I was going to talk about villain motivation today, and though I expressed some hesitation about that on Twitter this morning after yesterday’s events in Ohio, I still will do that—probably next week. But then something happened this morning that got me thinking about the sometimes crucial importance of what might at first seem like the tiniest of details.

I’ve been a professional editor for a very long time, and have copy edited and proofread more manuscripts than I can count—I actually honestly lost count years ago. In no other part of a book’s “product cycle” is an eye for detail more important than in those crucial quality control steps. I have a pretty good eye for detail, and if I’ve lost count of how many books I’ve edited, I can only imagine the number of little tiny mistakes—some that the vast majority of readers wouldn’t even have recognized—that I’ve fixed. I do, however, remember a few that I failed to fix. Yes, loyal readers, there have been times when that eye for detail failed me, and in turn, failed my authors.

What made me think of this today? Am I just having some kind of crisis of confidence? No . . . I mean, yes. Kind of.

On Thursday I transferred some money from one account to another to cover some bills that are due before the first of March. It’s no big deal, really, the sort of thing people do everyday, and certainly not the first time I’ve done it. Everything should have been fine, the money should have been in my checking account on Friday, but then it wasn’t. Then I saw that the transaction might take up to three business days. Nail biter weekend then Monday—no money. Of course, I thought, leave it to a couple of banks to conspire to cause me stress by waiting for the absolute last second, which was today, the third business day. But then no money. Then I checked the account I was transferring from and the money was back in there.

I’ll save you the description of panic . . . wild, uncontrolled gnashing of teeth, pulling out of my few remaining hairs, curses and protestations fired off into the universe, phone calls to bank customer service reps in which I begged, extolled, debased myself . . .

Read the rest in…

Editor and author Philip Athans offers hands on advice for authors of fantasy, science fiction, horror, and fiction in general in this collection of 58 revised and expanded essays from the first five years of his long-running weekly blog, Fantasy Author’s Handbook.


—Philip Athans


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Or contact me for editing, coaching, ghostwriting, and more at Athans & Associates Creative Consulting.

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 Writing Monsters. His blog, Fantasy Author’s Handbook, ( is updated every Tuesday, and you can follow him on Twitter @PhilAthans.
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  1. scottmarlowe says:

    I know exactly what you mean re typos, etc. A reviewer who otherwise gave me a nice, thoughtful review hit me with 3 stars out of 5 b/c he found some typos and some grammar errors in one of my novels. My first reaction was, of course, no way I made those errors! Turns out I had. I fixed them immediately and rolled out a new version, but damn did I feel stupid for some time after that.

    Oh, I also had the same problem with money not showing up when I expected it to. Hope your situation there works out better than it did for me!

  2. I hate finding those typos after it’s too late. Pride, I guess. And February must be the month for financial mishaps. I swear I paid a credit card bill online before the due date. I even wrote it in the checkbook which I never do before I complete the online transaction. So, why did I get a past due notice? Commence with the yelling and gnashing of teeth, but I got it worked out and the extra fees dropped.

    (Note: incomplete sentence structures used for effect. Just saying!)

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