On Finding Typos and Grammatical Errors in Indie Novels…

Yoda gives punctuation adviceIt’s a criticism that is commonly directed at indie novels and novelists; that indie novels are rife with typos, grammatical errors, and misspellings. And, to a great extent, it’s a fair criticism.

I obviously support indie novelists, and I read indie books more often than I read those from traditionally published authors. So believe me, I am keenly aware of the shortcomings and failings of my fellow indie writers.

Not that I’m immune; far from it. Although I spend considerable time editing my own work, both line-by-line and with Grammarly, and although I hire a professional editor to help me polish every book I release, well…

…those pesky little typos still seem to get through to the end product (but at least I’m in good company). It’s frustrating, really it is, and I think it’s a frustration that all serious indie authors deal with (even those who are professional editors). The good news is that, for the most part, readers are quite forgiving of a few grammatical or spelling errors in a novel and story they enjoy.

That is, so long as the errors don’t get out of hand. But if there’s an error on every page, you’d best expect to receive some pitiful and pitiless reviews for your book. Some reviewers even seem to take particular joy in tearing down indie authors in reviews, despite our best efforts to provide them with as little reason as possible to do so.

And yes, with the plethora of indie books hitting the virtual bookstore shelves each month, there’s going to be a lot of slop mixed in with the good stuff. Sure, the good stuff will always rise to the top, but certain people will always point at the authors who perhaps published their work prematurely, or who are still honing their craft, or still figuring out this self-publishing thing, and they’ll say, “Look! Here’s proof that indie books don’t deserve to see the light of day!”

Even I will say that they’re not completely unjustified in their criticisms. But cue the dramatic organ music while I make an observation regarding the sanctity and perfection of traditionally-published works.

Folks, your sacred cows have been giving spoiled milk for years.

You see, I’ve noticed a growing trend in traditionally-published fiction over the last several years, and I’m sure I’m not alone. And that is, there has been a marked shift toward editors allowing an increasing amount of typos to make it to press in traditionally-published books.

Twenty or even ten years ago, things were very different in the world of traditional publishing, and a writer could expect their work to go through a much more thorough editing process before it ever made it to press. In those storied times of yore, an up and coming author would work closely with an experienced editor who would help them develop their craft. Any work they’d submit would likely get a thorough story edit and much back and forth with their editor. This would help the writer improve the plot and pace of their story, tighten up dialogue, and cut unnecessary scenes and exposition from their work.

After that said author could expect their book to go through at least two more edits. Line editing, to improve sentence structure and further tighten up their prose, and proofreading, which would be the final check for spelling and grammatical errors. Then, ta-da! A much better book would hit the bookshelves.

But these days? Pity the up and coming author with a shiny new book deal, because they’ll be lucky to get a decent proofreading before their work heads to press. But why is that?

Because sadly, many of the best and brightest developmental editors fell victim to the great shake-up that was the rise of digital publishing. Don’t look at me; I didn’t do it. Blame Jeff Bezos and Amazon if you want to lament the fall of Avalon (or Babylon, depending on your perspective). Or, blame the big five publishing houses for being slow on the uptake regarding the coming digital publishing apocalypse.

But regardless of who you blame, those editors who knew the craft and who understood how to bring out the very best in budding writers either got RIF’d, chose to retire early, started their own author representation agencies, or they became authors themselves (and found that it’s not as easy as they thought–and to any former editors reading this, you have my sympathies, by the way).

And guess who took their places? Underpaid, overworked MFA grads who might know antecedents from adjectives, but who really know diddly squat about helping writers hone their craft. Plus, editing departments got cut to the bone during the big shake-up in traditional publishing, which resulted in a lot less staff to handle the same amount of editing.

Which is why the last traditionally-published book you read probably has as many typos as the last indie book I published. Oh, believe me–it annoys the hell out of me, too. When I pay a premium price for a traditionally-published book from one of my favorite authors, I damn well expect someone to have at least done that author the courtesy of checking it for spelling and grammatical errors.

I mean, come on–it’s 2016, for heaven’s sakes. You can fix a typo on the fly and upload a new file with a few keystrokes.

Unfortunately, this never seems to happen in the traditionally-published world. And while my fellow professional indie authors (an admittedly pretentious, but accurate designation) and I continually refine our work, fixing those typos we missed so we can upload improved manuscripts, New York publishers are too busy getting the next title out to worry about a few minor corrections in a book that has already sold-through.

So the next time you’re tempted to drop a review for an indie author a star or two, just because they had a few grammatical errors and misspellings in their book, I encourage you to think back to the most recent trad-published book you read. Then, remember that indie author is doing their best to put out a quality product on a shoe-string budget, and all by their lonesome to boot.

And if you find the quality of editing to be at least close to that of a recent traditionally published work, then spare a little leniency for your friendly neighborhood indies. I assure you, we’re just as annoyed when we find typos in our published works as you.


  1. R.D. Lawrence on September 18, 2016 at 6:07 pm

    I am a big fan of both fantasy and sci fi writers. Frank Herbert and J R R Tolkien being at the top of my list. However, I feel writing is subjective, just as much as music appreciation is too. I have never been a post apocalyptic type of fan. I don’t even like the word apocalypse as it is used and defined in our modern culture. I’m more of a traditionalist and like the meaning of apocalypse to reflect the revealing, unveiling definition. Still I’m glad for the plethora of genres available to us primarily because of indie publishing. Let’s face it some of my favorite sub-plots from the Hobbit and the Trilogy of the Rings would never have made the cut of an editor today. As more likely than not they would be deemed unnecessary to the over all plot in today’s world. Heck most of them never made it in the movies either. All that aside MD Massey’s writing style is so authentic it’s hard not to be drawn into his world. Reading his work makes me want to become a better author.

    • M.D. Massey on September 19, 2016 at 5:39 am

      Thanks R.D., I really appreciate the kind remarks. The truth is a lot of my writing instincts come from reading every piece of fantasy and sci-fi I could get my hands on since, oh, third grade or so (Herbert and Tolkien are also at the top of my all-time greatest reads list). But I also have to credit several books and a few writing courses as well. I think my favorite books for writers are Stephen King’s On Writing, Donald Maass’ “Breakout Novel” books, and James Scott Bell’s Plot and Structure. Pick them up if you get a chance; Bell’s book is particularly accessible, and it breaks down a lot of stodgy MFA writing theory in a manner that makes it easy to digest and internalize.

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