Thursday, February 12, 2015

Errors - Whose Responsibility Are They?

An interesting question regarding how to judge a book when it's full of errors was posed this morning on an author board I'm a member of. You see, many members of this group, including me, are judges in a huge annual writing contest, and one of the things we're up against is who should take the blame for typos, spelling errors, and punctuation errors. Should we dock the author and reduce the score, or do we look the other way under the premise that it's the editor's fault, not the author's?

I bet U Turn is getting tired of hearing "no."

To Dock Or Not To Dock?

To answer this question, I think we need to look at the types of errors being made, as well as the volume.

First of all, we all make errors. I've never read a book that didn't have at least one error in it. Most have several. But as long as there aren't too many mistakes, and the reading experience isn't severely impacted, it's easy to look the other way.

Is this message only for the guardians of parents? And what are "ate's?" And time's what? This poster is a hot mess.

Where we run into a problem is when there are errors on every page. And not just errors, but glaring errors. Errors that make your skin crawl because they're so absurd that even a bad editor should have caught them. Errors that muddle the message and confuse the reader as to what is actually being said.

Yeah, those errors need to be docked. There's no excuse for them, and they've impeded the reading experience so severely, you have no choice but to deduct points. 

Additionally, I recently read a book that contained a ton of errors, but what was weird about them was that the author made those errors half the time, but wrote them correctly the other half. For example, she punctuated dialog tags correctly with the comma half the time. The other half she punctuated the dialog tag incorrectly with a period. Maybe an example would help:

Correct: "I want to go home," she said.
Incorrect: "I want to go home." she said.

She did this throughout the entire book. And she made this same kind of half-right-half-wrong error with other punctuation, spelling, etc. I was like, "She knows how to write it correctly, so why is she writing it incorrectly half the time?"

I had to dock points for that.

Who Do Errors Reflect On?

Let's look at a few examples:

"We are committed to 'excellense'"? Apparently, you're not.

"Were" opening...? I guess you're not now, huh?

If you're going to preach about our "lanaguage" to those who don't speak it, maybe you should learn it first. 
Like it or not, errors reflect on the person or business who made them public. The business who is committed to "excellense" just showed they're not that excellent. Dunkin Donuts' sign reflects on the business, not the person who printed the sign. And, yeah, the patriot in the minivan just shot him- or herself in the foot. 

In other words, in each of the above cases, not only was the message diminished by the errors, but they reflected on the person or public entity who represents them.

In the book world, that person is the author.

Who is Responsible for the Errors?

Like it or not, when it comes to errors in books, the author is ultimately held responsible. Not the editor, not the publisher, not the proofreader. The AUTHOR.

Think about it. When you're reading a book that's full of typos, do you say, "Ugh! That editor needs to learn how to edit," or "Ugh! This author needs to learn how to write."?

Maybe you're the one in a hundred that honestly blames the editor, but I've seen enough readers complain to know that 99% of the time, the author is blamed for typos, punctuation errors, misspelled words, and even bad formatting (which is WAY outside most authors' realm of responsibility, by the way). These readers aren't blaming the editor or proofreader. They're blaming the AUTHOR.

Don't dig your own grave with bad editing.

I once published a story with a small press. The publisher edited it in-house, but they never ran their edits by me for approval. When the story was published, I found that they had completely changed entire sentences, punctuation, and even the spelling of certain words, and in doing so, they created a lot of errors in my manuscript. Also, the book was for an American audience, but they formatted to British standards (colour instead of color, flavour instead of flavor, etc.). If you're writing for an American audience, you need to edit by American standards.

At any rate, I was furious. Luckily for me, I am extremely well-versed on punctuation and spelling. I edit as well as I write (with one exception: compound words. They are my nemesis). So, when I send my manuscripts to my editor now, it's really more about getting a second set of eyes on my story, so she can find the mistakes my author's eyes glossed over. And she's awesome sauce with compound words, so whew! Thank goodness for that. But my point is, I know an error when I see one.

So, back to this inept editor who marked up my manuscript with errors. Her mistakes reflected on ME. My name was on the book, not hers. As such, I was the one who stood to lose readers, not her. Because let's face it, there are a lot of savvy, educated readers out there who will ditch an author for a lot of things, including typos. That is the reality, like it or not. You can bitch and scream and try to "educate" those readers about whose fault those mistakes are, but it won't work. Those readers will still blame the author. It's a fact of publishing life we authors have to accept and strive to minimize in any way possible.

For me, the way I minimized the problem was  by never publishing with that publisher again. If this was the care they were going to give me, then thanks but no thanks. My reputation as an author is too important to me to let them foul it all up. And if they were going to be the cause of me losing readers, they needed to be cut loose. Ba-bye! I need a team around me that understands that this is MY work, MY reputation, and MY livelihood they're influencing. Those who take care of me, I will take care of in return. Those who don't...I wish you well, but see ya.

And therein lies the crux of this post. Authors need to take greater responsibility for their work, as well as greater control of the editing process, even when they're with a publisher. After all, it's the author's name on the book cover. As such, it's the author who has the most to lose from bad editing. Take the time to read those edits and not just trust that they're right. And if your publisher publishes your work without getting your approval on edits, it's time to find a new publisher.

Going back to the initial question then, how do you judge books with errors? My thoughts are, if a book is full of errors, no matter whose fault they are, judges should judge accordingly and deduct points if those errors are prolific and negatively impact the story and/or reading experience. Because, like I said, ultimately it's the author who's responsible for their own work.

Agree? Disagree? Feel free to weigh in in the comments.

Happy Writing!



  1. Hi Donya, I agree with you. Errors reflect on the author because hers is the identifiable brand. Not every reader can identify a publisher. As well as being a reader and an aspiring writer, I also work in the publishing industry, which means I am always interested in who the publisher is. However, even for me, a bad reading experience reflects on the author. It puts me off reading another one of her books, but in 95% of cases, it would not lead to me avoiding a publisher's entire list. Thanks for a very interesting post.

    1. You're welcome, and thank you for stopping by to comment. :) Good point about being put off by the author, but not by the publisher, by the way.

  2. Admittedly, you're right that it is unprofessional. However, if this is a judging of submitted, UNpublished books, I would consider NOT docking for the errors, as many authors are terrible spellers, typists, etc., but their thoughts are brilliant. For that reason, I think I would try to judge on content, only because you might miss out on an incredible body of work simply because their head was going quicker than their hands would allow them to. THAT SAID, if it was already written on the requirements for submitting their contents, then by all means, definitely dock. Then let them know why! This will prevent future stupidity on their part, hopefully.