Between Writer and Reader: A Significant Responsibility

When I purchase a book, that transaction comes with an innate expectation that the contents of its pages will take me on a ride worth my reading time. That journey requires that nothing distracts from the story. So much effort is involved with publishing a book that a reader has a right to assume that the finished story or information will be well thought through and edited.

What happens when that is not the case?

At an Old Home Days celebration in my small town this summer, among the craft booths, there was one displaying the works of a young author. Several self-published young adult novels were for sale, each with an enticing image on the front and blurb on the back cover. To see a sample of her writing style, I opened one to a random page in the middle.  Unfortunately, there were grammatical errors that would have been distractions from my enjoyment of the story, so I did not purchase a book from her. Presenting herself as an author should have required more effort on this young woman’s part to revise her stories.

More recently, I met another writer selling work at an event at our library. This non-binary author (who prefers they/them pronouns) had several Young Adult titles for sale, each attractively designed with enticing storylines teased on the back covers. I spoke with them a bit and found that they participated in a critique group and had an editor and a small publisher. The books dealt with LGBTQ speculative fiction themes, an intriguing category, lately in demand. What I liked best about one novel was this author’s depiction of the natural world as sentient. Mother Nature is a force in the plot. So, out of curiosity and the desire to support this person’s noticeable efforts toward publication, I paid $16.99 for a paperback copy.

You may have realized that I did not specify the book’s title or the author’s name. For good reason. The story is dynamic and seems compelling. Descriptions often relate to natural phenomena, and the writing is clear and adroit. However, I have yet to read very deeply into the narrative because there are typos and occasional missing words that distract from the story. These start in the front matter, even before the meat of the tale, and presumably continue throughout.

Some examples from the book:

  • Author Note:  …there are some scenes have the potential… (missing the word “that”)
  • Dedication: For the Earth, and and for …. (as I type this excerpt from the book, Grammarly notifies me that there is an extra “and.” Yes, I realize that.)
  • Pg. 2: …was addressed to their mother in and embossed mossy letters… (should it say “in an embossed mossy letter”?)
  • Pg. 6: …His head titled as he pulled…. (Typo. It should be “tilted.”)
  • Pg. 8: …grit… (should be past tense “gritted”)
  • Pg. 9:…were awarenesses, several that were tied into deeper, vaster one… (should be plural – “ones”)
  • (Also, on pg. 9 was a fascinating description of a ship, saying …Its boards retained a ghost of the sentience of the trees they came from… A cool idea that bodes well for the story.)
  • Pg. 10: …but they were far away to make out…. (missing the word “too”)

Each of these errors is small, yet together they chip away at the illusion the author intends to create. And these are in only the first ten pages.

As I was writing this, my phone rang. My adult son, a software manager with no background in writing, reads extensively. When I mentioned the topic of this article, he told me about his experience. He will load his Kindle with multiple books and finds that some, even after he has invested two or three hours of his life into a story premise that interested him, have so many grammatic errors that he has to stop reading. The mistakes destroy the pleasure of immersing himself in the book.

Free ways to avoid this kind of disappointment for your readers:

  • Read the manuscript aloud, taking notes of things you will repair.
  • Use MS Word to proofread – see that “check spelling and grammar” button at the top? It can be your friend for finding typos, repeated or missing words, etc. However, Word will not thoroughly edit your story.
  • Have other writers read your manuscript. Beta readers or critique group buddies. And ask them to take notes on what they notice. You can do the same for them later.

Or:

  • Buy a program like Grammarly, Hemingway, or others. I am most familiar with Grammarly. A small proportion of what it flags using its AI does not make sense. But most suggestions are spot on.  Here is a blog by a successful author that reviews five proofreading programs.
  • Search online for a human proofreader or editor in the genre you write (young adult novels, middle-grade fiction, etc.). You want someone whose experience is in trade book publishing in your category. Request a quote.
  • Find an author who writes in your genre and will edit manuscripts for a fee. SCBWI could be a good resource for finding someone.

Once you have taken full responsibility for every word in your book, your readers will reward you!

What methods have you used to proofread your work?

10 comments

  1. Joyce, thank you for this. I sincerely hope this post reaches the people who most need to read it, and that they take it to heart. Nothing is as easily fixed as typos and errors–and nothing so easily gets in the way of an immersive reading experience.

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    1. Dear Marianne, I have been considering what will be the best way to approach the author of the book that inspired this post. As your experience editing makes you aware, that author’s career will be considerably more successful if she is diligent about proofreading her work. That doesn’t make the conversation any easier, though. Thank you for reinforcing the importance.

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  2. Angie, Yes, using more than one method of revising is good advice. At an SCBWI conference long ago, one author talked about her seven stages of revision. Perhaps one was checking grammar, spelling, and typos, another for consistency of characterizations, and others for reading level, the strength of the story arc, and so on. Beta readers, programs, and editors can all augment what the writer has already carefully checked over. The goal is to keep the reader hooked!

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  3. Dear Jilanne,
    Indeed, your reaction is reasonable. I read somewhere that there has never been a book published that does not have at least one mistake. But in most professionally published books that one mistake would actually be hard to find. The point is that multiple errors suggest laziness and are not fair to the reader.

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  4. Agreed. My son and I have little tolerance for errors. We still find the occasional one in a book pubbed by a big house, but can I accept those. But if I find so many I start thinking more about the errors than the story, well, I put it down.

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  5. Typos, grammar issues, and punctuation errors make me crazy! I’ve seen these issues wreck more self-published books than I can count. And sadly, I’ve caught errors in books from traditional publishers, too! I’ve even gone so far as to notify them – but have yet to get a reply!!

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    1. Hey Laura, good to hear from you. I would say that as long as books are published by humans, they will not be perfect. But working hard toward that goal of correctness is an essential part of writing. And the tools for editing are available to everyone. Good for you that you notified someone of the errors you found. I am surprised that the publisher did not respond to you. It is in their best interest to focus on quality.

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  6. I think when I come across such typos, I mostly feel bad that no one caught them prior to the final product being shared with the world. It’s a shame, really, and something that I agree, we all need to pay close attention to.

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  7. I’m like that too! Typos and grammar issues stop me cold. I get so distracted wanting to fix them…Reading aloud is one of my favorite ways to revise and proofread. Though it’s not perfect. I read one of the sentences above and just added in the missing word without noticing until I read your comment. Perhaps use more than one type of revising. 🙂

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