There are some basics that make every book easier to read. Text free from typos and good grammar are two of these basics. This is what Laura Goodin has to say about grammar:
Good grammar and punctuation are both the CAUSE and the EFFECT of clear understanding. When they’re right, the meaning goes unobstructed into the reader’s head. As soon as the reader has to stop to figure out what you meant, you’ve lost them.
But what does Goodin know about these things? Not much, until you look at her forty years in the publishing industry which includes a PhD in Creative Writing. She taught me one unit for my degree at uni and survived the experience! Goodin built a little grammar lesson into each session and I came out of there with a deeper understanding on why grammar is so, so important. Sadly, very little else stuck, my grammar is very similar to before she taught me. You can stalk her on Facebook.
But I can take her quote and apply it directly to proofreading. Good proofreaders are worth more than they’re paid. This is my skill and sometimes it can be more of a curse than a blessing. When someone gives me a book to proofread then I’m in heaven, I don’t mind seeing typos when I have a chance to fix them, when I can’t then they grate on my nerves.
I have two examples of books I had to give up reading because they had too many typos. What is too many? For me, it’s one. Another writer friend once told me he uses Stephen King as a guide and allows no more than two per book, that’s what he’s seen in Stephen King novels. I know I highlight funny typos on my own Facebook timeline, but I do that with love and affection and with the knowledge that the people making those mistakes were using manual typewriters back in the 1960s. I learned my typing on a manual typewriter. They are big, clunky and while you are able to fix mistakes it’s hard and sometimes not worth it. I still have the special eraser we used to fix mistakes, this is long before Liquid Paper or Whiteout came on the market. It is shaped like a pencil, you sharpen it like a pencil but it has a little brush on the other end so you can brush away the bits of eraser and paper. Oh yes, sometimes fixing the typo put a hole in the paper and you’d find yourself typing the entire page again. Back to my examples. I don’t want to embarrass the authors so I’m going to call them Business Book and Fantasy Book.
The Business Book was written by someone famous in the business world, self published and a copy was given to me several years ago. I was trying to become a better business person so I sat down and tried to read it. It was not even a valiant attempt. I gave up at page 11 as there were too many typos. A friend who was not as judgemental as me happily rescued me by taking it out of my house. There were two or three typos per page. It’s almost as if it was published before being given to the proofreader.
The Fantasy Book is rather better, but I still gave up on page 43. There was the word with the wrong spelling, a misunderstanding of the phrase so one word was spelled incorrectly, a name was misspelled (two different spellings on the same page) and at least one other typo. This was published by Random House. I’m going to assume that some of the suggested amendments didn’t make it through before hitting publish. After I publish this blog I’ll be putting it into the box for the op shop.
Why is this such a big deal to me? I proofread only a little slower than I read. That is because the typos jump out at me. They do the same to me as poor grammar does. I can’t just read the correct word and move on, my brain has to stop and figure what should be there before I can move on. Just as with poor grammar, I have to stop and think about it. This is what I mean by sometimes my skill can be a curse. The Fantasy Book was a perfectly good book until the typos that made my brain stop added up. I struggle to forget and move on.
I once bought a friend’s book. There were so many typos I begged for the Word file so I could tell him about them. It was a nightmare, not because of the typos but because some of the characters he’d used to illustrate the dialect wrecked which quote mark should be used. I feel I need to explain. If you use the quote marks that have a slight curvature on them then the word processing programme knows which one to use, whether open quotes or close quotes by where it is used in the sentence and also by the full stop (period) or other punctuation marks at the end. Thanks to the characters he was using the programme thought they should have been open quotes instead of close quotes. My brain went totally bananas until I figured out what had happened. I think one of his characters had a Scottish accent. When I figured out the rule I gave that to him so I could stop making a comment each time I saw them…there were several per page.
Bearing in mind that spotting your own typos is really hard I fully expect someone will find some issues with this article. I have already done two read throughs to make sure the entire appears to hang together and found my fingers had typed totally the wrong word: ‘more’ instead of ‘were’. I don’t know what my fingers were thinking. My Dad used to have words to say about my copy typing ‘the words go through the eyes directly to the fingers bypassing the brain’. I had to agree as I can quite easily type a whole document that is sitting in front of me and remember nothing about it at the end.
The lesson here is, find a good proofreader for the final stage of your manuscript or hope your readers are not as judgemental as me.