Letter Perfect

The process of learning how to write effectively takes place on so many levels that an author may pay less attention to the lowest rung on the ladder, typos. Part of my function while line editing is cleaning up after authors. I don’t mind, but I do find this neglectful attitude to be very curious. This author, like all readers, would be offended by typos in a printed book. Yet when they don an author’s cap, it’s somehow okay to take the chance that someone else, with no stake in the book, will find all the errors for them.

You should be aware that typos are the number one reason manuscripts are rejected. The reasoning goes: if the author doesn’t care enough to clean up their typos, the larger elements of the story will be sloppy as well. It's just another ego trip. Publishing professionals see plenty of that, even with authors who are meticulous.

Becoming a good writer means mastering your trade. Master carpenters, for example, always check their measurements twice before cutting. It’s stupid, really: they know they marked that board at 16-5/8”. But they make sure, every time, because once the board is sawn, they have lost money if they marked it wrong. Your manuscript submission can be regarded in the same light. You put all that effort into writing a great story, so why would you want it to be rejected for trivial mistakes?

There is a rule of thumb at a publishing house. A sloppy manuscript leads to a sloppy copy edit leads to a sloppy proofread. When the finished book comes out, readers write to complain about all the typos.

Sometimes authors tell me, “Well, I used spell check.” That is a good first step, one I take myself at the end of every line edit. But computer spell-check programs are only looking for misspelled words. If it sees a word that is spelled correctly, even though used incorrectly (e.g., your for you’re), it lets the error go. Lets is a word, even though the most common usage is let’s.

You know most of this stuff. You’re being arrogant and lazy, not to mention childish, to expect someone else to correct your mistakes. Don’t plead ignorance because you weren’t paying attention in sixth grade. You’re an adult now. So start acting like the professional writer you want to be.

Exercise: If you’re unsure about spelling or punctuation, you merely have to go online and check. Gaining mastery over the most widespread errors doesn’t take long at all. What you’ll also find is that by checking yourself, you’ll gain more desire to use more interesting words. You’re digging in. You want control over every word you write. Your readers will thank you for your diligence.

“Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls
and looks like work.” 
—Thomas A. Edison

Copyright @ 2019, John Paine

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