Close

September 10, 2015

Editing Mistakes: How Forgiving of a Reader Are You?

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?

Join Jami in her upcoming workshop:
Get ready for NaNo by learning how to do just enough story development to write faster with “Lost Your Pants? The Impatient Writers Guide to Plotting a Story.”

Pin It

What do you think?

63 Comments on "Editing Mistakes: How Forgiving of a Reader Are You?"

Click here to learn more about Lost Your Pants workshop
Notify of
avatar
5000
Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
C. C. Cedras

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.

Carradee

🙂 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.

Christina Hawthorne

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

Rona
Rona

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?

Gina
Gina

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.

Robin
Robin

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.

Anne BB
Anne BB

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

Anne BB
Anne BB

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

Robert Doucette
Robert Doucette

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.)

Debra
Debra

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.

Christina Hawthorne

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.

robin witt
robin witt

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

Evolet Yvaine
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… Read more »
Serena Yung
Serena Yung
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… Read more »
Tamara LeBlanc
Tamara LeBlanc

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

Michael Carter

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.

Carradee

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.

Sarah Brentyn

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.

Julie Glover

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.

Glynis Jolly

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.

Jon
Jon
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… Read more »
Rona Courtney
Rona Courtney

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.

Carradee

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. 🙂

trackback

[…] Editing Mistakes: How Forgiving of a Reader Are You? by Jami Gold. Huh, a quite interesting discussion! RARE is definitely how I’d like to keep mine if at all possible. 🙂 Have a great Monday! […]

Serena Yung
Serena Yung
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,… Read more »
wpDiscuz