THE PERFECT IS THE ENEMY OF THE GOOD
In the publishing of the next book, every self-published author has to face the fact that typos exist, are blamed on the author (who has ultimate responsibility), and are as hard to eliminate completely as cockroaches.
What is a practical limit for the number of typos?
A little checking provides a couple of rough guidelines:
- A typo per thousand words is too many.
- Three typos in ten thousand words is proofing to a professional standard.
That standard means that, in a novel of 187,000 words, one could discover 56 typos – a huge number – and still be within professional quality. But it’s a twenty-chapter book, and that is only 2-3 typos per chapter, which doesn’t sound quite so bad.
The kind of errors matters
Using the wrong word isn’t a typo – it’s a mistake. It often comes from not knowing a word well enough, and not looking up the correct usage if you’re not certain.
There are a number of these anthills to die on, and experienced writers will know the difference between may and might, principal and principle, and verb affect/effect and noun affect/effect.
No one but beginners should have problems with its and it’s, or their/they’re/there. A professional writer needs to be certain about the basics, and have a cheat sheet for the ones which cause them trouble personally.
And it never hurts to check again, reinforcing what you know, challenging what you think you know. I am getting very humble in that department, as my damaged brain keeps throwing me the almost right word, I find it slightly odd – and have the sense to check. The bigger your vocabulary, the more chances for this to trip you up.
Leaving out a short word is a typo – a good friend just caught me leaving out ‘to’ from the infinitive ‘to commit’ – thank you!
The little shorties which are the wrong word, but are an actual word, are one of my peccadilloes: it, if, is, in – it is so easy to type the wrong consonant!
Transposing a couple of letters or leaving off a final letter – happen frequently to all typists, and can be very hard to catch. Sometimes the best way is to have the robot voice of your computer or program read you your own deathless prose – and make you giggle. My current typo-in-hiding is leaving the final ‘r’ off ‘your,’ which sounds funny when read back to me – YMMV.
Paying for professional proofing
does not guarantee perfection, unfortunately. It may be worth it but I think it doesn’t teach you anything. You’ll still make mistakes and typos, and have to figure out how to make the corrections stick in your writer’s mind, if they’re the kind you can learn from such as using a word incorrectly.
If you accept the corrections made by a pro too quickly, you may not move the problems into long-term memory properly – and so will continue to make that kind of flub. It’s worth taking some time to ask yourself why they happened, and whether you can make a permanent self-fix.
And you’re still the one with your name on the book.
So wish me well on what is the final proofing:
Sending out ARCs I think are perfect, and getting back the little niggly (and wonderfully welcome), “I liked it – but on page #n, you have a typo…”
Embarrassing – but I am grateful for every catch.
And vow to learn from them.
Can’t be perfect – but I can always become better.