When a Misplaced Letter Creates an Oops Moment

Blog Post 85 Quinn Dombrowski

Photo courtesy of Quinn Dombrowski and www.flickr.com.

As writers, we’ve all done it. We’ve looked at a manuscript so long that we miss things.  Simple stuff.  Stuff that if we’d taken the time, we might have found.  At work, we had a classic that came in with a report.  “Pump station” became “pimp station,” all due to a slightly misplaced finger.  Losing a letter here and there results in words with vastly different meaning.  Like when I was revising my draft of the novel I’m working on (see previous post about almost ruining my novel).  I left the “e” off of heroine.  And that spells?  You guessed it.  Heroin.

Why do we writers want to avoid typos as much as possible?

We want to avoid corrections. When a novelist finishes a manuscript and submits it for publication, he doesn’t want to have to go back and make corrections.  Matter of fact, with trad publishing (traditional publishing for the uninitiated), this is impossible.  Once a manuscript goes for publication, he wants to move on to the next novel, not waste even an hour working on one that’s already on the market.

We want to appear professional. What speaks more to something being amateur than a novel so full of typos that the reader gets too distracted to continue.  Think it doesn’t happen?  It does.  Amazon is full of such novels, especially ones offered for free.

We want to avoid “Gracie Grammar” and her buddy, “Tilly Typo.” These are readers who, for some reason, delight in finding typos and poor grammar.  Better than that, they like to let their authors know (and usually proudly so) that they found typos in the novel.

How do writers avoid potentially embarrassing moments due to typos? The answer is simple.  Proof your work.  Here’s five levels related to proofreading.

  1. Send the manuscript for publication as-is. This is a huge no-no. Huge, as in, don’t ever, for a minute, even conceive of doing this. Nope. Not a good idea.
  2. Set the manuscript aside for a period of weeks. This is the next best thing and costs nothing. That way, you give your eyes and your brain a bit of temporal separation from your work. Then when you pick it up, you may discover typos and can correct them.
  3. Change the font. Okay. So maybe you’re really, really crunched for time. Like, you can’t set your manuscript aside because you promised your fans you’d have a novel out by a precise date. First, don’t give a precise date if you can help it (lesson learned). A writer friend of mine recommended changing the font type and even the size. For example, if you write in Times New Roman, change the font to Arial and read. Danger: If you’re like me, you literally skip words when you read. That’s how people are fast readers. They don’t get hung up on every little word. Problem is, you may skip words with typos regardless of using Method 2 or 3. The next best thing?
  4. Let a friend/family member proof it. Let someone who you know will do a good job proof it. Because they are a fresh set of eyes, they can spot typos where you might have missed them. Be sure to offer to pay them. Chances are, they might refuse payment, but at least offer a Starbucks card or something similar. Warning: The person may or may not be a professional and may miss small nuances that others might catch. I mean, how would I have ever known that dog breeds were capitalized except that I had a professional proofreader go through my work?
  5. Pay a professional proofreader. Proofreaders are editors, or at least editors in a former life, who earn money by reading other writers’ works. They have attention to detail and will, if good at what they do, provide a thoroughly proofed document to you. Sure, they cost money. How much depends on the person, but they’re not cheap. However, having been through a professional edit and also trying to do one on my own, I can tell you that proofreaders are so worth it and can help the writer shine as a professional.

So you may be asking if a novel can ever be clean. My answer would be 99.99 percent clean, but not totally.  Typos are like sugar ants.  Once ensconced, they never seem to go away.  Even some of my favorite, most established authors still have a typo or two.  If you find one, do yourself and them a favor.  Don’t try to point out your own ignorance by showing them their fault.

This post does not mention any products. Therefore, I am not receiving any compensation for writing this post.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR Part 255: Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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