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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