Monday, 30 January 2012

Are authors supposed to notice their own errors?

What if your book has a few clunky sentences and/or punctuation errors when you send the sample chapters to a publisher or agent? Does this matter? After all, isn't that what publishers' editors are for?

Yes, it does matter. And your book may well never reach a publisher's editor if your manuscript, covering letter and synopsis have the marks of a writer who doesn't have full control of language. Of course, a typo is a typo and not a sign of bad writing. I'm prone to typos in blog posts and emails myself. But lots of typos in what is supposed to be your best effort at writing are the sign of a writer who doesn't know or care.

If you doubt me, read this agent's answer to the question. And it's Query Shark and Query Shark KNOWS.

13 comments:

JO said...

I so agree. A great story can be wrecked by wobbly grammar and spelling howlers (there/their). And - conversely - 2000 beautiful words are wasted if the plot is rubbish!

catdownunder said...

It is so very hard to proof read my own work - but that is no excuse for making sure I do not try the very best I can! (I came across two spelling errors in a book last night - quite put me off.)

David Griffin said...

So important, but I find that manuscripts that have gone though a lot of revisions (I have 2!) "hide" mistakes through my word blindness; I've become so familiar with each and every word that some pass me by. I've learned to be extra-vigilant and try to read my writing as if I'm someone else (!) - to be as objective as I can and read each word/sentence/paragraph but it's never gets any easier!

I sent off samples of both of my novel manuscripts in October last year, some to publishers who required the whole manuscript. In one of those manuscripts, I'd added - at the last minute - an extra sentence. A couple of months ago, I reread the manuscript and discovered that this new bit was both before and after an original sentence that had always been there (I must have moved it but didn't delete the first one). Of course, I howled, knowing a publisher's editor was going to read that mistake.

I put it down to tiredness mainly. It does seem though that I can be as precise and aware as I can be, sometimes checking things more than three times even, and still the mistakes - the blighters - get through!

:-)

Stu Ayris said...

Good points about the 'word blindness', David. I was given some great advice not long back that really helped me in terms of the editing process - and that was to change to font each time you edit. This helps to stop your eyes glossing over errors due to over-familiarity. It really worked for me - might be worth giving it a try!

David Griffin said...

Hi Stu, what a great tip - thank you very much! I'm certainly going to implement that. :-)

P.S I missed an "r" in the word "through" in my previous comment.... I can't blame that on familiarity blindness or tiredness though... ;-)

Thanks again for an excellent post, Nicola. :-)

Helen said...

Joanne Harris also suggested changing fonts (Perpetua to Times Roman) in an article in Friday's Guardian Books. Its something that would never have occurred to me otherwise.

Kamille Elahi said...

I don't think this is a problem just for manuscripts. I have read numerous traditionally published books in the past few years (some from big publishers) which have contained so many grammatical and spelling errors, I have contemplated whether the recession has resulted in publishers getting rid of editors.

I find it hard to proof read by work since I tend to write long hand and then type it onto a computer which means I'm so familiar with my words that they don't seem odd or wrong. I'm not really bothered with publishers and agents being bothered with grammar and spelling mistakes since I'm so chilled out I make Ice Cube look like spicy hot salsa.

Sorry, I've been itching to say that for a long time!

Katalin Havasi said...

When I write in English I use my Oxford dictionary all the time to check grammar, spelling, usage, everything.

Still I doubt that I will ever have full control of the English language. Nevertheless, I'm trying... And you guys help me a lot. :)

Stu and Helen, changing fonts when editing our work is a brilliant idea. Thanks!

Emma B said...

I agree completely! And I think it's important to remember. Although it can be tempting after a long slog of writing to just want to get the manuscript away if you want to get it published you have to get it as perfect as possible.

widdershins said...

Great idea about changing fonts ... I also change the size. It's scary what you miss at 12 point.

And ... no matter how hard you try, there'll always be one typo, always!

Shauna said...

Since having my Kindle I've also found it useful to upload my manuscript to that in a final edit. I was amazed at how different the manuscript seemed, and mortified at finding a couple of typos and clunky bits of phrasing that I'd missed in numerous editing sessions. You can add comments for things that need changing, and it's easier to carry around than a pile of A4 paper.

GRACE PETERSON said...

Excellent post and comments. I'm going to change the font and size of my ms. Glad I stopped by. :)

Julie Nilson said...

I do freelance copyediting and I can't even proof my own stuff. I'm better at it than most, but a few typos will still slip by me because I'm too close to my own work. It never hurts to have someone else take a pass at it.