May 23, 2013
Mistakes Show Up in Many Ways
- Imagine buying a new computer only to discover that the percentage key doesn’t work, or that five pixels on your screen aren’t working.
- Or how about a new refrigerator, and the first time you have guests over you discover the ice maker taps out after half an hour. (I’ve been there with this one.)
- Or a new car that starts making funny noises when you exceed 70 mph. (Been there.)
- Or a circuit breaker that constantly trips because the electrician overloaded it.
None of the things mentioned are pleasant experiences, and no one enjoys that kind of surprise. We recently had electric work done and ended up with flickering lights, overloaded breakers…you name it. We had to call the electrician back three times. Needless to say, I won’t be recommending that person to friends.
All of these thoughts of mistakes were brought to the surface while I was reading a book the other night. It was riddled with so many errors that I didn’t make it past page 30. As I fumed over wasting both time and money on the purchase, I realized I felt the same way about that book, and that author, that I did about the electrician. And the car. And the refrigerator. I also realized it was an emotion I needed to share with authors. Me, as a reader, not as a writer.
Pay Attention, Writers
That is exactly how readers feel when they buy a book with mistakes. I’m not talking about one or two typos or the occasional missed word. I’m talking about a dozen or more typos, misused words, sentences or entire paragraphs repeated, formatting being off. The list goes on and on. As a reader, it bothers me so much I’ll put a book down without finishing.
Some writers take an attitude of, “So what? I made a few mistakes.”
I can only shake my head at that.
- Suppose the engineers designing airplanes took that attitude?
- Or the doctors who treat your family?
- Or (God forbid) the companies who make your smartphones?
We would be appalled. (And perhaps dead)
But Writers Use Only Words
While it’s true that mistakes with words won’t usually kill us, they can be embarrassing. This was brought to light recently during the horrible incident at the Boston Marathon. Several bloggers referred to the bombers having close ties to the Czech Republic. It drew an immediate response from the Czech ambassador, who was quick to remind people that The Czech Republic and Chechnya are two very different entities.
Under different circumstances, words could even do damage.
- Suppose your pharmacist made simple mistakes. A prescription from my cardiologist was once mistyped by the pharmacy. Instead of: ‘take ½ a pill every other day,’ they typed ‘take ½ a pill twice a day.’
- In this case no harm was done. I happened to know what the doctor prescribed so I simply alerted the pharmacy. But it could have turned out differently. Their typo would have had me taking 4x the amount prescribed.
Mistakes Are Mistakes Are Mistakes
For the writers who still think there’s nothing wrong with mistakes, take a look at a few of these excerpts I pulled from random reviews on Amazon.
- “There were grammatical mistakes, words misused, and a lot of repetition. One whole paragraph was repeated.”
- “…After about 70 pages, I got so tired of the mistakes, I stopped reading. I’ll never read that author again.”
- “…Did she write this for children? I don’t think so because of the content. But this author writes like a 5th grader…”
Did you catch that one statement? Read the second review again and pay attention to the last line.
“….I’ll never read that author again.”
As an author that statement scares me. That kind of statement should scare all authors—scare us into doing it right. I’m not going to say it’s easy to produce a book without mistakes. It’s damn difficult. I recently was made aware of three punctuation errors in one of my books. It infuriated me that I missed them, but the remedy was not that painful. I had to pay to have the layout person fix it, and then the files were re-published to Amazon, B&N, Apple, and Kobo. It’s wasn’t the easiest thing to do but it was far better than the old days when you might have had thousands of books already printed. That, would have been a problem.
The next time you see a bad review, or a review that mentions mistakes in your book, instead of getting pissed off, be thankful that person took the time to mention it. And then go fix it!
BTW: If you ever see any of that in my writing, please let me know. I’ll be curled up in the corner, stabbing myself.
Ciao, and thanks for stopping by,
Giacomo Giammatteo is the author of MURDER TAKES TIME, MURDER HAS CONSEQUENCES, and A BULLET FOR CARLOS. He lives in Texas where he and his wife have an animal sanctuary with 45 loving “friends.”
I’d love to hear your thoughts on mistakes in books.