THE FIRST TIME I found a typo in a novel, I was stunned.
I was in grade school at the time. The typo and novel are long forgotten, but I never will forget the feeling. It was a pie-in-the-face sensation of surprise.
Until that day, I was under the impression that books were infallible. They were the only perfection the world could know. Books could not have mistakes. It was a fact of life.
I tattled on the book, taking it to Mom and indignantly pointing to the misspelled word. Far greater than my surprise at the typo was my surprise at Mom’s reaction:
She wasn’t surprised.
“People who write books misspell words sometimes, the same way you misspell words,” Mom explained.
What? Authors made mistakes? You mean to tell me they didn’t score 100 on every spelling test?
(Suddenly the spelling word I had to rewrite five times because I missed it on the spelling test seemed unfair.)
THE TYPO OPENED my eyes to the industry and process of putting that book in my hands. Authors and editors do their best to polish the product, but every so often a tiny, dull fleck escapes their thorough scrubbing.
In recent weeks, I have been in the polishing process for SARAH & KATY AND THE IMAGINATION BLANKETS. The book was handed off to my copy editor, who returned it to me for revision and correction. It has been shared with beta readers to get feedback. I have run it through spell check, editing software, and multiple readings by me.
Every time, I find at least one small tweak. A double word (“They wanted to show everyone their ‘sky magic,’ as as Jelani called it”), or a typo (“gold threads stitched in diamond pattens”), or an omitted word, or a sentence that could be rearranged to have clearer meaning.
Every time I find another tiny, dull fleck in my text, I have the urge to scrub the entire thing, just one more time …
I KNOW I MUST resign myself at some point to accept the possibility of imperfection. The probability is high that, once the book is printed and in my hands, I will find a typo that slipped through.
(Most likely of the variety spell check wouldn’t catch, such as a their/they’re/there usage problem.)
The stakes are high for self-published authors. Each of us bears responsibility not only for ourselves but for the market as a whole. We depend on each other to release the strongest work of which we are capable. Any low-quality novel that hits the market fuels the fire for traditionalists to insist self-publishing is damaging to the book industry.
The self-publishing industry is teeming with talent and skill. We just have to do ourselves (and others) the favor of polishing the book until it shines.
Even so, chances are an error, be it as minor as a missing Oxford comma or as glaring as a typo, will blemish the text.
I just have to remind myself a corrected version can be released.
And I can always take comfort in the fact that traditional publishing houses make mistakes, too. No book is perfect; some just come closer to achieving “great” than others.
THIS BOOK ISN’T my first rodeo with copy editing nerves and typos.
Working for a daily newspaper means I spend 40 hours per week analyzing words and grammar. Each day is a fresh chance to proofread the next day’s product.
Each day, at least one error makes it to press.
Many times, the error is small.
In Streator, Vermillion Street has two L’s; the Vermilion River has one L. The spellings get mixed up from time to time. The majority of readers don’t notice, although some do. Everyone at the paper notices the next day. We groan and move on.
Sometimes the error is even smaller. So small, in fact, readers won’t notice — but we newspaper folks notice. Readers probably don’t agonize over cell phone (two words) versus cellphone (one word), or e-mail versus email, or Dumpster versus dumpster. The former in each example is incorrect according to Associated Press style; the newsfolk notice when the wrong form slips into print.
We groan and move on.
Other times, the mistake is more obvious. A misspelled name, a headline typo, incorrect information. We issue a correction in the print version, fix it online, apologize to injured parties if needed, groan, and move on.
I expect the process will be much the same for SKIB. Once the book comes out, I will find the error. Hopefully it will be small, like Vermillion/Vermilion or cell phone/cellphone.
Whether it is big or small, chances are when I find it, I will groan.
And, eventually, move on.
THE TIME IS drawing near when I will have to stop polishing. I will have to drop put my hands in the air and back away slowly from the keyboard.
I’m doing one last read-through this week. Then comes time for the book to be designed. After that, off it goes to the Library of Congress to receive a cataloging number.
Then I get my last chance before the big release: I sit down with my proof copy and dab at any last flecks I see. I fix the last-minute design flaws or grammar glitches (and cross my fingers that I don’t edit a mistake into the book as I work to edit another one out).
Then that’s it. Back away. Let go.
BUT I’M NOT quite there yet. I still have a few more days before design time hits.
(It already has been delayed two weeks.)
In the meantime, I’ll just keep polishing this book. I think I missed a spot.