Millions of books, blogs, articles, and papers are published annually. The difference between great sales, the right kind of attention and followers, and public ridicule can be as simple as a comma in the wrong place.
Nothing beats the irritation JK Rowling probably felt with her first edition of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone when she noticed that her list for Hogwarts’ supplies included one wand listed twice! Her wizards certainly weren’t meant to carry spare wands.
Even Webster’s Dictionary did the walk of publishing shame in 1934 when they accidentally added the word “dord” to their dictionary instead of “D or d”. The error was only picked up in 1939, so for five years, everyone just accepted that a “dord” was a scientific abbreviation for density. Pretty dense, right?
These types of mistakes don’t give people a bunch of faith in their publishers. Most people would think twice before paying for such a frustrating experience. And publishers could probably forget about any repeat business from a client they had dropped like this.
Quality publishing means taking a little more time, in the beginning, to edit and proofread your work, thus saving you a lot of stress later.
1. Skimping on the Editing and Proofreading Process Costs You More in the End
You may be in a terrible hurry to get your book into print and start making those sales, or perhaps your budget is a little tight so you decide to skip that step, but the sales simply won’t happen if you end up with a ton of bad reviews.
- No matter how fantastic your idea, or how important the message, if people pick up on too many mistakes this is going to seriously dent the image of the author and the publisher.
- If you are self-publishing, you won’t be able to upload your work to platforms like Amazon or Kindle if the formatting is incorrect. This can waste a bunch of time trying to fix things after the fact.
- After you’ve pressed that “submit” button is definitely not the time to give your work a quick once-over. Seeing your name in print alongside a whole lot of mistakes makes for an incredibly awful sinking feeling. And to withdraw, re-edit and republish your work is a mighty pain.
- It’s not just the irritation factor. Or even the cost in time and money. Mistakes can change the meaning of words, sometimes in a serious way. Imagine a typo in a medical book or a practical chemistry book, for example. It could be explosive in all the wrong ways.
There have been some epic typos and mistakes which have closed businesses, cost people their jobs, lost court cases, and lost billions of dollars.
Like the time NASA left a hyphen out in 1962. $150 million dollars (in today’s currency) worth of spacecraft had to be abandoned because a hyphen had been erroneously left out of the coding instructions, and this irreversibly changed the trajectory of the expensive Mariner 1. They had to quickly detonate the spacecraft minutes after takeoff to prevent it from crashing into a populated area. Pity they didn’t use a proofreader.
Not everyone is launching spacecraft, but if a mistake can be avoided, it should be.
Instead of looking informed, a badly-edited book simply looks amateurish and the mistakes lead readers to wonder what else might be wrong with the work. Star ratings on reviews and sales plummet. Unless, of course, rivals buy the book simply to see how badly you did.
There is always the option of taking the book down, revising it and republishing it, but by then the damage has already been done.
Far better to take the time to check it all thoroughly first.
2. Beware of Autocorrect - Keep Humans in the Equation
We are so lucky to have many useful apps and programs at our fingertips. They certainly make the job of spell checking and correcting obvious grammar and punctuation issues so much quicker and easier.
The problem with bots though is that they are designed to work with set rules, and the English language has so many twisty, windy exceptions to the rules that it is almost impossible for a bot to spot them all.
You just need to go online and search for funny autocorrect fails to see how a bot can go horribly wrong. I cannot begin to list the many times an app has “corrected” my work, only to destroy meaning and accuracy in the process.
- Use the bots, but check each suggested change one by one to ensure you aren’t autocorrecting your way into more trouble. And while these apps are a great tool, they certainly shouldn’t be relied on completely.
- The other tip is to have as many sets of eyes on the text before publishing as you can manage. This increases the chances of catching and correcting the maximum number of problems.
While humans can read a text more holistically and flexibly than a computer program can, we have other issues to contend with. Our brains tend to fill in gaps and not see what is unexpected. T4at is w7y we c8n r89d th3s s$nt&nce. So we may not always see a glaring mistake at first read, or if we are the only ones looking.
Ever seen the monkey business illusion? An “invisible” gorilla literally walks through a room full of people, and nobody sees him. If we cannot see obvious visual discrepancies like an invading gorilla, how can we expect one person to pick up every small error in a long text?
- Avoid false economies. Too many writers have opted for a once-off edit and proofread combined, only to find glaring issues staring back at them from an expensive printed page. It’s a risky choice because that one person may miss a few gorillas. It’s always better to have more than one competent person check for errors. As we can see, they are easy to miss even for the best of us.
- It is good practice to have both an editor and a proofreader check everything. They fulfill different functions, and so both are necessary.
- Editors will do the initial check for spelling, grammar, punctuation, format, flow, and inconsistencies. They look for common errors like extra spacing; repeat words; misplaced commas and apostrophes; jumbled homonyms such as their, they’re and there; misuse of syntax, active vs passive voice and more. They may ask for sections to be rewritten or expanded on to improve clarity. They may even send the text back to the writer several times as part of a continuous improvement process, all the while advising and reviewing the changes.
- Proofreaders check the final draft, to ensure that the look, feel, and content all fits together and shines as it should. They look at overall format, letter kerning and spacing, and use of images. They also cast their eagle eyes over the text for errors of any kind in an effort to eliminate any lingering problems.
A sound and robust editing process is vital to avoid problems down the line.
Book Editing with Readers in Mind
Great book editing always has the end-user in mind. Although the author’s voice and their message must be carefully preserved, at the same time, editors will be on the lookout for any common errors which will weaken the reading experience.
There’s nothing worse for me than delving into a great book, getting immersed in the world the writer has created, only to be rudely jolted back out of it by a typo. Straight away, my critical brain kicks in, and I have lost my connection to the writing. I am back in the real world and feel disjointed and distracted. It takes some effort for me to carefully venture back again.
- Mistakes in the text break the “fourth wall”. They make the reader glaringly aware that they are a reader and separate from what is unfolding in the text. Instead of being part of the action, we are suddenly aware that we are observers, and this ruins the entertainment and adventure value of the read.
- Reading something with inconsistencies of any sort, whether in content or grammar, leaves us questioning everything about the book. The obvious question we ask is, “If they couldn’t get their spelling right, what else might be wrong here?”
Believe me, you don’t want to engage peoples’ critical minds too much. If you have ever read down the comments section of any blog or article, even the best writing is often shot full of holes. You don’t want to give the trolls and critics even more ammunition by leaving silly mistakes lying around for them to jump on.
While some people say any attention is good attention, in the publishing business a blunder stays there forever. Even Shakespeare suffered through publishing problems. Did you know that in his famous play, Cymbeline, printers published Innogen as Imogen? She remains Imogen to this day, but that was not what he had originally intended at all. Many ladies today are named after a printing error.
In Summary, Proofreaders Are Paramount
We want to stand out from the crowd, but not for the wrong reasons.
To go through the effort and expense of creating a great piece of writing only to skip the editing and proofreading process may save a bit of time and money in the moment, but it can potentially cost you so much more in bad reviews, extra funds, a tarnished brand and lost revenue.
Proofreading Prevents Problems - Quality Published Work Should Always Go Through It
It takes time to build a good reputation as an author or publisher, and sadly this can be lost all too easily with one out of place letter. Suddenly all the attention is on the mistake, not the message.
There are a large variety of publishers and also publishing methods you can take advantage of. No matter what the deal is, a quality publishing service should always include thorough edits and proofreading.
If, on the other hand, you intend to self-publish instead of working with a traditional publishing agency, this doesn’t mean you should skimp out on proofreading. If you need help polishing your masterpiece and making it shine, take a look at The Urban Writers' service packages.
Quality editing and proofreading can make all the difference, so don’t get caught without it!