his story that are only short summaries of the current plot, so those won’t be written out in full scenes, especially as they’re not that important anyway. But for reader convenience, I will put in these short summaries in this ebook. There will be the chapter titles and chapter numbers in this ebook too, so Mingshan in my story can refer to these chapters.

The book that the hero and heroine were reading can be taken out into a separate ebook as well. Again, like Mingshan’s story, this story starts off with short summaries, but later becomes full scenes which take up a significant amount of space in my story. Again, I can make a disclaimer in this ebook (and on the website) that this is not the author’s writing. This is just a rendering of it!

Of course some readers won’t read the stories, and I would be sad, but that would not be a huge loss. I love the creepy thematic and plot event paralleling with my main story, but it’s not absolutely necessary. What these readers will miss out on, though, is the “showing” of Yang Mingshan as a character through his stories.

But what I’m most concerned about is the management of “spoilers.” I will need to find out a way to implicitly tell the readers “please read chapters 10-14” before letting them see the plot spoilers when the characters discuss the story later.

There should be some good amount of space between the announcement of the chapters to read, and the characters starting their discussion of the book, in case readers who DO want to read Mingshan’s story first read too quickly and see the spoilers on the page. Eh, hope I can find a way around this. 🙁

Hopefully a good amount of narration and/or dialogue can happen spoiler free on that page before getting into the spoilers. So the reader’s eyes hopefully won’t dart too quickly and see these…

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Jami Gold September 13, 2015 at 2:23 pm

Hi Serena,

I understand. As I said, much of the actual writing in that UF story is for character development as well. 🙂

Ooo, I like that “compiled by Serena Yung” title. LOL! That makes sense.

Hmm, one thought for how to handle spoilers and the like… You could release your story(ies) as a serial. A serial release is like a TV series, where each set of chapters would be somewhat a complete mini-arc on their own but play into the bigger story.

I’m imagining a release schedule where you figure out the places where you absolutely want readers to stop and switch over due to spoilers. Then chunk 1 of main story would be released (up to that first switch-over point) at the same time you’d post that relevant chunk of the inside story on your site. Then a month later, you could release chunk 2 of the main story (up to the next must-switch-over point) at the same time as the relevant chunk of the inside story.

Obviously, people who came to your story later could do whatever they wanted, but for those who were following along during release, you’d greatly encourage them to read the inside story spoilers while they were waiting for the next chunk of the main story. Just trying to think of how you could manage it. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

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Serena Yung September 14, 2015 at 2:35 pm

LOLLLL! Yeah “Compiled by Serena Yung” XD

For the serial idea, I am thinking of perhaps putting it on Wattpad (as well as on Smashwords and Amazon, i.e. both in ebook and print book form.) There doesn’t seem to be that much reader activity in the Chinese part of Wattpad (though I haven’t really explored), but I COULD post it on Chinese online story websites. I don’t like the latter that much, though. From what I’ve seen so far, there is rarely any constructive commentary. The vast majority was just something like “Great job!” or “Good story!” Hilariously, some comments were even “Check out my story at this link”. Really? =_=

So for the Chinese online story sites, I would probably get more exposure than on Wattpad, since there are MANY writers and readers on these sites, but reader feedback would probably not be very fab. In fact, when I commented on those online stories, I actually said something really un-detailed, for instance, “I really liked this character because he was so funny! Character X, Y, and Z were pretty likable too. And I hope character A will be okay!” So yeah, not my most detailed feedback ever, lol. But even that already stands out and authors put them in the “best comments” section. =_=

Some authors create discussion threads asking for feedback and suggestions, but again, it depends on how lucky you are to get any responders. This girl was very grateful that I kept coming back to give feedback on every chapter of her story—here I did give more beta-reader-like feedback, showing how rare this kind of help is… :/ (But again, I’m feeling thankful that my Chinese is good enough for me to give beta-reader-like feedback on stories. ^_^”)

So I’ll think about where to post my serials. I believe Fictionpress.com and some other places have Chinese versions too, but again, I don’t know how many readers actually read the Chinese stories. Well, I’ll never know until I’ve tried! (I really like how Wattpad lets you post links to where you sell your books, btw.)

Anyway, the challenge would be how to avoid spoilers in my published ebooks and print books. Er…I’ll try to think of something so the readers don’t see any spoilers until the next page, perhaps. And hopefully that wouldn’t be mere filler either, lol. As long as the first line after Mingshan finishes his story update isn’t: “I can’t believe main character X died!” XDD

Oh, and of course, I can post the English version of my Chinese story up on Wattpad someday, and that would be a lot easier. In fact, everything related to book publishing seems to be so much easier in the English world than in the Chinese world, and it’s not just because my command of the latter language is weaker. It’s so unfortunate that there are MANY e-books on the Amazon.cn site that I am not allowed to download just because I’m in Canada. : ( They aren’t especially controversial books or anything either.

For instance, for this “mega series” I’m reading, there are four series in total. (I.e. four series make up an entire story.) The third and fourth series are available for me to download on Kindle, but the first two aren’t. At least for the first series, I can order it in print from the site, but for the second series, they aren’t willing to ship to Canada… And since I don’t want to read it online (this series is so famous but also old that it’s provided online), the only way I managed to get it, is by buying it through a website that willingly ships to the U.S., Canada, and probably many other places.

This website is pretty good in its willingness to ship to North America, but the prices are a lot more expensive. Well, okay, the prices on Amazon.cn are amazingly cheap, but this website’s prices are more similar to prices of print books sold in the Western world. ^_^

Sorry, that was such a long rant, haha. Just why do they have to make it SO hard for those of us who want to buy specific Chinese books but who live far from China? Argh. There are very few Chinese bookstores here in Montreal too. And I prefer not to borrow from a library, since I read very slowly, lol.

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Jami Gold September 15, 2015 at 3:25 pm

Hi Serena,

Authors also list serials on Amazon as well, and then they’ll often release the whole book as a bundle after it’s completely released. (I couldn’t tell from your comment if you knew that, so just figured I’d mention it. 🙂 )

Sorry that it’s so hard to get feedback on Chinese stories. :/ I’ll wish you luck! 😀

Tamara LeBlanc September 10, 2015 at 6:31 pm

I logged on here earlier today and joyfully read half your post and then I was tugged away by work.
Grrrrr…Argggggg!!!
But now I’m back, read the remainder of this compelling post and have time to make a quick comment.
I am NOT a reader who gets a rush out of finding typos in a novel. I actually get very annoyed when I see them. They jerk me out of the story and I end up taking a few seconds trying to ease back into it. Then I’m worried I’ll find another. And sometimes I actually do.
That being said, I totally get that as was said in this post, no matter how many betas or editors or eyes are on our work, sometimes things are missed. Hell, we’re only human. So I’m not sure why it gets to me so much when I see it.
I’m an imperfect perfectionist I suppose 🙂
Have a GREAT evening!!!
Tamara

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Jami Gold September 10, 2015 at 9:56 pm

Hi Tamara,

LOL! That darn work. 😉

I think that worry of finding another typo is an important point. Once we’ve been pulled out of the story, we might have a harder time getting back into it because of that. Thanks for sharing that insight! 🙂

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Michael Carter September 11, 2015 at 4:48 am

Before becoming an author myself, I rarely noticed typo’s and was generally forgiving of them. But, as Jami said, if there are several in the first chapter, it indicates sloppiness and may put me off continuing.
Since performing some pre-editing editing of my own work, I now notice more errors than ever. Every sentence I read, my brain is scanning for all types of mistake to the point it is spoiling my enjoyment of reading!

Do other authors suffer from this affliction?

But worse than copy-editing issues are irrelevent tangents and continuity problems. I was recently put off one of my favourite authors when I noticed a glaring continuity mistake.
I trust authors to take me on a journey, and when that journey doesn’t make sense I lose that trust.

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Carradee September 11, 2015 at 5:20 am

It’s normal to be hypersensitive to the errors when you’re new to applying them. If you let it, the ability should mellow over the next few years, but you’ll probably always have more awareness of the typos than you used to.

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Jami Gold September 11, 2015 at 6:46 am

Hi Michael,

Yes, I’m afraid having trouble enjoying reading as much is a normal side effect of learning to become a writer that no one warns you about before starting on this journey. 🙁 That said, I know I can still disappear into a story if it’s well-written enough (or if the storytelling aspect is engaging enough to ignore the mistakes), so I think it’s just that our standards increase. And as Carradee mentioned, we’re often hypersensitive to whatever mistakes we’re just learning about, so in a year or two, it might be a bit easier to fully enjoy reading again. 🙂

As you said, to go on a journey, we have to trust the tour guide, and once we know the magician’s secrets for how strings are pulled, we’re going to be sensitive to being pulled off-course. I’ve seen an article about story structure–the Black Moment plot point in particular–geared toward non-writer movie-goers, and the article’s author warned readers that they’d never watch a movie the same way again. So it’s not just about writing or editing, but about knowledge.

I hope you’re able to enjoy reading again soon. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

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Sarah Brentyn September 11, 2015 at 11:37 am

This is fascinating. I find typos in best-selling “big name” books more often than you’d think. I never even entertained the thought that it was purposeful. Great post.

I have to say that this bothered me: “Sometimes that means stripping the voice out.” Am I misreading this? Voice is crucial. I would hate to think an editor would contemplate “stripping the [writer’s] voice out” of anything. Ever.

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Jami Gold September 11, 2015 at 11:48 am

Hi Sarah,

Think of non-fiction (which was the context of the previous post where the conversation started). I used to write technical manuals, and there we’d definitely want the voice stripped out. 🙂 I hope that makes sense. Thanks for the comment!

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Julie Glover September 11, 2015 at 5:51 pm

I am quite the grammar geek, and I get absolutely no satisfaction in finding (or reporting) errors. I would far rather read something without those speed bumps. That said, I agree that perfection is impossible. (As they say, even perfect people use pencils with erasers.) Typos happen no matter what we do, and I can forgive several throughout a book. Yet I recognize the difference between a few oopses and a lack of professional attention that makes the reader trudge through sentences and decipher the intended meaning.

And some issues are truly problematic. I stopped reading a book once because a few pages in, the author wrote, “I could care less”—a phrase so absolutely incorrect I couldn’t go any further. Also, those authors who start a book with a “Forward” rather than a “Foreword” will likely get overlooked by publishers, bookstores, and savvy readers. Some issues are big enough they reflect on the work as a whole.

Which is why even us grammar geeks absolutely need independent copy editing.

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Jami Gold September 13, 2015 at 2:30 pm

Hi Julie,

Exactly! There’s a big difference between oops and not having the professional attitude to try harder. 🙂

And great examples! Anyone who has perused a few “self-editing” posts would see the main issues to watch out for and could stop and question whether they have it right in their own work. The “I could care less” problem is on most of those lists, so people should be aware to watch out for it. If we see it anyway, I’d probably think they didn’t even do their self-editing with care, so I’m with you in closing the book. Thanks for sharing those insights!

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Glynis Jolly September 12, 2015 at 6:51 am

My mom is one of those who not only goes through a book she’s reading picking out the typos but, also, wants to talk about them nonstop when we have one of our chats. Me, on the other hand, would rather not see the mistakes because they distract my enjoyment of the story.

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Jami Gold September 13, 2015 at 2:46 pm

Hi Glynis,

LOL! I understand. 🙂 And honestly, if I’m really into a story, I’m not going to notice the little problems because I no longer feel that I’m reading words–just experiencing the story. If I notice a little (non-confusing) typo, that’s not a good sign for the story. Thanks for sharing!

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Jon September 13, 2015 at 12:31 pm

Jami: I wrote this email about typos to a friend this morning before I saw your blog post. It illustrates what may happen when an author doesn’t get enough proofing help. I’ve changed the addressee name and book title.

“D###, I noticed you’d added a to-read book [Title]. I clicked on it and got the blurb, which starts off this way:

“”Town, the sole British port in the “Spanish Main” and filled with pirates, privateers, and women of easy virtue. It was known as the most sinful city in the world. No pleasure, no matter how perverse could not be purchased for the right amount of gold.”

“IMHO, the first sentence is missing a verb (such as ‘is’) and a comma. Probably should be “on” rather than “in” the Spanish Main. The third sentence needs a comma. Trivial and picky, but I stopped reading the blurb at that point. I don’t want to subject myself to a whole book of this s***.”

The bottom line: I didn’t buy the book. When the blurb is this bad Jami … well, you know the rest.

I disagree with the posters and Carradee that readers like to find errors, unless the errors are very few in number and changing one or two would make a significant improvement. Then the “I want to help” principle does apply.

However, I make an exception for the N. Y. Times. It is fun but rare to find an error in The Times. Perhaps I’m attuned to errors because my writing (for business correspondence) is so filled with them and I get an embarrassed to sick feeling when I see one.

Jon

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Rona Courtney September 13, 2015 at 1:07 pm

Jon,

I read a blurb that read as follows:

Tessa is hot. And she is a professional at her job as a journalist. Nothing could ever distract her to get a story done. Absolutely nothing. But then she meets Jason again. Mister Jason Warren. They had been a couple for a few years but he wasted away his life so she splitted up with him. But he has changed and became a true Alpha. Could she resist him after all that time? This will be the hardest job in her whole life. But the most exciting too…

And that was the better of the two I’d read. If you can’t get the blurb right, you’re in trouble. I also think the missing verb in the blurb you did above is probably intentional, and makes more sense if the comma after “Spanish Main” is there.

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Jami Gold September 13, 2015 at 3:07 pm

Hi Rona,

*boggles* I think I’m speechless at that example. LOL!

And yes, depending on the sentence structure the author was going for with that first sentence about the Spanish Main, it would be possible to skip a verb or not need the comma. Theoretically. 😉 But with the current wording, if the comma was added, it would still read weird: “Town and filled with pirates…” (after taking out the comma delimited phrase). So either way, it needs work. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

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Rona September 16, 2015 at 9:52 am

Jami,

I found the first blurb for the same book as above. This was a Facebook sponsored post. I was so appalled I had to find the book on Amazon, which is where I found the one above. It astonishes me what some people are comfortable putting out.

Tessa and Jason were once a couple but haven’t met for a very long time. He was always full of talent but a slacker too. Tessa remembered her ex, Jason, very well. When her handsome and successful ex appears as the host at an Event she attends, Tessa cant believer her eyes. Suddenly her whole world is turned upside down when she hears his sexy voice behind her say “Hey Tessa”…

Get this book FREE with Kindle unlimited
http://amzn.to/1O83QOP

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Jami Gold September 16, 2015 at 12:42 pm

Hi Rona,

Sometimes free is too expensive. 😉

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Jami Gold September 13, 2015 at 2:56 pm

Hi Jon,

Wow, yes, agreed on all the errors in that blurb. When I come across blurbs that bad, I don’t even bother checking the Look Inside. As you said, I don’t need the aggravation of trying to read a whole book like that.

As I’ve mentioned in other comments here, my “benefit of the doubt” doesn’t extend very far–about 1 error every 100 pages or so. Many more than that, and I lose faith in the author that they’d tried their best. If I trust that they tried their best, I’m much more forgiving. 🙂 Thanks for sharing!

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Taurean J. Watkins (@Taurean_Watkins) September 22, 2015 at 1:26 am

While I get the frustration expressed regarding blurbs, where the purpose is to entice, not annoy/confuse readers, this is where I feel writers confuse competency with specializing in different kinds of writing. A big reason why those who say “Writing is Writing, whatever the form” I feel are unmeaningly trivializing or oversimplifying the process.

Even though all writing takes work, it is possible to suck at one form of writing but not another.

This is why the “Screenwriting Helps Novelists” movement irks me at times.

Because novelists have the freedom to do things a typical screenplay doesn’t, and visual mediums in general, have advantages that us words-only folks have to work much harder to achieve.

Writing ABOUT a book is just not 1-to-1 with writing the ACTUAL BOOK. Regulars around here know I harp on this a lot, and I don’t say this to excuse issues or belittling the importance of getting it right, but to keep new writers especially from feeling like they’re a weaker writer than actually are because this is giving them trouble. I STRUGGLE with query letters, that doesn’t mean I can’t write a decent book or story.

I’m certain there are BRILLIANT marketers who couldn’t write a book of their own, even if they can make snazzy taglines that “sell” a book, film, or television show.

Again, I’m not side-stepping the importance of blurbs (or other ways we have to write “About our book”), but only to make the point that different types of writing have varying learning curves.

Jami and I have gone crossed the proverbial channel (and back again) on the process of editing, so I won’t repeat myself here (LOL)

But I will say that for me, I let this issue paralyze me from working on “The Next Book” because I’m painfully aware how important it is to have all the non-book writing I do so sell said book to readers do their job.

Thankfully it doesn’t effect reading books I didn’t write, but while I might be more perfectionistic than I like admitting (as you eluded to in our previous exchanges, Jami) I’m WAY more forgiving than you are as a reader, which doesn’t mean I don’t have benchmarks for quality, but my major pet peeves that stop me reading are more character-focused (assuming the technical issues are minor).

This is why I probably misread a lot of Jami’s posts at first, because I more often come at it from the interpersonal/emotional perspective, and she comes into it with her academic POV (though still having a personal throughline), and her psychology background layered in as well, depending on the topic.

I still feel the “Story Trumps All” ideology has it’s limits, but again, while the ruthless “inner critic” in me is grateful for readers who cut the author some slack (within reason, of course), for those of us who can’t indie publish, this “first impression” thing carries more weight, and I frankly find it harder to be judged for how well I write ABOUT my book before someone reads the ACTUAL BOOK.

Finally, while I don’t knock the importance of carrying a story to a satisfying conclusion, as Jami points out in this post (and her replies in the comments) starting off on the wrong foot does not bode well for all involved.

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Jami Gold September 22, 2015 at 9:01 am

Hi Taurean,

Yep, absolutely agree that there are different skills involved between writing a book and writing about a book. That’s why I now bring in help for my blurbs–because I know I’m no good at it. LOL!

And I guess that’s part of the struggle for us–like I talk about in my post today, we have to recognize when we need to call in assistance. It doesn’t do us any good to try to do everything if we’re running up an unconquerable weakness. Far better to admit where we need help and figure out how to get it. (Although I know that’s way easier said than done. 🙂 ) Thanks for the comment!

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Carradee September 14, 2015 at 9:42 am

You said you disagreed with me but then proved yourself a case in point of exactly what I’d described. (I did specify that I was referring to situations with a few typos.) 😉

The knee-jerk reaction is understandable, but look on the bright side: those who should be ignoring the “a few typos are okay” heads-up are the ones who will use that as an excuse to call things “good enough” when they really aren’t, so their blurbs and sample chapters will be more likely to accurately reflect their content. 🙂

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Serena Yung September 16, 2015 at 1:19 am

Oh man, no, I didn’t know about this serial releasing option on Amazon. 🙂 I’ll have to check this out. Thanks!

Yeah it’s hard to get feedback on Chinese writing, so I’m making friends on Chinese discussion groups. One very kind girl from the martial arts Facebook group heard I was writing a martial arts story, and she asked if she could read it. 🙂 Yay I have another reader! (And a reader who is also fond of my genre, haha.)

There was also a guy who posted his martial arts story online, and linked it to the group. I asked him if he could send me the MS Word doc so I could read more comfortably on Kindle rather than on the computer.

So he did, and I finished reading it and just sent him a looong commentary of how I thought of his story. Kind of like a long review, but with spoilers since it was sent in a private message.

It took me more than three hours to write that, partly because it’s so long, and partly because I don’t have much experience writing literary critiques in Chinese, so there was a lot of “non-fictional” vocab that I lacked. -_- I tried my best and relied on Google and online dictionaries and translators anyway. Hopefully I managed to keep up my facade of “being a native”, haha.

Although there was a lot of negative as well as positive feedback in my review, he seemed to be happy, and said that (approximate translation) my support and encouragement are a great motivation for him to keep writing!

What he said might sound like a grand and maybe even flowery statement in English, but believe me, it’s actually a rather standard or common statement in Chinese, haha. An expression almost as standard as “nice to meet you!” Not that it wasn’t sincere, though, I think. ^_^

And you know the book promotion tip of contributing to discussion forums, so that people become interested in you and later maybe even in your work? I find that I like this method very much! Honestly I used to be quite antsy about “networking”, because it felt so manipulative.

But now I realize that wanting people to become interested in our books could just be a secondary motivation. Our primary motivation could be a genuine desire to help others become better writers, for example.

Yes, for some reason, if the book marketing motive is only a secondary, not the primary motive, I feel a lot more “morally at ease”, haha. But for me in these discussion forums and groups, I find that even though I do sincerely want to help others whenever I can, my primary motive is simply because I enjoy making friends!

Seriously, there’s something so delightful in getting to know more people and learning about each of them as individuals. And yes, I love chatting with others whether online or offline. Communication is so fun! (That should have been obvious in my great abundance of dialogue in my story, lol!)

Yesterday, I was reading this guide on how to gain more readers on Wattpad, and one of the titles was about building relationships (with both fellow writers and your readers). In the past, if I saw that, I would feel uncomfortable and antsy, due to the above reason and also I guess because I can be a bit shy. (Hurrah shy extroverts. XD) HOWEVER, when I saw this title yesterday, I went, “Yay! This is my favorite part of the guide!” lol.

Apart from that, I believe in the “don’t expect any returns when you help others” philosophy. So even if I do secretly hope they’ll help me back one day, today I’m helping them out of a sincere wish to help them. That both saves one from disappointment AND makes one become more selfless, which aligns with my moral principles so that makes me feel a lot better, haha.

Anyway, yeah, my primary motive when I join these writing and reading groups, is to have fun and make friends. 😀 So the social aspect of writing can be intrinsically enjoyable, rather than being just an obligation or a chore.

Sorry, that was so long, haha, but I was feeling very touched and inspired about this point lately, so I thought I’d share this. 😀

P.S. Yesterday, out of the blue, a girl posted on a writer’s Facebook group asking for feedback on her pokemon fanfiction!!

That was amazing because I’ve never seen any requests for feedback on fanfic in this group before, let alone pokemon fanfiction! So I’m going to give feedback on her poke-story too. 🙂 So happy to find a fellow pokemon fanfic writer there, haha.

P.S. 2: Reading the above comments, lol, tolerating one error per one hundred pages isn’t too strict. For self-published novels, I actually expect a maximum of one (or two if I’m feeling kind) errors in an entire book, whether it’s 100 pages or 700 pages, lol.

Well, I may still keep reading books that have more than two errors in it if I like the story, but I would probably grumble first before I read on. LOL!

For traditionally published books, I even expect absolutely zero errors, haha, and am shocked when I do find any errors! Yes, I know I’m unreasonable, haha. That’s why I’m really paranoid about errors in my own work. ^_^”

Anyway, thanks for listening as usual. ^^

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Jami Gold September 16, 2015 at 8:02 am

Hi Serena,

Yep, it’s not a special setting in Amazon or anything. It’s just setting up a release like normal, except you’d probably indicate in the title/series that it’s a serial novel (or at least part of a series), or you might just mention it in the blurb.

Here’s a serial novel on Amazon, so you can see how this author described it. Then if you scroll down to the “What Other Items Do Customers Buy?,” you’ll see the full story in a bundle because it’s a “complete” series/book now.

And I’m with you about marketing and networking. LOL! I approach it as a social thing first, and from that you make friends, and then you all help each other. I hope your approach of being friendly in Chinese discussion groups helps you find readers. 😀 Thanks for the comment!

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Carradee September 20, 2015 at 6:20 am

As clarification, there is a program where Amazon can release a title as a serial under one listing and one price, but the Kindle Serials program is by invitation only at the moment. I know Seanan McGuire’s Indexing was released that way.

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Jami Gold September 20, 2015 at 9:43 am

Hi Carradee,

Good point! I don’t know anyone who has released through that special, invitation-only program (I don’t think…), so I’d forgotten it existed. Thanks for the reminder! 🙂

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