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 digital media, 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-pubbed 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.

11 Comments

  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.

  2. Judith on September 14, 2020 at 5:58 am

    R. D. Lawrence pointed out that writing is subjective, as is music appreciation. That is true; however the rules governing the technical part of writing books and the technical part of composing operas are objective. While some rules have shifted a bit Over the years and the leniency has been accepted by most people, the great majority of grammar rules are set in stone and are absolute.

    When I began to read from the plethora of books churned out by Indie authors, I was blindsided by the sheer number of grammar and punctuation errors. I am not referring to a misplaced comma here and there, a typo inadvertently made when the author was typing a little too fast, or a sentence which the author would have tweaked a bit to make it more readable had she had the time before her book was published. I refer to blatant, glaring grammatical errors made simply because an author did not know any better, or maybe that really is how the author expresses herself when she is talking out loud. Errors such as, “Me and John got in the car.”, “She was laying on the sofa.” “John and myself walked in the bar.” “ John and him are best friends.” Those are minor grammatical errors compared to the ones I see every day in books.

    When you think that these authors are writing in a language they have spoken since birth, went to school at least 12 years to master and refine reading and writing skills, have at their fingertips an untold number of reference books, have access to the Internet at a moment’s notice and have the option of downloading specific software to correct errors as they type or to use as a checker-type tool to whenever they please, you have to admit there no excuse for leaving grammatical errors in published books.

    • M.D. Massey on September 16, 2020 at 3:53 pm

      I agree to an extent, Judith. It is very true that many indie authors seem to choose output over craft. Meaning, they would rather crank out another novel to feed a hungry audience than polish the one they just finished.

      And to be honest, many readers (especially KU readers) are very forgiving of typos, so much so that some indie authors I know don’t even use editors. Instead, they merely give their manuscripts a single pass, maybe get a few beta readers to look it over, and then hit the publish button. And they are making a killing.

      I’m not one to openly criticize other authors, but I am a picky reader. If I see too many blatant typos in a novel, I will definitely move on to something else. But I can’t blame indies for cashing in by releasing many novels quickly while the market is still lenient on authors who adopt such practices.

    • Mal on July 16, 2021 at 11:55 am

      Personally, I don’t find the grammatical errors you highlight problematical – if you listen to the way people speak these days, it’s the norm. What really bugs me in books these days is using the wrong word in the sentence, eg, were/where, their/there, etc. But, at the end of the day, if it’s a good story and you can identify with the characters, its easy to overlook the minor flaws.
      Maybe we should have a readers feedback system that allows errors to be reported and corrected

    • Robin Cruce on August 11, 2023 at 11:43 am

      I agree up to a point. That said, it depends on what you’re writing about. If your characters are illiterate or poorly educated, those “typos” might actually be an accurate take on the way they express themselves. I grew up in the Midwest, and there are places, even today, where your examples are actually the way people talk. Please note: I did not go to high school. I was married at 14, divorced at 20, and have about 128 hours of college credits (but no degree), largely in mathematics and electrical engineering and design. I am not illiterate, and have worked as a proofreader. It doesn’t take 12 years of primary and secondary education to learn the language…it takes a willingness to learn and a determination to be understood, but not appear stupid.
      It’s the authors who think they can publish something without trying to make sure it’s worth reading who get my goat. Authors who make the effort to put out a quality story are to be treasured. I count MD Massey among them, as a result of which, I own everything he has published to date. Not to mention, his stories are engaging and a lot of fun to read.
      Put blame where it is due. Your comment was a blanket statement, which I did not appreciate. I read it through to the end, and found it to be narrow and limiting. Education in the United States is not universal, nor will you receive the same quality of education in Louisiana or Arkansas as you would in Los Angeles or Washington D.C. Too many schools teach to the test, rather than teaching to the students’ ability. You cannot assume that someone was literate when they graduated. Thanks to “No child left behind”, which reduced education to its lowest common denominator, probably more than 30% of high school graduates are functionally illiterate.

  3. Norma Alvarez on July 16, 2021 at 3:03 pm

    I almost never let grammar affect how I rate an Indie book, but sometimes, I feel the author might want to know about certain errors. Would like to know if there is a place that we can just leave our comments, etc. without even having to trouble you for a response.

  4. Pam Bales on August 11, 2023 at 2:46 pm

    Thanks for the info. I read more on my Kindle than traditional books because it is easier to do. I do however, highlight and report mistakes in text and grammar whenever it is especially annoying. I don’t find many, but when it stops my smoothly reading the story, I highlight and send it to the whoever it is that it goes to. Love your work and appreciate your info!

    Pam Bales

  5. Pam Bales on August 11, 2023 at 2:47 pm

    Loved the Yoda meme?

  6. Jan Burger on August 12, 2023 at 2:05 pm

    The ones that really bother me? How about the use of words that are totally incorrect, the difference between sounds like and means the same!
    Way too many sounds like words that have a meaning that is 180° off base for the sentence. Its like the difference between, oh any town so say London, and the dark side of the moon.
    Puts a real stutter in my reading, like Huh?
    Indie authors need to stop using words they don’t know the definition of just because “it looks smart”. It doesn’t it looks stupid.. I admit anyone can make a mistake or a typo, but some of the ones I’m falling over are not even close to logical. Here I am reading along at 2000+ wpm and I hit a trip wire of a word that completely derails my train of thought..like someone just broke the film on the projector of an old movie theater. Not pleasant at all.
    And I really Like indie books, just get a dictionary already, look the word up!

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