Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Stalking the Typo Gremlin


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.

8 comments:

Marilyn Meredith a.k.a. F. M. Meredith said...

Oh so true, no matter how hard I try to get rid of all those problems, they still seem to creep in. Going over all the Rocky Bluff P.D. mysteries, I've found all those things you've mentioned. At least with the new publications, they'll be cleaner though probably not perfect. Good post.

Sharon Ervin said...

The typo Gremlin and Grinch are the main reasons I do not self-publish. I send a publisher what I believe is a perfect manuscript. Computer spell- and grammar-check programs help. That submission is read by (1) an acquisitions editor, (2) a copy editor, and (3) a line editor. Usually I see their edits as production progresses. When they have what we all consider a perfect manuscript, they send me galleys. Two editors I've known and trusted for years, and I, read galleys. We always find errors. The vexing thing is, often we do not find the same ones. I reconcile those and send corrections to the publisher. One of my eagle-eye editor friends reread our first joint effort and said, "I really wish one of us had caught that period missing on page 126." That is the closest we've come. Perfection is beyond me, but I figure the more eyes that see a manuscript, the better our chances of getting there.

Excessivelyperky said...

Big publishers have this problem, too--I've seen books sent out by Real Publishers which have typos out the wazoo. Some companies are not as diligent in the editorial process as they could be.

But I once read a Harry Potter fanfiction story where Luna Lovegood blames mistakes like that on Quill Mites. Nowadays I blame mine on Keyboard Bugs...

Jacqueline Seewald said...

I have the same problem! I taught English at the high school and college level for many years. Yet I still find small errors even after careful edits. It's surprising and frustrating.

Morgan Mandel said...

Our eyes see what we want to see, even though it's not what's there! I typed the wrong name for a character, and almost released the book, but found it after numerous edits. Word's spellcheck doesn't catch words we type down that are actually words.

Excessivelyperky said...

You can add words to Word's dictionary, though, I do that all the time because I write fantasy. Then spellcheck can figure out that I got "McGonagaall" and "Dumbledoor" wrong again.

Earl Staggs said...

So sadly true, Susan. If only we had a magic potion we could spray over our pages to correct those errors. Until we do, we'll just have to do our darnedest to make them perfect--and hope we didn't miss too many of the little devils.

Linda Thorne said...

Sometimes it doesn't matter how many times you've read through it. You see even blatant mistakes as correct. Another set of eyes will normally catch these.