Friday, June 15, 2012

...a red pencil clenched in their teeth

John Ramsey Miller

Do not get me wrong. I love and appreciate my readers ....mostly. I recall when fans sent letters to the publisher who forwarded them to me. That's how long I've been around. Most were complementary, some not so much...  

Every published author has to deal with people who find mistakes in their book and have to get in touch immediately so they can do a "superiority" dance. Nonny-Nonny-Boo-Boo, I know more n' you do! We all hate their slimy little entrails. I have written people and told them not to ever read my books again and I've offered to pay them for the book they bought if they would agree not to ever buy another one. My wife gets crazy when I do things like that. 

I have told people that the mistakes were obviously typos put there by a typesetter who zoned out and the copy editor missed catching it. With what publishers pay copy editors and the nature of the setters reading and keying in the words of every kind of book there is, and I get it. So now so should you, anal compulsive reader dearest. 

Most readers are truly dears, but there's that one in five thousand who read novels the way surgeons read the New England Journal of medicine.  You get words wrong in that tome and people can die. I seem to get a few readers who read with their feet up and a red pencil clenched between their teeth. 

Here's the thing. I write stories in real time as I imagine them. If I put in mistakes, they are often invisible to me in consequent readings and edits. I see something, I read it the way I imagined it--if that makes sense. Sometimes my lens is clouded. If (the editorial) you are going to read for grammatical accuracy, don't read my books. Read law books. If you find a mistake in my books, keep it to yourself, because it isn't in my control. Write the typesetter or the copy editor and tell them they ruined my book for you. I can do nothing at this point but allow how friggin anal you are and repeat for the twentieth time, "Tell somebody who will be impressed that you read each word and found something that didn't belong, or found something missing, even after a dozen professionals missed it."  

If the editor(s) don't initially fix it, it will remain as broken as when I built it. 

I was not an English major, and I couldn't diagram a sentence if my life depended on it. I will dangle participles like I used to hang those foil strip icicles on Christmas trees, end a sentence with a preposition, misspele words, run a sentence from Eugene to Miami Beach,  double tap words, CAPS and lower cases lie where they fall, and more terrible, unforgivable things. It's just me.

Here's an example. (Spoiler Alert) If I remember the book correctly, in UPSIDE DOWN I have a character say something in German when he is about to kill another assassin (like he could accomplish that). The reader should think this guy is the German assassin in a clever disguise. This woman writes to tell me that she teaches German and loves knockschnizzels and she has to tell me that my German grammar is badly flawed and whoever does my research should be "drawn and quartered." Otherwise she loved the book. My reply went something very much like this:

Dear (Her name here),
My stepmother is German. I took German in college as my foreign language. I have several close friends who are German or who speak German at least conversationally. The phrase you are referring to was taken directly from a Babel Fish translation of the English I wrote in the little block. You see, the character got the German he spoke from babel Fish because he wasn't German at all, which I thought clear enough. He wanted to trick the real German assassin by tossing off a phrase he got from Bable Fish (since he did not speak German) and having the other guy answer in his native tongue. I don't know how you missed that since this is the only note I've received out of 200,000 copies out there.
Thanks for taking time to write.

She wrote me a lovely e-note response apologizing and saying that she had gone back and re-read the scene and was shocked she got it wrong. The fact is, I got it from Babble Fish because I planned to make it perfect later and never checked it or had anyone else do it. The copy editor actually noted it and asked if it was a correct translation, and it was never repaired by me or anyone else. And truth is, it could be taken that way, or hers. But the point is, I recovered and I came back and performed the superiority dance myself. I loved it. I should have felt, but I didn't feel at all guilty. I wish I could have done that with every one of those I've ever received. But sometimes you are standing there naked to the world ashamed to be associated with a word-fail most foul, and to some, unforgivable. 

Truthfully, it's nice to know someone with literary Asbergers is carefully policing the pages. Although, as goes with real cops, we'd all rather see them pulling someone else over.

The big problem with me self-publishing a book is that fact that it will be rife and rifled with mistakes large and small. If I lose a few anal compulsive readers, I doubt I'll much notice ...or care. But I am sure I will hear from most of them.


  1. Even the not-so-great emails and Amazon reviews let me know that they're reading my books.

  2. You win the Internet with the Babel-Fish line. You had me going.

    I'm not to the point yet where I get nit-picked by reviewers. However, on my never-ending eBay sales, I, wait for it, mis-identified a Transformer toy. I had the red-banded one, not the blue-banded one and as a result used the wrong name.

    I was promptly informed, by email, that I was, "the single stupidest person on the entire Internet."

    Well, in my opinion, I didn't make it any higher than the number 2 slot.


    PS: When it sold, I let the buyer know that I had identified it wrong. He said he knew, he'd looked at the photos. *gasp*

  3. Even with a traditional publisher, there's not much editing review nowadays. They want it in publishable shape right out of the box. I've always been surprised how few notes I get about manuscripts.

  4. I read a lot, rarely purchasing more than one book by an author because one of the true pleasures I receive in reading is the authors’ varying voices and styles. Skilled writers fascinate me and have my genuine respect. So, when I discovered an author whose work I fell in love with and purchased a second novel, it was a major event for me. Upon finishing both books, I posted glowing reader reviews.

    Privately, I sent an email to let the author know how much I enjoyed the stories, but also cited a page containing what for me was a huge “oops.” The MC, in an undercover capacity, was spoken to by the antagonist using the MC’s real name, not the assumed identity name. Since I’d worked in similar situations, I knew how deadly such a mistake could be in real life and the error jerked me right out of the story for a moment. I knew there wasn’t anything that could be done to correct the error. Still, I thought the author would want to know.

    The author’s response wasn’t as vitriolic as this post, but the detailed listing I received of the people involved in creating the final, published copy did get the point across to me. Lesson learned.

  5. David,
    The author knew before you jumped on with your note of praise... "But" note, and getting those sorts of helpful notes is more often than not just rubbing salt in the wound. The books stands on its whole, not falling on its bits taken out. I suspect the writer found you annoying. IF NOTHING CAN BE DONE TO CORRECT THE ERROR, WHAT IS THE POINT OF YOUR COMMENT?

  6. My. Shouting isn't necessary, sir.
    My point was that sometimes books are subject to a second printing, before which corrections can be made.

    It's unfortunate you aren't aware of that.
    I get your message that you find we readers annoying and beneath your position. I do. You needn't ever be concerned about hearing from me regarding your work.

  7. I am more aware than you imagine, Sir. The vast majority of my readers aren't annoying and you aren't one of them. God, I am crushed. I will miss your input.

  8. David,
    Readers rarely know what we do to get a story through to publication. We write to entertain. We write to make a living. We do the best we can and we don't need readers second guessing us. If you can write a book, write one. Until you write one, don't add your two cents after its's published. It's arrogant of you to imagine that any author needs your corrections. You write a perfect book, sir. Then you can tell any of us how to do it.

  9. I never once suggested I was telling you or anyone how to write a book. Please stop twisting my words.
    I came here looking for authors I might be interested in reading.
    You've made your position very clear that that isn't you.
    Congratulations on your victory.

  10. I like my readers comments and notes, even the bad ones. The really mean ones can be comical at times, most of the negative ones can be fairly constructive and a couple have provided me with information that actually helped improve the story (thanks to the wonder of e-publishing I can actually fix stuff they point out). But the positive notes by far outweigh the negative. I always find it amusing when a book has three or four 1 & 2 star reviews accompanied by horrible comments stating how the book is pure unwashed drivel, but right next to that is 30 or more glowing 4 & 5 star positive reviews.

    My favourites are the negative reviews that tell me I know nothing about living in, and apparently have never been to Alaska, been around the military, lived in the wilderness, or used technology. Guess those reviewers never read my bio.

  11. I have so wanted to rant and rave like this blog post.

    We have a devoted friend and reader who graciously lets us know about any mistakes she finds in our newspaper each week. She has a very loud, grating voice.

    I really struggle to smile and say "thank you." As a small town publisher, I try to save my rants for big issues.

    Perhaps I should use my unexpressed frustration as a motivation to write an angry scene in my wip.

  12. By the way, regarding Babel Fish: I actually have one. My cousin Leonard brought it back from a trip to the past in which he traveled to the ancient Babylonian basin and got one from the source. They are not what they're cracked up to be.

    While Babel Fish do apparently understand all forms of communication, unlike the fictional fishies in HHGTTG, the real ones only speak one language that being the actual original pre-Sumerian language spoken before the unfortunate events that took place at the tower for which the little critter was named.

    So my Babel Fish now resides in the tank with my gold fish. The goldfish are freaked by because their new room mate is constantly mumbling to himself in pre-historic Babylonian.

    Oh..and Babel Fish have eyebrows, Groucho Marx eyebrows, which may explain why the hermit crab hasn't come out of the little castle for two weeks.

  13. TYPOS! are actually "bunnies." Everybody knows what a bunny is. Right? No? Okay. A bunny is an intentional mistake that's usually used by map makers to prevent their map from being copied and resold. A bunny is hard to find. So only the map maker knows where the bunny is hidden, and can thus prove the work is his.

    Over a twenty-five year technical writing career I can't tell you how many times I've told that story to explain a typo. And I always told it with a straight face. Its validity was never questioned. :o

  14. I didn't think I was ranting. As you age, your attitude and tolerance level changes. The people I've told no to buy my books were the ruder ones. "When I hit this I threw the book at the wall." sort of notes. The typos didn't make me crazy.

    My favorite of all time was one from a woman out west who said she was my second biggest fan. Her mother, 97, was my biggest. She told me that she bought my book as it was released, read it and penciled over the dirty words before passing it to her mother, a woman of sensitivity to curse words.