By Debbie Burke
Typos are the annoying, buzzing flies in a writer’s life. After 57 proofreads of your novel, you must have swatted every single one, right?
I sometimes wonder if typos, like flies, lay eggs throughout the manuscript. After everything is perfectly spelled, punctuated, and you’ve hit the “publish” button, suddenly the eggs hatch.
Wrong. Typos do not spontaneously appear. Much as I hate to admit it, I put them there.
Blatant misspelling is not a problem most of the time. More often, it’s transposed letters or transposed words, errors that are invisible because the word is spelled correctly—it’s just not the right word, or it’s in the wrong place.
For that reason, I’ve never depended on spellcheck.
Unfortunately, the more times you proof something, the less visible those little devils become. That’s why proofreaders with fresh eyes are invaluable. I can spot typos in someone else’s manuscript easily but am often blind to my own.
Recently, TKZ regular Kay DiBianca sent me a lovely email to say she’d enjoyed my latest thriller, Dead Man’s Bluff, particularly the twist at the end. Then she added she found a typo in Chapter 4 when the main characters come upon a dead deer in a Florida swamp. The sentence read: “Files buzzed thick around its open eyes…”
Drat! I wondered where I’d put those darn files!
Then Kay shared a typo she’d caught while proofing her upcoming book:
I had written “died-in-the-wool” instead of “dyed-in-the-wool.” Our son said readers would think the character got run over by a sheep.
Here’s another example that proves just how totally blind the author can be.
The librarian at an active senior community has been wonderfully supportive and included all my books in their collection. In Eyes in the Sky, she found a typo which she emailed me about. She noted the exact page where it appeared. I opened my copy to that page and read it over and over, searching for the typo. I emailed her back and asked which sentence the typo appeared in. She quoted it. I read and reread her email and couldn’t find a typo in her quote. Again, I stared at the sentence in the book for several more minutes and still couldn’t see it.
I was about to call her, admit humiliation, and ask what I was missing.
At last, my now-bleary, squinting eyes recognized it. The sentence was supposed to read: “Let’s go back to the hotel.” Instead, it said: “Let’s back go to the hotel.”
All the right words, correctly spelled…just in the wrong order. Because my brain knew the correct order, that’s what it perceived. And probably most readers’ brains had the same perception because, so far, the librarian is the only one who commented.
For years, memes have made the rounds on the net that say, in effect, if you can read the following, you’re a genius. The first and last letters of words are correct but everything in the middle is jumbled.
Here’s one example:
[Collected on the Internet, 2003]
Aoccdrnig to rscheearch at Cmabrigde uinervtisy, it deosn’t mttaer waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoetnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteres are at the rghit pclae. The rset can be a tatol mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit a porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae we do not raed ervey lteter by it slef but the wrod as a wlohe.
And another that’s harder:
7H15 M3554G3 53RV35 7O PR0V3 H0W 0UR M1ND5 C4N D0 4M4Z1NG 7H1NG5! 1MPR3551V3 7H1NG5! 1N 7H3 B3G1NN1NG 17 WA5 H4RD BU7
N0W, 0N 7H15 LIN3 Y0UR M1ND 1S R34D1NG 17 4U70M471C4LLY W17H 0U7 3V3N 7H1NK1NG 4B0U7 17, B3 PROUD! 0NLY C3R741N P30PL3 C4N R3AD 7H15. PL3453 F0RW4RD 1F U C4N R34D 7H15.
Perhaps this is meant to reassure people who can’t spell or proofread that, hey, it’s okay because you’re super smart.
But if writers want to be perceived as professionals, we must hold ourselves to higher standards than internet folklore.
Another eagle-eyed reader caught a different goof in Dead Man’s Bluff, involving a 13-year-old character who was originally named “Leticia.”
My husband and I have a young friend named Jessica with special needs whom we’ve known since she was 13. She’s now 30 with ongoing medical problems that restrict her activity. Therefore, reading is her favorite pastime and she’s always excited when I give her a new book.
About six months ago, we were at lunch with her and her mom. Jessica leaned across the table and, in a conspiratorial whisper, said to me, “Wouldn’t it be cool if, in your next book, you had a character named Jessica?”
How could I say no?
Dead Man’s Bluff was complete and close to launching. I knew Jessica would like her name used for the 13-year-old kickass character who’s trying to train a search dog. I went home, clicked on “find and replace”, and changed “Leticia” to “Jessica.”
Boom, done, easy peasy…or so I thought.
However, I didn’t realize in one place I had misspelled “Leticia” as “Letitia.” That name didn’t get replaced because it was spelled differently. Oops.
The beauty of electronic publishing is the ability to make corrections and re-upload the file for an instant fix. If you have books on various platforms, the process takes longer but is still easy. With Print on Demand, thankfully, fixes are also simple. Can you imagine being stuck with a print run of 500 books with embarrassing errors?
I’ve heard of one author who makes typos into a game with her readers. She offers a bounty (I think, a free ebook) to readers who spot goofs. While that’s a smart way to turn lemons into lemonade, error-free should still be the goal.
Better to catch those files—I mean, flies—before the book is published.
Here are a few tricks to swat the sneaky little devils:
#1. Read the manuscript out loud. Every. Single. Word. This also helps with punctuation goofs, e.g. where a period should be a comma, etc.
#2. Listen to the manuscript using read-aloud programs like Natural Reader, Balabolka, or the Text to Speech function in Word and Office.
#3. Change the font for your whole manuscript and increase it a size or two. If you normally use Times New Roman at 12 pt., try Comic Sans at 14 or 16 pt. You fool your brain into thinking it’s not the same document. The more visual differences between your manuscript and your proof copy, the more you are apt to see oddities.
#4. Find a careful, meticulous reader, perhaps an English teacher or librarian. Offer to buy lunch or barter services in exchange for proofreading. Be sure to include their names in the acknowledgements page and give them a thank-you copy when the book is published.
#5. Consider hiring a professional copywriter and/or proofreader if you struggle with spelling and grammar. Yes, it’s expensive. That cost may motivate you to improve your own skills!
Speaking of expensive, here are some boo-boos that probably cost a few bucks to rectify: https://blog.hubspot.com/marketing/14-worst-typos-ever
TKZers: What was the worst typo you ever made? Feel free to go back as far as elementary school.
What’s your favorite typo?
Debbie Burke is reasonably sure she has now swatted all the files and flies in Dead Man’s Bluff. Please check it out at this link.
Debbie, the world’s worst proofreader thanks you for those tipz!
Thnak you, Joe!
Typos? I sort of excuse them, the way I used to excuse Dizzy Dean’s unintentional but often hilarious words that came from his mout’.
“He slud into third ahead of the tag.”
“He booted it! He booted it! He blooted it!”
“There goes the runner. Lopata’s up, throwin’ with his
“I’m tellin’ you, he was going a hunnert miles an hour when he hit that wall.”
We all loved to hear him talk. It’s what made Dizzy, Dizzy.
Who’s the champ, Jim? Dizzy or Yogi who takes it with a grin of salt?
To paraphrase Yogi: I never typed most of the things I typed.
Personally, they’re both my heroes. Been a Yankees fan all of my life, and Dizzy lived in Phoenix in the last years of his life.
They made baseball fun.
Miss them both.
The read aloud feature works best for me. If I read it myself, I still see what’s “supposed” to be there. But the computer reads “or” instead of the “on” I’d written, and it becomes obvious.
One meme I’ve saved says:
“What I if told you,
you read the first line wrong.”
Too true, Terry. We not only see what we expect to see, we say what we expect to there be.
Great tips for catching the mistakes. It is frustrating when you’ve gone over something a million times and STILL something slips through. Makes you want to scream. And I don’t know about anyone else, but I’ve found that as I age I seem to be a bit worse at catching those mistakes.
I haven’t tried the changing the font suggestion. I’ll do that and see how it goes.
BK, I’m experiencing the same as I get older. Is it our eyes aging or our brain?
If ever there was a place for Comic Sans, this is it.
My most embarrassing error occurred in the first edition of BLESSED MAYHEM, and I never knew until a year later when I brought the series to a new publisher. Not one early reader caught the glaring error. Here’s where I went wrong… In the last chapter my Boston area main character takes a little girl to the zoo. BUT at the time I was hooked on a certain TV series, so my mind naturally wrote “Bronx Zoo” — which is in New York! — instead of “Franklin Park Zoo.” *facepalm* I have a stack of those paperbacks that continue to taunt me from the spare bedroom.
Sue, isn’t it funny how the book with the error is the one you have the most copies of?
Thanks for a fab post! Everyone can relate.
Wonder if the ancient cuneiform tablets had ’em.
You’re so welcome, Ruth!
It’s a little known fact that the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers were cuneiform typos. They were actually supposed to be the “Tigers” and “You-Freight-Ease” Rivers.
Wow! At least we’re not the only ones. 😀
One tip one of my writing professors told us early on is to read your work backward, line by line. This way, you’re disconnected from the work because it makes no sense, and you’re just looking for grammar mistakes.
Thanks for another tip, AZAli. We can never have too many tools in our toolbox.
Great post, Debbie!
In one book, last page of the first chapter, (and I can’t remember which book…probably blacked out the whole experience) there’s no period at the end of that last sentence of the chapter.
I don’t know if anyone else caught it, but to me it was like a bull moose suddenly appeared in my office. Oy!
Thanks, Deb. So often, it’s not what’s there but what’s NOT there that trips us up.
These are great tips! Typos, especially missing words, or a word in the wrong order, or a missing quote mark, these are the banes of my authorial existence. I’ve been guilty of rushing through the proofing of a manuscript. I do always get help, but it’s still, in the end, on me, not someone else to make sure my book is as typo proof (pun intended) as possible.
My own favorite typo of mine, which I caught: “The stun gun knocked Keisha up.” Whoops! Up instead of out, and suddenly that sentence had a whole different meaning.
Dale, that’s priceless. Still lauging over it…oops! *Laughing…
…And nine months later, Keisha became the proud mom to a little pistol.
I sent a business email to my boss. The subject was something about a uniform shirt, but I left out the R. Whole new meaning to the email, especially when there was something wrong with the shirt and it was red and stuck to the skin like crazy.
Did the shirt hit the fan, Priscilla?
What a fun post, Debbie! Your book, Dead Man’s Bluff was wonderful — with or without the files. And I love the title! ?
I also find the text-to-speech feature helpful to find errors, but those pesky homonyms won’t reveal themselves until a fresh set of eyes ferrets them out. On the other hand, a really funny typo like the one Dale mentioned above can make a book memorable!
Thanks so much, Kay!
Enough great typos in the comments today to put together an anthology.
I know of a serious fly-in-the-ownytment error, Debbie. This involved a coffee table-sized cookbook complete with glossy images and was set for a release of 25,000 copies to national bookstores. Someone caught a recipe bloop that called for freshly ground black pepper but… it was printed as “freshly ground black people”. I bet that original proofreader was greeting at Walmart the next day.
I have a proofreading tip to offer. It’s to use a ruler on printed pages to go line-by-line. I’ll try it some time and let you know if it works 🙂
Y’all are killin’ me with these. Laughing through the smoke in my eyes…
Great tip, Garry! Back when I did bookkeeping on ledger paper, a ruler was a great help. Why didn’t I think of that for writing?
My specific typos are a long-forgotten blur in my rear view mirror, but one major typo moment reminds me how insidious those dang things are. My science fiction adventure novel was published by three different publishers, and editors came and went so more than one set of eyes and red pencils were on that manuscript each time. A close friend was my final editor for my second publisher, and Pat was the real stuff. Thirty years as a high school English teacher, a career as an author, and she had worked for a company that provided freelance editors for authors and publishers. Pat, every last editor, and I missed a typo on the second page. That novel was in print over 20 years before its final publisher closed its door, and that typo mocked me during that whole time.
Isn’t it fascinating how many eyes can look at a goof and never see it. Maybe you should frame that page, Marilynn.
Word Processing has made typos so much easier to make, and repeat. Copy and paste can be your worst enemy.
I worked in a Middle School Computer lab. One teacher’s favorite lesson on replace and replace all centered on a student who ran spell check over her paper. If found a word and made a suggestion. She hit select all and saved and turn in a paper about Chrysanthemum, the Native American Chief.
Alan, Chrysanthemum was a truly great warrior.
My two favorite universal find and replace disasters. One novel was about a medium. One term used in paranromal books is “The Light’ which means the place where the dead go. Her editor told her to capitalize both words, and she used the universal find and replace. Every time the character walked into a dark room, she cut on The Light. Snicker. The main character in another novel lived in Atlanta. I’m guessing she went to law school at Emory, but someone in the editorial process decided she needed to go to Duke so there was a universal find and replace without the awareness that the heroine drives to visit her mentor law professor several times. The trip was obviously across town, not across several states. A definite face palm.
Beware the “Universal” b/c there are always exceptions.
I worked as a reporter for many years, and we used to keep files of legendary typos. My favorite was the photo of a grinning woman mountaineer with a caption that read: “To celebrate her 75th birthday, Myra Smith prepares to climb Mr. Whitney for the third time.”
Great one, Elaine. Mr. Whitney must have been thrilled.
Great post. Of course I’ve never made a tpyo.
Me niether, Brain.
This has got to be the Pulitzer of Killzone posts, along with the historical comments. (Or is that hysterical?)
Will all the yays raise their digital hands?
All the nays need to go have a drink and loosen up…
My mask’s off to you, Debbie.
Aw, thanks, Deb.
See what happens when you turn a bunch of writers loose!
Tip no.6 = NEVER proofread while listening to music. If you do proofread a text while listening to music (any type of music) you’ll find that certain homophones, (e.g. their, they’re, who’s, whose), will almost certainly escape the great weeding.
Great addition, Haarlson. If I tried that, the page wind up full of Motown lyrics.