Monday, July 18, 2011

Looking at Typos from a Different Angle

I recently found an article online that got me thinking about those pesky little things called typos. It seems to me that traditionally published books these days seem to have more and more typos. This could mean a lot of different things. It could mean that there are less copy editors in large publishing houses. It could mean that the system has inherent errors because publishers allow authors to send in last minute changes via email. It could mean that authors aren't as careful these days because it's so easy to fix typos in this digital ocean of words. It could mean, simply, that we are more accepting of these things. Or maybe not.

The article says:
Rushing to publish and overlooking glaring typos may have become part of the new economics of traditional publishing. But on the Web, typos sometimes come with a price. “Spelling mistakes ‘cost millions’ in lost online sales,” said a BBC headline last week. The article cited an analysis of British Web figures that suggested that a single spelling mistake on a e-commerce site can hurt credibility so much that online revenues fall by half.
That seems pretty drastic, don't you think? Over a TYPO? Would you stop coming here to the Literary Lab if you found typos in our blog posts? Well, we always have typos in our blog posts. Oh well. I guess you also don't pay to visit here, do you? My other question is do you put a book down when you find typos in it? Because when I read the Twilight series, I will tell you that I was utterly shocked by the amount of typos in all of the books. I could have taken a red pen to those things! Still, I did enjoy the story and I couldn't tell you what the typos were now. I only remember that they were there.

How much do you let typos affect your judgment of a piece of literature? A blog post? Do you think less of the author? It costs publishers a lot of money to fix typos even in an e-book version of a novel, let alone a print run. This is why many typos just go unfixed and "overlooked."

I think the most interesting thing I've learned today is that perhaps we shouldn't look at typos from a different angle.
Bad spellers are a breed apart from good ones. A writer with a mind that doesn’t register how words are spelled tends to see through the words he encounters — straight to the things, characters, ideas, images and emotions they conjure. A good speller, by contrast — the kind who never fails to clock the idiosyncratic orthography of “algorithm” or “Albert Pujols” — tends to see language as a system. Good spellers are often drawn to poetry and wordplay, while bad spellers, for whom language is a conduit and not an end in itself, can excel at representation and reportage.
Interesting, eh? The point is that we are human and we make mistakes. It's interesting to think that the typos I see in a finished product today might mean that I'm seeing more of the real author behind the work instead of an over-polished art piece. In a way, it's refreshing to think that the typos in my own published novels are signs of me as a person - and my publisher, as well - rather than unforgivable errors.

I used to be the type with a stick so far up my...well, you know...that a typo sent me on a silent rampage inside my head. How dare the publisher miss this stuff and interrupt my reading experience! How stupid could they possibly be?

Now, well, I'm getting a little more relaxed on the subject. I'll still try harder than ever to keep typos out of my work, but if they happen to occur all the way to a final published piece, I won't freak out too much.


  1. If someone thinks that traditionally published books have more typos now than they used to, they have never read the pulp novels of the 50s and 60s.
    As far as the typos in marketing that is a different story. A small shirt designer asked all their facebook friends, "Which of these would you where?" You can see how that takes away from their credibility.

  2. I suppose it doesn't help that I'm an editor, but typos do bug me. I won't set something down at the first one, but if it's repeated it throws me out of the story/blog/selling point so that I am just not interested anymore. I take pride in the fact that I spell things correctly. Yes, I'm anal and I like it! Lol.

    I do see how a few typos can be the artist showing through. I'll have to remember that.

  3. Typos bug me too. Trust me, I make enough of them at times, in the initial draft of a project, but . . .I try to catch them in the edit phases.

    I think my bigger gripe is the misusage of words "there" for "their" and whatnot that I seem to find more and more lately.

    Now, are any of these things going to make me stop reading? No. Will they make me shake my head? Yes. Will they make me take a bit more effort during editing phases? Yes.


  4. That's an interesting quote about typos, Michelle. I can definitely see how that's true. I can appreciate both types of writers. The ones who see through the words and are just trying to tell the story can be very engaging. The ones who pay more attention to the language can create some beautiful work. From my own perspective, I tend to see through the words more often. I also tend to make a lot of typos!

  5. And they say self-published books aren't edited!

    I expect a few mistakes in any book, but a lot makes me wonder.

    Actually, I constantly find myself spelling words wrong when I type replies on the Internet. Though I do know how to spell the words, my fingers don't always catch on. A manuscript is different. It should be checked over by more than one person for errors, preferably an actual editor is one of them. I hired an editor for Killer Career, which I self-published and also hired her for the current one, Forever Young-Blessing or Curse, which should be out soon.

    Morgan Mandel

  6. I do notice them--and that's the only problem. They pull me out of the story for a second. But I wouldn't put something down because of it. If anything, it just makes me feel like the author is human. It might even be reassuring to find one in a Jhumpa Lahiri book. ;)

  7. Typos don't bother me so very much. I notice many of them, but I know I make a lot of errors too. What bother's me most is inconsistencies. I read a book that made a very big point in one scene about two people not coming to dinner. Two pages later, in the middle of dinner, one of the people who weren't there had an in depth discussion with someone. That kind of lack of attention does bother me.

  8. What disturbs me is the increasing typos I find in my morning newspaper. I also can get into a frenzy over misplaced apostrophes. One of my first jobs was as a proofreader at a newspaper, so I am quite unforgiving of errors therein.

    I'm not quite so bothered by typos in books if they are minor and infrequent. There are at least five in my own first book, mainly because I was never given a chance by the publisher to go over the proof. I would have caught those errors. They were in too much of a last-minute rush, so I understand that sometimes authors have little or no control over the quality of the final product.

    I've certainly been thrown out of books (and tossed them aside) by more egregious errors that seemed more likely to be made by the author -- misuse of words being a huge factor. One book used "cue" in place of "queue" and "past" instead of "passed" in the same paragraph. There is simply no excuse for those errors, and that book was quickly recycled.


  9. I don't mind the occasional typo in a book, because I've been around the periphery of publishing long enough to know that the closer a book gets to actually being sent off to a printer, the more difficult and frantic it is to make any kind of change/correction to the text and the less time and care is available for those changes/corrections. It's just in the nature of the publications process.

    Usage errors, though, are a different thing and if a book comes out where "it's" and "its" are mixed up or "cue" and "queue" or "synonym" is misunderstood to mean "symbolism" or whatever, then I will stop reading because that's not the publishing process at fault, but the writer and the editor.

    None of this has anything to do with the interesting part of Michelle's post, about how good and bad spellers might use language in fundamentally different ways. That's fascinating. I am a pretty good speller though I make certain types of typos in my drafts and there are certain words I usually misspell. I might also make more spelling mistakes in my drafts when writing action scenes than when writing more cerebral passages. Which is interesting.

  10. They are in my blood. Literally...I am type O-Positive (insert rimshot here).

    I find the "sales drop by half" figure to be highly speculative. I doubt half the visitors on a tupical e-commerce website could spot the more common typos.

    I don't care if I see them in a blog post, and even less so in a comment or an email.

    If I find a few in a pubished book I usually chuckle because I caught them. I don't judge the book based on their presence or absence, though. I've read and loved books with several typos and I've read and hated books with flawless spelling and grammar.

    Really, to me it's all in the cover.

  11. I did not mis-spell typical on purpose. You just have to trust me on that.

  12. This just in: Daley stocks are down by 50%.

  13. I'm still holding, Rick! Not to worry!

  14. Project: Hah, I'll have to check out the pulp novels of the 50s and 60s. :)

    The thing is, does that shirt designer always misspell that word? I just think it's a bit harsh to always judge businesses based on tweets and facebook messages. People make mistakes, and maybe it was an intern or an assistant who misspelled it. Now, if they're misspelling stuff on their site and it's consistent misspellings, that's an issue, I think.

    Amie: I'll admit that typos DO bug me, but I'm trying to be more lenient lately, especially since publishing my work and seeing typos happen no matter what precautions I take. They just happen.

    I didn't know you were an editor! Either that, I forgot. I'll have to see what you charge for copyediting for some projects I have coming up!

    Scott: Yeah, the typos that are more editing than typos really can get to me, especially in published fiction.

    Davin: I think my fiction is pretty clean of typos, but they still happen. Still, editors are really helpful, aren't they? Hehe!

    Morgan: Yeah, my fingers often don't catch on when I'm replying to comments or making comments. If it's really bad I make an effort to change it or acknowledge that there was a typo I didn't intend. Thanks for your comment!

    JA: Yeah, they can pull me out of the story, too, and that's the most frustrating thing. It's not bad if it's a few here and there, but if there's a lot on - and on every page, sometimes I just can't keep reading without getting too irritated. Still working on that - especially if it's on a manuscript.

    I have yet to find one in a Lahiri book. :)

  15. S.P.: Inconsistencies, I must admit, are my biggest fear. I found a few in my Monarch ARC, even! GAH. Good thing I caught them before the final print run and my publisher was willing to change them. No matter how many times or how many people went through that thing, stuff still slipped by. Probably most readers wouldn't even catch them, but I would know they're there.

    Alex: Oh, journalism is really bad, yes. They need more good copy editors! Haha about the recycled book. Usually if the story is good enough, I'll skip over stuff like that and not be bothered, but if the story isn't good, either, it's a doomed book for my reading pile.

    Scott: I think the most fascinating thing is how good and bad spellers use language differently. I think it's even more fascinating to read that way, too, and I think there's something to be learned by that concept - about storytelling in general. Are we sometimes not seeing the forest for the trees type of thing.

    Rick: I thought the sales drop by half figure was a bit extreme, as well. I know more bad spellers than good spellers and it's hard to think that most people shopping on a T-shirt site would even care about a typo or even spot it.

  16. Call me anal, but typing errors annoy me. I edit articles and I consider it part of my job to make sure those little things aren't part of the finished product. As a writer, it bugs me to misspell anything. It also slows me down because I tend to correct as I go. I just can't leave a word misspelled. As far as books go, I consider it a travesty for published works to have spelling errors. I can tell you honestly that I'd be embarrassed and irritated if my book was put out in final form full of spelling errors.

    Does this mean I will toss a book out if it has them? No. I recognize that this is my own personal axe to grind. It does irritate me, but most of the time I just ignore it as best I can. I don't worry about spelling on blogs. Yes they can be professional in nature, but I guess I consider them more of a casual medium and therefore not subject to the thorough editing process books should go through (whether traditionally published or not). Okay, I've ranted long enough. Who wants the mike?

  17. Scott's comment made me go back and reread the second quote. I have a COMPLETELY unrelated post up in which I confess to being a horrid speller. And yet I love word play. I love what can be accomplished with purposeful and thoughtful word choice.

    So now I feel defensive. :)

  18. Eric: Haha, I sense your passion and frustration! I felt the same way until I put out my own work, and now I have publisher who has put out my work, and I've seen first-hand how typos can happen. My books aren't riddled or filled with them, not by a long shot, and that's the good thing. I'm understanding of a few.

    JA: Hehe, I should go read that post. :)

  19. Well &^$@. Oh, wait. I meant $%^&.

  20. This just in: Daley stocks down again!

  21. I tend to think that typos should be caught by the editor. It just shows how lazy everyone is and how focused on getting money the publishing companies are. "Gimmie it through a p.c. spell check and that's good enough for the masses as long as they pay us first! Hurry cause I'm late for golf!"

  22. We judge people all the time. We can’t help it. But, you’re right, it depends where the typo appears. A site like the BBC has a reputation for excellence and yet a typo on one of its websites would still irritate me not to the stage that I would toss my TV set out of the window or anything but I would just regard it as a sign of the times when even the BBC can’t get it right all the time. On other sites I’m not so generous. A glaring typo – especially an apostrophe-s where there ought not to be one – would be enough for me to go elsewhere. It smacks of sloppiness, of not caring enough to get it right. And even the best of us can get it wrong. There was only a single typo on my poetry book when the proof copy came back from the printer: MY NAME! Can you believe I got that one wrong? How many times must I have looked at that cover and I got my own name wrong? I would have died a thousand deaths if I’d missed that one.

    I’m appalled when books from traditional publishers appear with typos in them. I won’t stop reading and I don’t judge the author knowing just how many typos and brain farts my own books contain before they get proofread but I do judge the publisher. I go to great pains with my books – at least four of us will have gone through my new book, each several times – and the same even with my blog; my wife proofreads every blog I post. I don’t think seeing a work before it has been properly proofread gives any great insight into the real writer. We all rattle away at keyboards and scribble on bits of paper as fast as we can while the ideas are still fresh and all the insight any reader would get looking at our original efforts is the realisation that you don’t need to be a great typist or have the neatest handwriting to be a decent writer. Have you ever seen Samuel Beckett’s handwriting or a Beethoven score? You’d never know if there were mistakes there or not most of the time.

  23. Michael: Haha, yes, I can totally see that, absolutely. The thing is, I had editors go through my self-published book, as well (more then one editor!), and even though they took their time and loved what they were doing, they still missed stuff. I still missed stuff. It just happens, sadly. So I'm always willing to forgive a few typos these days. However, I do agree that big publishing does feel a little lazier than it should in terms of pumping stuff out there. Not lazy in getting it out there, but lazy in quality.

    Jim: Oh, dear! Your name! *palm to forehead* That is totally something I'd do, I'm afraid. The problem is that we truly shouldn't judge any one person for typos because by the time a book is published it has gone through so many people that it's a group effort more than anything, even with self-publishing in a lot of instances. Still, I sure hope nobody ever gets my name wrong on a book. I know it's been misspelled plenty of times on blogs. :)

  24. I always try to get my spilling write, but I keep in mind that shakespeare spelt his name many different ways and don't get so ana....pedantic about it.

  25. When I read, I tend to see a picture of what is happening in the book, so my mind skims over things occasionally. (I'm often surprised at the details I just didn't notice as I floated through a scene.) Thus, it's easy for me to miss a typo. So, when I catch one, it's generally because it was one that conflicted with my ability to understand the sentence, and then I need to stop to figure out the word they actually meant to write. I think if it's gotten to the point where orthography troubles are interfering with the reading and clarity, there's a problem.

  26. Michelle: I would catch the errors. Ask Amber Argyle...I caught one for her in the first chapter of Witch Song that everyone else missed and told her about it.

  27. That is really interesting about the two types of readers. I'm definitely the good speller type. (I'm not perfect, but correct language matters a lot to me!) I feel the way Jim Murdoch does about publications with egregious errors: "It smacks of sloppiness, of not caring enough to get it right."

    When Twilight first came out, I remember picking it up at a bookstore and flipping through. The first two paragraphs I saw had typos in them, so I tossed the book aside, assuming that if the writing and editing were that sloppy, the story was probably sloppy too. Readers and even fans of the series tell me I'm right--there are also plenty of storyline snags.

    I don't care much about occasional typos in published works or about what I'll call "casual" spelling and grammar in casual formats like email, Tweets, and blog posts.

    But say I'm looking for an expensive school for my daughter, and the promotional materials have glaring typos in them. (See my recent post "Think of teh Children's!") That school has lost my interest and respect for good.

    When the grammar and spelling of a book are so bad that it seems the author has not even a grasp of basic English and the editor is apparently out to lunch, I wonder why I should care about the book that is so neglected by its creators and so full of confusing and jarring distractions.

    Also, I can't stand reading something filled with errors (and I mean filled, not just having a few here and there) because it actually gives me a headache. For me, reading a book filled with errors is like listening to classical music on a half-tuned radio buzzing with static. I can recognize my favorite melody, but it's not enjoyable.

  28. I can't stand reading something, ostensibly edited and published after all the copy editing has been done, that's still full of mistakes, even something as simple as a typographical error.
    On the other hand, since I love copy editing and it's the one thing I'm good at, I wouldn't want everyone else to be brilliant at it all the time, or I'd be out of a job/hobby :-)

  29. Typos don't bother me as much as misspells. A typo is a typo, but a misspell shows a little more about the author than the fact that they're just rushing on the keyboard. The only time a typo would bother me is if there are more then 10 in any given book. I can sometimes pardon that kind of oversight in a book that's only in its first edition, but for a relatively popular book with more than 10? I feel the publisher isn't doing their job very well and making the author look unnecessarily bad.

  30. I've skimmed the comments looking for one on dysgraphia-a learning disability that affects writing skills; I know, I suffer. I have no problem reading, read quickly, but never mastered phonics or spelling rules. Great analyzer and interpreter of literature--drove a few my college professors crazy, most loved my mind and minded now my spelling. Have published two books, killed the editors with my errors, but they hung in. See my blog page on learning disabilities

    and be grateful as well as charitable.

  31. Can you spot and correct the meaning changing typo in my previous post. Sighing.


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