BEWARE OF TYPOS BEARING GIFTS

Gabrielle Harbowy in her blog post Self-Publishing, SF/F, and Standards of Quality  commented on a convention report by Paul Cornell in which Cornell criticized “a certain sort of SF fandom” that “Likes shoddiness,” as though typos and a general lack of editorial quality is a positive, the sign of some kind of “indie cred.” I agree with both Cornell and Harbowy—that’s bullshit.

It’s hard for me to find a way to say it better than Gabrielle Harbowy: “Learn good habits early. Strive for perfection, polish, professionalism. It is never too early to start behaving like a professional and earning professionals’ respect. Don’t do less than your best, just because you can. There’s nothing endearing about unintentional rough edges, or that peek behind the curtain into a machine that’s falling apart. This is your chance to showcase your best, in front of the people you admire. Bring your best game, always.”

In the comments section of that post I wrote:

THANK YOU FOR THIS!

It is literally impossible for me to agree more. I have achieved maximum agreement.

Tim Dodge os [sic, ah! A typo in a comment about typos! PERFECT!] right, too. If you ask someone to part with their hard-earned money, even of it’s only 99 cents, you have a responsibility to deliver a quality product, and a bad e-book doesn’t just keep people from buying your next one, they diminish the still-struggling-for-acceptance new era of small, indie publishers (including self-publishers: once you publish something, you’re a publisher) who then have to figure out how not to be lumped in with your crap.

All that having been said, let’s talk about the times when, even after you’ve put in all the hard work, a flat-out, no excuses, no misinterpretation of obscure rules mistake makes it into your published work. It happens—even to the people who are sure it never happens to them, or use minor mistakes in others’ work to point out how this is crap and that (which certainly has the same percentage of typos) is great because I didn’t see that typo that’s been there all along . . .

This post also prompted me to do a little full disclosure on Twitter.

A little full disclosure, you ask? Is that a typo, or am I just an idiot?

Come on, it’s Twitter, and I have a life, so it wasn’t even close to FULL disclosure. But I’ve put books on the shelves with mistakes in them. I have. I hate saying that—or typing it—here or anywhere else. I wish it wasn’t true. I wish I was perfect, as an editor or in any way (though I am a damn fine looking man, so I have that going for me, ladies) but honestly, there is no editor on Earth (who’s the slightest bit honest with him/herself) who can say that every single character of every single book was precisely perfect. That’s something for which people, as Gabrielle Harbowy exhorts, should strive, but in fact it’s not something anyone can actually achieve, even with recent advances in technology. Here’s a fun one from the comments section of that article bouncing around the web about how Nicholas Cage is actually a Civil War era vampire: “So thats what a reseeding hairline looks like in vampire years.” Oops. Aside from the missing apostrophe . . . Spell-check can only tell you if the word is spelled right, not if it’s the right word.

And so on . . . especially in English, which is by nature a fluid, evolving, growing, and sometimes outright spasming language. I rail against things like the word “disrespect” used as a transitive verb—no, people, you really can’t “disrespect the language,” but you can “treat the language disrespectfully,” and the past tense of the verb “to dive” is “dived” always and every time. A dove is a sort of pigeon. But in both those examples, I’m now relegated to the role of Fusty Old Crusty, Professor Grammarian J. Smarty-pants from the University of Getoveritalready—excuse me, #Getoveritalready.

So, yeah, I missed this line in the teaser for Runes of Autumn: “Taste cold steal!”

And my team put out a book with the word chapter misspelled chaptes in a chapter heading.

I spelled the name of a Dragonlance city wrong on the cover of a Dragonlance book—but, c’mon, man, I really never was the Dragonlance editor and someone could have helped me before it was too late.

I missed the scene in the War of the Spider Queen novel Condemnation when one of the characters stays behind while the others all go to the Astral Plane then suddenly that character is there in the Astral for a paragraph, does something significant, then isn’t there anymore. We fixed that between the hardcover and mass market editions.

I’m currently reading seven books, just for the fun of it, and have found mistakes of one sort or another in all seven of them. It’s one of the worst things about being an editor, and doing it as long as I have. It requires a concerted effort to turn your Editor Brain off (or at least find a way to put it into sleep mode) in order to read for pleasure. I’m getting better at it, but I still cringe over the old school typography rules instilled in me at TSR: words shouldn’t break between pages or before or after em-dashes or ellipsis, widows and orphans are actually bad, word blocks on both the right and left margins should be broken up, and more—this stuff is truly a lost art, and even before the advent of the fluidly-reformatting-as-you-go e-book.

So am I trying to excuse myself? Am I trying to claim some kind of indie cred that Harbowy and Cornell warn us to avoid? No. Not even a little. Note that I’m not reveling in Chaptes and cold steal, I didn’t have to know if it was Palanthus or Palanthas, but I should have checked (and for the record, I did, after the fact, and it’s spelled both ways in published books and game products going back to the 80s, but that doesn’t mean you perpetuate a mistake—after all, I was the guy who changed Lloth back to Lolth in the entire Legend of Drizzt series). I’m not saying, “Hey, give me a medal for my awesome punk rock typos,” but I am saying, “Hey, it will happen, but your responsibility as a writer, as an editor, and as a publisher—and if you’re self-publishing you’re not just an author you’re also a publisher, whether you like it or not—it’s your responsibility to do your best.”

When those  mistakes (and others) were pointed out to me I squirmed, apologized when appropriate, fixed what could be fixed (it’s too expensive and wasteful to pulp an entire print run over a run-of-the-mill typo, folks), and as Ms. Harbowy would surely have it, I put them in my memory banks, learning what I could from them, and worked my ever-lovin’ ass off not to make that mistake (or one like it) ever again.

If you let slip a typo like steal in place of steel, own that mistake. Don’t try to weasel out of it. In the e-book era, you can actually fix it and repost the file. I’ve invited people who read The Haunting of Dragon’s Cliff to post any typos they find to the Arron blog so I can fix them, and I mean that. The New World Order is giving us the ability to constructively work together to get better at it. And I’m not going to be defensive about it. I’m delighted!

—Philip Athans

P.S. Typos in this post? Comment away!

About Philip Athans

Philip Athans is the New York Times best-selling author of Annihilation and a dozen other books including The Guide to Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction, and the recently-released How to Start Your Own Religion and Devils of the Endless Deep. His blog, Fantasy Author’s Handbook, (https://fantasyhandbook.wordpress.com/) is updated every Tuesday, and you can follow him on Twitter @PhilAthans.
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2 Responses to BEWARE OF TYPOS BEARING GIFTS

  1. Ariel Price says:

    I agree that those of us who are self-professed editors, publishers and writers have a greater responsibility to be diligent about producing the best quality work we can (as far as grammar and punctuation goes). However, I know that the blogging world is not just for people like us. Many who are not great writers simply want to use it as a creative expression. I applaud them and encourage them to do so. I don’t expect them to perfectly use what I’ve studied for years to master. I wrote a blog about this a few days ago: http://arielkprice.wordpress.com/2011/09/30/the-grammar-hammer-a-note-to-bloggers/
    I don’t think you’re the grammar hammer-wielding type I describe in my blog, though. Thanks for your wise words! I’ll follow you on Twitter, and I’ll have to take a look at your books as well!

  2. Hehe. In one of my books, the characters “flicked the reigns” to get the horse moving. Not once but a few times. And they rode across the “lush planes.” Thankfully, these errors were found during the proofing stage. Since self-publishing the book two years ago, I’ve only become aware of a very small handful of minor errors thanks to the great work my proofreaders did. When I find errors, I always make the change in my manuscript immediately so that the next print or e-book update will be one step nearer to perfection (whatever perfection is).

    There are four books in the series so far. In the second, a character (Charlie) says he was one of a group: “There were twelve of us.” But in the third book, I inadvertently contradict this by having another character (Simone) say, “There were ten of us.” I was busy writing the fourth book when this inconsistency came to light, so I had to choose between making an adjustment in the second book (which in this case was wrong) or covering my ass in the fourth. In the end I had Simone suggest in the fourth book, “There were twelve of us originally, but two dropped out early in the program.” It flows pretty well and I don’t draw attention to it, but just in case anyone is sharp-eyed enough to pick up the mistake — probably on a re-read of the second book — then I’ve covered my ass!!🙂

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