by Janis Patterson
Whether for traditional or self-publishing, all professional writers strive mightily to turn out a perfect product - or at least they should. Most of what the world knows about us comes from our work, and as professionals we should work to make sure there are no (or let's be realistic - as few as possible) errors. Nothing screams 'amateur!' more than misspelled words, bad punctuation, typos and worse grammar.
However, as in all good stories, there is an antagonist who is constantly stirring up conflict. As I cannot call him what I want to in a place where children might see, I gave him the appellation the Typo Gremlin. This malign little entity simply adores to throw typos into anything that has words. And he seems unconquerable.
Back in my magazine editing days, the Typo Gremlin had a field day. When I took over all our magazines had the reputation of being sloppy - typos and grammar errors abounded. As this was my first gig as EiC (Editor in Chief, or as I sometimes called it Editor in Chaos) I was going to change that. Setting up rigorous protocols I was determined to hunt the Typo Gremlin and his partner in disruption the Grammar Grinch to extinction.
Well, I didn't. In spite of every page being proofed by at least two people besides me and no board being released to the printer without my signature those two sneaky little critters still managed to put in a fingerprint or two - but, I am proud to say, nothing like the rampages they had inflicted before.
At a writers' meeting not long ago I talked to an aspirant writer who told me that during his insurance days he was the coordinator for writing a new kind of policy. As this was the initial time out for this particular policy and it was a legal document, he was extra-careful that all the i's were dotted and the t's crossed. He not only proofed the document several times himself, he had others in his department and the legal department go through it multiple times until it was certified as clean and could be sent to the printer where a bazillion copies were run off. Then - after bales of policies were sent to offices around the country - and only then did they find a whacking great typo - not in the scads of 'tiny type' body copy, but in one of the main headings. The Typo Gremlin's laughter was practically audible.
When I left the magazine world and went back to traditional publishing, I was still a terror, being notorious for sending edited manuscripts back with corrections on what the editor had done/suggested. The day of the hyper-vigilant professional editor like the late, great Maxwell Perkins is on the wane if not already dead. Those giants of the written word are far too quickly being replaced by fresh-out-of-the-egg college graduates with vague English degrees and in some smaller houses even other writers who may or who may not be published, resulting in edits of widely varying quality. My personal prejudice is that I have trouble trusting my career to someone when I have shoes older than they are.
Now I am pretty much self-publishing my novels, but the dreadful duo of the Typo Gremlin and Grammar Grinch still dog my footsteps. Case in point, a book I released not long ago - a book that has had no fewer than two professional editors, my own repeated scrutiny and at least four extremely literate beta readers - changed the heroine's name for one mention in the middle of the book. Not just a simple letter reversal or a mild misspelling, but changing one name for another, albeit a similar one. One big point to the Typo Gremlin...
Popular wisdom seems to tend toward the belief that if you cannot defeat an enemy, you should make them your friend. Maybe that works in international politics (though I am somewhat skeptical) but for me, at least, it will never do with either the Typo Gremlin or the Grammar Grinch. It is, as far as I am concerned, an ongoing battle to the death. Words are our livelihood; we should display them in the best form possible.