Friday, January 5, 2018

When You Don't Measure Up On Paper

In response to a post a few years ago “Why Typos Lose You the Most Sales,” I found a comment from a woman accusing me of bashing self-publishing and saying that typos don’t bother her.

The intention of the post was more for the psychology on why typos are important for credibility. There was no discussion on self-publishing in itself. I believe in self-publishing and I don’t think people self-publish just because they couldn’t get traditionally published. But, I read indie books and as a reader I despise the mentality that typos don’t matter. They do. Whether you like it or not, having typos is the easiest and most foolish method to shooting yourself in the foot. Typos are easy to fix—tedious, not something I am particularly good at myself—but they are more black and white, never beneficial to a reader’s experience, and not only do readers use them to determine the quality of the book, it’s actually sensible that they do so. There is no reason to have them except for an author’s laziness. Sometimes people will claim artistic style, but when unconventional grammar is effective, it won't look the same as if you just didn't let mistakes slip by.

I am the first to argue that grammar is different than storytelling; you don’t need to know the rules of language to be good at making people feel things. And sometimes inaccurate grammar works better than what’s technically correct. As I said in the post:

“Many artists—and rightfully so—believe that the punctuation, grammar, and spelling, do not state their ability to create ambiance, pacing, and characterization.

However, typos suggest a lack of editing, patience, and precision. They come from either inexperience or apathy. If you don’t know enough or care enough to fix obvious mistakes, why would I believe that you can keep my attention, make me fall in love with the characters, maintain the rules of the world, and satisfy me at the end? The things that are more difficult, that take more effort? Expert writers with a great deal of experience—those who have successfully written successful stories before even—can’t always offer emotional impact, not to mention if they’re limited to the first attempt.

I don’t judge a book by a few typos. Even traditionally published books will have them, though admittedly not to the same extend as my indie reads. But it is not a good sign for your precision and care when a reader finds them in the title, in the teaser, in the summary, or in the sample pages, and yes, I will be dissuaded from buying if you have them on the first page. It’s possible that it won’t constantly bother me, it’s possible that you put all your effort into the abstract decision making involved in telling a good story, but it’s simply more likely you lack skills or patience.

Out of a morbid curiosity, I went to the woman's website and found she did in fact practice what she preached. I found a self-published work accompanied by a haphazardly photoshoped cover, five reviews, and typos on the first page.

The summary had only a few commas missing and an extra one here or there, and that, to me, isn’t too big of deal. Commas are flexible, no matter what anyone says, and I believe should be used to determine pacing and tone of voice. Again, I’m not too positive about my correct application of commas myself, so hypocrisy ahoy if I judge too much. I didn’t wish to like her, particularly, but I wasn’t trying to hate her either. I was more fueled by a morbid curiosity and sense of procrastination.

I bypassed a couple of creative capitalization choices and the poor formatting and the lack of paragraphs until I finally came across a sentence that forced me to read twice to understand.

“Caro refused to follow in her sister dancers footsteps, refused to be made a slave again.”

Now, after a only brief moment I could determine the meaning. I considered two possibilities: “Caro refused to follow in her sister, Dancer’s, footsteps,” or “refused to follow in her sister-dancers’ footsteps.”

See, the problem with imprecise punctuation is two-fold. One is legitimate error in communicating what you actually mean regardless of how much “a choir” your readers are, the other is the ambiguity that comes with being untrustworthy. If you seldom have typos, it would be easily assumed that it was “dancers’ footsteps,” less likely that you would make two errors over one (the hyphen being optional, though useful in fictional pronouns). But, based off of previous capitalization issues, it wasn’t clear that she didn’t just wrongfully leave a name in lower case, and truth was it wouldn’t be that surprising to go either way.

In writing, you have several chances to convince your reader you know what you’re doing, and therefore your story will be enjoyable, not leave me in the lurch in the end by poor forethought or haphazard stream of consciousness.

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