With everything going on in the world these days, I recently felt the need for some light entertainment.
That’s when my publisher sent me a first proof of What Remains Unsaid. After I finished jumping up and down with excitement—since this means the book will be coming in 2017—I spent the rest of a rainy weekend reading the copy on my Kindle.
I was shocked.
Had someone slipped my publisher a counterfeit version? Or perhaps someone was playing a cruel trick and had inserted random extra words in certain places, while dropping essential ones elsewhere.
Sadly, this was not the case. I alone was responsible for the errors. Not only had I typed things incorrectly, but I had missed them on all of the several supposedly careful read-throughs of the manuscript I did before handing it off.
This is why you are never, ever, ever, under any circumstances, no matter how good you are at catching typos in other people’s work, allowed to proofread your own work.
There’s good, solid science behind this prohibition. According to a Wired article, “The reason we don’t see our own typos is because what we see on the screen is competing with the version that exists in our heads.”
It makes sense that I saw a lot of typos on this read-through on the Kindle, according the article, since one way to catch your own mistakes is to “make your work as unfamiliar as possible. Change the font or background color, or print it out and edit by hand.”
Perhaps the fact that we can’t see our own typos but can easily see others’ accounts for the vitriol with which we (especially writers) excoriate the perpetrators of said typos. Yes, typos are an embarrassment, like walking around with your fly unzipped or a scrap of toilet paper trailing from your shoe. Yet, while they can spell professional suicide, they are not usually a matter of life or death for fiction writers. We are not providing chemical formulas or instructions for piloting an aircraft over mountainous terrain, where a misplaced comma or transposed digit could be fatal. Do keep that in mind before you pillory the writer or publisher of the next text you read that contains a typo or two.
Of course, my aim is to work with my publisher to make sure we eradicate all such errors before going to print. But I won’t be surprised if there are still some gremlins lurking in the text. If there are, I’ll be in good company.
- To Err is Human – on AbeBooks.com
- Book Errata – dedicated to tracking errors in professionally published books
- Top 10 Typos That Almost Changed the World – from TopTenz
- 15 Famous Typos in First Editions – from Mental Floss
What’s the worst typo you’ve ever made, been victim of, or heard about?
And can you find the typo in this post? (I inserted one intentionally, although I will award bonus points if you find any that I missed!)
Calling all reviewers