Typos are a writer’s worst nightmare. Or, at least, my own worst nightmare. As I have discussed before, I write primarily for myself, and so I am fairly confident in the ideas, plots, characters, and worlds I have created, and often my willingness to change what I consider pure imagination is limited (though it does happen, and certainly my imagination is influenced by others!). So, people not fully comprehending my ideas or not liking my plots, worlds, characters, and worlds is fine with me. It’s subjective, anyway; some people will like it and some won’t. I can deal with that. When people tell me that they can’t understand what I’m saying on a basic level, I start to worry, because I do still want to communicate my ideas to readers. One of the single most deadly poisons in a story of any length are typos and tiny mistakes in writing.
I bring this up because I recently published my third book, The Libel of Blood. My first reader – my brother – talked to me about it, and the very first thing he said was that it was full of typos. To be fair, he stole my proof copy of the book, which did contain several formatting errors which have since been fixed, but his words wounded me far more deeply than any criticism of the story, plot, characters, ideas, or world would have (in fact, he actually really did like all of those elements). The mere fact, though, that the technical errors in the writing were the first thing he noticed instantly poisoned his perception of the book, and of me as an author.
Why? Because it implies laziness through a lack of proper editing. This is not necessarily true; I don’t consider myself having been lazy in this department, having gone through and edited this particular book between three and five times (depending on the section). I have seen many, many professionally published books in which a few typos appear. Generally I don’t care, unless they are very numerous. My brother is the same way, and so when he commented on the typos, I became rather upset that I had let so many slip through my fingers – and my editor’s and other early stage-reader’s fingers – and began to have my usual doubts about self-worth and all of that. So, steeling myself, I went back and re-read large sections of the book again, scouring it for typos and other errors. Unfortunately, there were some. I caught three total, two of which were formatting hiccups, and one of which was a random dash where it should’t have been. I searched my electronic document for common typos, like “teh” and “fo,” and nothing came up. I am not sure if the search function was working properly (I’ve noticed with large documents it doesn’t always), or if perhaps I am also unable to see my own typos because I so strongly will them not to be there. If the latter is true, I am ashamed of myself, but there is little I can do about it.
Suffice to say, I did not find the numerous typos my brother mentioned, but I do trust him (even though he could not find any of the typos either, when going back later), and I deeply apologize to my readers who find them, and hope that you can see past the errors to the story beneath. I considered re-releasing the book with all of the errors fixed, but I don’t think I found enough to justify a complete press release overhaul. All that I hope for now is to catch them better next time.
So, what was that confession all about? Insecurity. Typos are my single largest fear in writing, because, surprisingly, they are not an easy fix. They are nearly impossible to find as a writer, because you know what you were trying to say. Many readers also gloss over them, but there are always those who don’t, and for those who see the typos, the professionalism of the book is called into question and that reader might not be a return reader. Typos are something that the writer can exert relatively little control over. The tiny mistakes are often harder to correct than the larger ones, even with extensive editing (and, one could argue that extensive editing makes finding the typos harder as you familiarize yourself overly much with your wording and structure).
So, the moral of this story? I hate typos, and I wish that automated spellcheckers worked better. When your writing team consists only of yourself and a few non-professional editorial readers, typos can often slip through the strainer, and all you can sometimes do is cross your fingers and hope you caught them all after your fifth run-through of the book.
It’s time we voted typos off the writing island.