Help! I Have Flies in my Files

By Debbie Burke


Photo credit: Gabriel Manlake – Unsplash

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…”

Photo credit: Sharon McCutcheon – Unsplash

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.

Photo credit: Pexels

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:


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.

Editing is Dying, Grunting Soon to Follow

by James Scott Bell

In some places in our fair land, if all is still in the night, you might hear the plaintive cry of the whippoorwill. In other locales, if the moon is full, the howl of a lonely coyote may break the silence. In the city you are sure to pick up the distant toot of an automobile horn, or the exasperated utterance of the infuriated cab driver, or perhaps the variegated cursings of the long-distance trucker in search of a greasy spoon.

At my house, I have come to anticipate the sardonic tones of a wifely expostulation that sounds like this: “Oh, come on!”

You see, Mrs. B knows the language. She knows grammar. She has to. She’s a realtor here in Los Angeles, and one of her tasks is crafting engaging copy about the properties she’s representing. Often, when she’s in her home office, I’ll hear the “Oh, come on!” and it usually means she’s just read, with a mixture of amusement and horror, another agent’s prose on the Multiple Listing Service.

Once, she saw this description of a view property up on a hill: You’ll be high in the heaves!

I don’t know about you, but living in a house where I’m constantly calling Ralph on the big white telephone is not my idea of heaven.

Another time she saw: This is a lovely home, completely remolded.

I’d rather just keep the old mold, wouldn’t you?

Cindy began collecting these items. A few more from her list:

Master suit with walking closet.

Hardwood floors, and a wet bat.

Many widows make this home light and airy.

Okay, typos. We all make them. But what about obvious errors of grammar from outfits that ought to know better? Like, say, newspapers and television channels? At one time all newspapers employed steely-eyed copy editors who were fully grounded in the rules of grammar and the elements of style. Not so much anymore in this epoch of shrinking revenues and staff cutbacks.

That’s why you see more errors popping up in newspapers, print and digital, than ever before. Things like:

The glamorous 17-year-old wants to be a policewoman some day, like her dad.

Golfing Immortal Dies at Age 69.

His face was familiar to movie fans, with or without his ever-present cigar.  

Include Your Children When Baking Cookies.

Prostitutes Appeal to Pope.

The other evening I heard “Oh, come on!” and went to investigate. Cindy was scrolling through the blurbs on a certain movie channel. These are no doubt written by unpaid millennial interns or staffers who’d rather be playing Realm Grinder in their cubicles. Cindy showed me the blurb for a movie called Johnny Belinda starring Jane Wyman (who won the Oscar as Best Actress for her performance). Here’s the blurb:

Sensitive portrayal of a deaf woman who is raped, then tried for his subsequent murder in a Nova Scotia fishing Village.

Oh, come on!

Okay, I know I’m sounding more and more get-off-my-lawnish these days, but really. Let the basic rules of grammar fray and in a few generations we’ll all be milling around, grunting and gesticulating, trying to get someone to tell us where the bathroom is. Frustration will mount, with anger soon to follow, and soon enough we’ll be tearing into each other with our teeth. Which is sort of what Twitter is like right now.

Wuts 2b dun?

Remember when education used to begin at what we called grammar school? Please, teachers and parents, don’t let the children down. Make them memorize the following poem:

Every name is called a NOUN, as field and fountain, street and town.
In place of a noun the PRONOUN stands, as he and she clap their hands.
The adjective describes a thing, as magic wand or bridal ring.
The VERB means action, something done, to read and write and jump and run.
How things are done the ADVERBS tell, as quickly, slowly, badly or well.
A PREPOSITION shows relation, as in the room or at the station.
CONJUNCTIONS join—in many ways—sentences, words or phrase and phrase.
The INTERJECTION cries out “Hark! I need an exclamation mark!”

Maybe we can nudge the language pendulum back the other way. We’d better try.

Dont u agree?

Tricks & Tips for Catching All Those Little Typos in Your Own Work

by Jodie Renner, fiction editor & author of writing guides

Whether you’re writing a blog post, a magazine article, a short story, an assignment, or a book, it’s important to go over your work several times to make sure it’s polished and flows well. No matter what your you’re writing, you’re your credibility will be eroded if readers find mispelled misspelled words, misused words, missing or extra words, or other typos. And  a recent study published in Huffington Post points to a close correlation between accuracy of writing and income from writing — a no-brainer.

I’ve presented workshops and written several articles (here’s a good one) on tips for approaching the whole editing and revising process, starting with macro issues like logistics, characterisation, plot, and pacing, and working your way through awkward phrasing and wordiness down to micro errors like spelling and punctuation. In fact, I’ll be presenting a workshop called “Revise for Success,” a step-by-step approach to revising your novel, at Steven James’ writers conference, Troubleshooting Your Novel, in Nashville on January 17.

For a whole book on how to nail this critical process to create a novel that shines, check out James Scott Bell’s excellent Revision & Self-Editing for Publication. Writers also find my Fire up Your Fiction very helpful.

For today, my topic is on that final step, after you’ve resolved all big-picture content problems and even most style issues, such as slow pacing, awkward sentence structure, or overly wordy phrasing. My tips today are on the final “proofreading” step, how to ferret out those tiny little gremlins that escape your notice when you’re concentrating on content and even style issues.

When we read our own work, we’re so familiar with what we want to say that we fill in words that aren’t actually on the page, and skip over slightly misspelled words that still pass spellcheck, or little words that shouldn’t be there. Of course, getting detail-oriented, eagle-eyed nerdy friends who are great at spelling to read it carefully is a great option, if you know of some. If not, or in addition to that, I’m providing some tips for fooling your brain into thinking it hasn’t read this story before.

As someone trained to see errors, I find them everywhere – on signs and menus, in blog posts and articles, on website copy, and in published books. As an example, here’s the description of a workshop that appeared on a conference website a while back, which I’ve shortened and disguised a bit. Can you spot the 9-10 errors in this description? (Just for fun, I’ve added a few more errors.)

Copy with little typos: One of the most important ways to connect with your audience an attract new readers is through author interviews and public readings. How can you master the the confidence and skills to successfully preform in front of an audience? There are a few time tested trick to perform you work well for an audience. This workshop will discuss techniques for speaking in pubic and will also cover using social media sites lie YouTube to to host audio versions of your work.

 Errors fixed in blue: One of the most important ways to connect with your audience and attract new readers is through author interviews and public readings. How can you master the confidence and skills to successfully perform in front of an audience? There are a few timetested tricks for performing your work well for an audience. This workshop will discuss techniques for speaking in public and will also cover using social media sites like YouTube to host audio versions of your work.

And I just happen to be judging short stories in the thriller genre for Writer’s Digest’s Popular Fiction 2014 contest, where I was given 147 short stories and asked to choose only 10 of those to go on to the next level. Since I have to reject 137 of these stories, I have to be pretty ruthless, and any that aren’t polished won’t make the cut. Typos or spelling errors on the first page are an automatic no. As are long boring descriptions, a confusing opening, cardboard characters, lack of tension or intrigue, tedious repetitions, and switches in verb tense.

Here are some tips for fooling your brain into thinking your story is something new, something you need to read critically and revise ruthlessly before it reaches the demanding eyes of a literary agent, acquiring editor, contest judge, or picky reviewer.

1. Set it aside for a while. First, if you can, put your article, blog post, or short story away for a day or two before revising and editing it, and your book manuscript away for a few weeks or even a month, if possible, so you can come back to it with fresh eyes and a bit of emotional distance. If you’re on a tight deadline, start at #2.

2. Start with Word’s spell-check and check those squiggly red and blue lines under words. Don’t rely on Spellcheck, though, as it misses a lot (like the well-known gaffe above, “pubic” for “public”), and often suggests changes that make something correct incorrect. For example, in the Agent Dallas thriller manuscript I’m editing for L.J. Sellers, The Trap, MS Word suggests that “I like your thinking” (as in “I like how you think”) should be “I like you’re thinking.” And it often suggests the wrong its/it’s, and misses all kinds of typos in manuscripts I edit, like “crowed” for “crowded,” “father” for “farther,” “county” for “country,” and “manger” or “manager.” So definitely don’t trust spell-check blindly.

3. Use my two quick, clickable e-resources to verify spelling and word choices: QUICK CLICKS: SPELLING LIST – Commonly Misspelled Words at Your Fingertips, and QUICK CLICKS: WORD USAGE – Precise Word Choices at Your Fingertips. Click on the titles to check them out. These handy resources will save you tons of time looking up words in the dictionary, and every word is verified as correct.

4. Do a search (“Find”) for words you know how to spell but tend to spell wrong when you’re in a hurry, especially ones spell-check won’t flag, like “you” for “your,” or “your” for “you’re,” “there” for “they’re” or “their,” etc.

Then choose some of the following strategies, which are also excellent for picking up on clunky sentences and awkward phrasing.

~ Increase the size of the type to 150% or 160%, by clicking on the + sign at the bottom right of the document.

~ Change the font to one that looks quite different to fool your eyes and brain into thinking this is new material you’ve never read (or thought of) before, so you need to pay close attention.

Try Comic Sansor Franklin Gothic Book or Book Antiqua.

~ Format it to book size, like 6″ x 9″, change the font to something nice, like Georgiaor Cambria, change it to single-spaced,  format it to two-column landscape, so it looks like an open book, then print it up and read it in a different location, somewhere you don’t write, preferably out of your home.

~ Send it to your Kindle or other e-reader and read it in a different location, preferably not at home.

~ In a print version, place a ruler or piece of paper under the line you’re reading to keep from skipping ahead. Or keep your finger under each word as you read.

~ Read it out loud. Wherever you stumble, your readers will, too. This will also help with punctuation. If you pause briefly, put in a comma. If you pause for longer, put in a period. (Best to avoid or minimize semicolons in fiction, and keep them right out of casual dialogue. And reserve exclamation marks for when someone is screaming or yelling, shocked, or in pain.)

~ Read the whole thing backwards or upside down (!). I’ve heard these suggestions, but haven’t actually done this myself, and probably won’t.

~ Get your computer to read it aloud to you, while you follow along. Newer versions of Word offer this, and Macs do, too. In Word 2010, for example, here’s how you enable text-to-speech: First, add “Speak” to the Quick Access Toolbar. Along the very top above “File,” the line that starts with W for word, at the far right is a down arrow. Click that. It will say “Customize Quick Access Toolbar.” Click “More Commands.” In the “Choose Commands” from the list, select “All Commands.” Scroll down to the “Speak” command, select it, and then click “Add.” Click “OK.” When you want to use the text-to-speech command, you’ll use the icon on the Quick Access Toolbar, which looks like a speech bubble on a cartoon. To hear some text read aloud, highlight the paragraph or chapter you want to hear aloud, then click the Speak icon on the toolbar.

Follow along the text while listening to the text being read aloud. Stop it whenever you need to add or delete a word, or fix awkward phrasing.

~ If you’re self-publishing, get a sample book printed by CreateSpace (or IngramSpark) and read it somewhere else in your home, in a room where you don’t work, or better yet, away from your home, like in a coffee shop, a park, or the beach. I read one of mine in book form, pen in hand, on vacation in Puerto Vallarta, while stretched out in a chaise longue under one of those grass huts, and I caught all kinds of repetitions, sentences that didn’t flow as well as they could, were too wordy, or generally needed polishing, etc., as well as the odd typo.

Writers – do you have any other strategies to add for catching all those little typos lurking in your manuscript? Let us know what works for you in the comments below.

Jodie Renner is a freelance fiction editor and the award-winning author of three craft-of-writing guides in her series An Editor’s Guide to Writing Compelling Fiction: FIRE UP YOUR FICTION, CAPTIVATE YOUR READERS, and WRITING A KILLER THRILLER, as well as two clickable time-saving e-resources, QUICK CLICKS: Spelling List and QUICK CLICKS: Word Usage. She has also organized two anthologies for charity: VOICES FROM THE VALLEYS – Stories and Poems about Life in BC’s Interior, and CHILDHOOD REGAINED – Stories of Hope for Asian Child Workers. Website:; blog:; Facebook , Amazon Author Page.

Oh No! It’s Typo!

by Boyd Morrison

I’m nearing the July 1 release of my new book, THE LOCH NESS LEGACY, and the last step was to share the book with a few select beta readers so they could send me any typos they found. I didn’t think they’d find too many considering the book had already been copyedited and proofed by Little, Brown UK, which is publishing the book in the UK, Australia, and New Zealand (I’m self-publishing it in the US, except for Audible’s audiobook version).

My readers didn’t discover one or two typos as I had expected. They found over three dozen. To be fair, Little, Brown UK had already corrected some of them in their final version (I hadn’t transferred those corrections to my self-pubbed edition) . However, there were still a dozen that had escaped notice.

It’s infuriating, but a great lesson that I need to have others find the typos I’m blind to after reading the book over and over. And this isn’t a new problem for me, unfortunately. Check out the blog I wrote on my website four years ago, and then post a comment about your own exasperating typos.


I hate typos. Despise them. They are vermin to be wiped from the face of the planet, ranking just below tapeworms and just above spammers trying to sell me herbal V1@gr@.

The irony is that, as I have discovered this past week, typos love me. They can’t get enough of me. Apparently, they get so distraught if they do not appear in my novels that they insert themselves without my knowledge just so they don’t feel left out of the fun.

After I posted my complete, polished novels to my web site and the Kindle, several alert readers notified me that they’d come across a few typos, which I’m grateful to know about so I can go back and fix them. That doesn’t mean I don’t need a moment to gather myself after finding out about them, because my reaction is usually something like this:


I add in some very bad words if I want to be even more articulate.

The reason for my frustration is that I proofread my books very carefully to make sure they are as error-free as possible. I spend hours reading and rereading the novels until my eyes glaze over and I can’t see straight.  I don’t see how that method can fail.

And yet, it does. My most frequent typos are of the mixed-up variety. I type “their” instead of “there” or “your” instead of “you’re.” Of course, this kind of error can lead to some amusing outcomes. A few years ago, when some striking union workers felt they were being taken advantage of by management, they didn’t help their cause by carrying placards saying, “The managers think your stupid!”

But I can see how I might miss something like that. What I can’t understand is how I used a word like “valediction” in place of “valedictorian.” I’ve never used “valediction” in a sentence in my life. In fact, I had to look up what it meant (Val*e*dic*tion: a word Boyd never uses).

The worst typo I found, all by myself, was when I used “astronomist” instead of “astronomer.” Now, “astronomist” is not, technically, a word, so how both I and spellchecker missed it is a mystery, although some other people in the same situation might make wild accusations. For example, I would never start the rumor that Microsoft Word randomly inserts nonsense words into a person’s writing just for the enjoyment of programmers who get hilarious emails every time someone sends out a document with the word “squatful” inserted into it. That would be irresponsible.

Besides, I can’t depend on spellchecker because it’s not always reliable. It hasn’t happened lately, but it used to be that when I typed “Boyd Morrison” into Word, it would underline the words in red, diligently alerting me that I had misspelled my own name. When I asked spellchecker for a better suggestion, it came up with what should have been so obvious to me: “Body Moron.” Perhaps it was suggesting a new pen name for me.

I can take comfort in the fact that even NY Times bestselling authors have books with typos. My friend, James Rollins, whose books are epic action-adventure stories that I gobble down in about a day, wrote The Last Oracle, the cautionary tale of what happens if you stand too close to a molten nuclear reactor (hint: it involves the words “brain” and “tapioca”).

Toward the end of The Last Oracle, I found the sentence, “Her entire form shook as teats spilled in shining streaks of joy.” Jim, of course, meant “tears”, but when I tried to imagine the scene as written, I laughed so hard that the person sitting next to me on the airplane thought I had a medical condition.

When I wrote an email to Jim with praise for the book, I also told him of the typo. He emailed back just one sentence: “I read your kind words with teats in my eyes.”

So I suppose, like Jim, I should keep a sense of humor about typos and their affection for me. I mean, what’s the worst that could happen? It’s not like I could get saddled with some kind of ridiculous nickname just because of typos.

Body Moron

Mistakes and errors in e-books

By Joe Moore

Have you noticed that there seems to be an inordinate number of mistakes and typos in e-books? How often do you see their for there, or whether for weather? How about coming across multiple words jammed together or too many spaces between words? In her Huffington Post article and subsequent CBC Radio interview, ITW Vice President Karen Dionne discusses this ever-increasing problem and comes up with some possible answers.

First, you might assume that the problem would be most apparent in self-published books, right? After all, many self-published authors have never been traditionally published and rarely can afford the services of a professional editor to scrub their manuscripts. But according to Karen, that’s not always the case. In fact, many errors appear in mainstream fiction and the culprit just might be technology. Here’s why.

An author turns in her finished manuscript, usually in MS Word, to her editor who hands it off to a copy and/or line editor. It’s polished and sent back to the writer for another once-over. Then it goes back to the editor who sends it to the typesetter. The Word doc is imported into a specialized page layout publishing program such as Adobe InDesign or QuarkXPress. The layout program is downstream from the Word doc and there’s no reversal back upstream to the manuscript.

The typesetter works with the book designer to choose font and other styling, and usually a PDF is created that is sent back to the writer for one last shot at any changes and corrections. Finally, the writer turns in final changes and the book is sent off electronically to the printer. At that point, there’s no turning back.

So far, so good. But what if the publisher decides to create and release an e-book version of the manuscript. The person who creates and formats the e-book cannot use the files created in the page layout program. They must use as a source the MS Word doc. But there’s a really good chance that all the changes and corrections made to the InDesign or Quark file were never made to the original Word file. So those errors and mistakes could make their way into the e-book.

Writers aren’t usually asked to proof the e-book. In fact, most writers don’t even bother to read the e-book releases. They assume it’s a mirror of the print version and have moved on to the next project right after the printed book is published.

Now, as Karen points out in her article, this is not always the source of errors. And some publishers treat the e-book with as much care and feeding as the print version. But because of time restraints and budgets, sometimes it’s not possible to go through the revision process again for the e-book. Still, it does make sense that this scenario is a possible cause for the number of errors seen in ebooks.

So the next time you’re reading your favorite author, and you come across a double word or an is for his or some other strange formatting mistake, don’t jump at the conclusion that it’s the author’s fault. It just might be the technology working against us.

Have you noticed more mistakes and errors in e-books than print? How about your own books? Have you ever gone back and checked the e-book to make sure known corrections were made?


BAM! Just Like That, an original short story by Lynn Sholes & Joe Moore. Download for $0.99 and get the first 13 chapters of THE PHOENIX APOSTLES as a bonus preview.


by Michelle Gagnon

There was a lively debate about typos last week in one of the crime fiction forums. This is always a particularly painful subject for me. You see, I’m a bit of a perfectionist, especially when it comes to my books. I’ve gone through each and every one of them with a fine-tooth comb at least twenty times before they leave my hands and head off to the printer. My sister, a talented editor and copy-editor, has also read through each manuscript three or four times by that point. And of course, my editor and copyediting team at the publishing house have played their part in making sure that the final product is as close to perfect as we can get it.

And yet, somehow, someway, they always get in there.

I first discovered this with my debut THE TUNNELS. My book club offered to read the book, which was a real thrill until they sat down and said almost in unison, “Oh my God, that typo!”

Turns out that a particularly glaring one appears early in the book. I was completely mortified. I raced home after the meeting and dug up my final line-edited copy of the manuscript: no typo. How it got there remains a puzzle to this day.

Which is why I adamantly refuse to crack the cover on my books once they appear in printed form. Because one of those little buggers probably snuck in there. And some sharp-eyed reader is going to make a note of it, and think less of me because of it. Which makes me crazy.

My favorite part of the discussion last week, however, involved other peoples’ “worst typo” ever stories. So I took it upon myself to consolidate the really, truly awful, culled both from that site and other sources:

  • Based on a completely unscientific analysis (conducted by me), one of the more common typos involves neglecting to include the “l” in the word “public.” Several people listed this as an issue, including a woman who produced a newsletter sent to 20,000 pub(l)ic employees, supervisors, and the district office. I would argue that there’s a definite Freudian component to this one.
  • Along the same lines…one contributor used to live on St. Denis Street. Unfortunately their Catholic newsletter incorrectly recorded the “D” in “Denis” as a “P.” And yet somehow, the mail continued to arrive at their house. Apparently they had a better mail delivery person than I have ever been blessed with. Or at least one with a decent sense of humor.
  • Penguin Group Australia once had to reprint 7000 cookbooks due to a typo. The recipe in The Pasta Bible called for “salt and freshly ground black people.” The lesson here: spell check and autofill are not always your friend.
  • One author received a note from a reviewer who, “loved the book, but was concerned by the fact that at one point your heroine looks out across a sea of feces.”
  • And finally, one from the history books: A bible published in the 1600s in London omitted the word “not” in the Seventh Commandment, leading to the mandate, “Thou Shalt Commit Adultery.” Perhaps this is the version many prominent politicians were raised on.

So I’d love to hear any great (as in, truly terrible/mortifying/hilarious) typo stories.

Circumstances Beyond Our Control

by Michelle Gagnon

I just handed in the final page proofs for my next thriller, which is always an exhilarating/terrifying moment for me. Exhilarating because I’m finally completely done with the book. And terrifying because from here on out, it’s beyond my control. I have to keep my fingers crossed that the myriad small changes I made are inserted into the final manuscript (since the final few drafts are actual paper copies that get mailed back and forth, sometimes things slip through the cracks. Sad but true, and the best argument I can see for switching to electronic editing across the board).

In line at FedEx, I started thinking about all of the things that are beyond our control as authors (many of which people assume we do control). Here’s my list:

Covers: I always fill out a lengthy form detailing characters, scenes, and plot points. I attach images that I think would look great on the cover, forward jpgs of covers that I loved from other people’s books, and pitch a few concepts. Now, so far I’ve been fortunate enough to receive covers that were vastly superior to anything I could have conceived. But still, there are always a few little things I’d prefer to change. This time, after some back and forth my publisher incorporated a few of the changes I requested into the final design. Here’s the original:

gatekeeper one

I felt the background color was too drab, and all of the text was at the bottom, so you barely noticed anything above the center of the page.

Now here’s the final version:

gatekeeper cover3

Better, right?

Typos: I’m not saying I’m perfect, but occasionally glaring typos appear in the text that were in no draft of the manuscript I submitted. My book club read The Tunnels, and when I walked in for our meeting three people shouted out, “Page 67! What happened there?” Half of the night was consumed by a discussion of some of the typos in the book. Somewhere between my final edits and the typesetting process, new typos appeared. Again, beyond my control (also the reason why I never crack the spine to read the final product. I have never once read one of my books after mailing off the line edits, because if I spot a typo it drives me nuts).

  • Missing Pages: I received emails from a few people who purchased Boneyard, only to discover that fifty pages were missing from the middle of the book. After talking to other authors, I learned that this is not that unusual. A glitch at the printing plant can ruin a whole batch of books. Fortunately, publishers are wonderful about shipping out a replacement copy, if it ever happens to you.
  • Print Runs: This can be make or break for an author. Say your initial print run was 20,000 books. Sell 15,000, and your book is a success story. But if the publisher printed 100,000 copies, and you sold 15,000, your book would be considered a dismal failure and you would be facing an uphill battle to get the next one published. Not fair, right? But as an author, you have no say in whether your print run is five thousand books or five million. You have to just keep your fingers crossed that your publisher’s sales projections are right.

I will say that in book publishing, I still have far more control than I ever did as a magazine writer. Back then, I’d hand in an article and six months later, something came out with my name on it that was virtually unrecognizable.Not always, but frequently enough to be depressing. In book publishing you are definitely allowed a firmer hold on the reins.

Off the top of my head, this is what I came up with (my brain is officially mush after spending the past week muttering sentences aloud over and over again). But I’d love to hear of more circumstances beyond our control, if they occur to you.