I received an email question from a blog reader who had just finished reading one of her favorite authors and was dismayed by the “disastrous typos and spelling mistakes in the text, embarrassing things the author should have caught.” What she described to me were misspelled street names and store names, things anyone who is familiar with or a resident of that city would surely notice.
It reminded me of an experience I had while still an assistant editor at Berkley. Early one morning, I had just settled into my desk with a coffee and delicious Zaro’s bagel from Grand Central when my phone rang. It was an irate reader. She had just gotten off her train at Grand Central (imagine if we had been on the same train) and the entire experience was ruined for her because the book she was reading was riddled with typos and errors. She wasn’t able to finish the book, but had circled all the mistakes she had found and would be sending the book back to us. I received it the next day.
The mistakes she circled? Purposefully written that way by the author. It was the slang used by a 13-year-old character. All of the “mistakes” she circled were actually dialogue.
What was so interesting to me about this particular situation is that the reader was not at all upset with the author, but instead blamed the publisher for the mistakes made. Which brings me around to the first question by the blog reader. Who is ultimately responsible for typos or other errors in the book? Is it the author? Editor? Production? And what can a writer do when this happens?
Well, I’ll be curious to hear your thoughts on the matter, but I personally feel that it’s the author’s responsibility. While a good copyeditor should definitely check and double-check things like street names, it’s not a copyeditor’s job to make sure your facts are straight. The author, presumably, has done her best to turn in a manuscript that she feels is polished and ready to publish. The editor’s job is to make sure the book is strong, well written, and marketable. Through revisions it’s again the author’s job to make sure the manuscript is polished and ready to publish. It’s the copyeditor’s job to make sure the book is clean of typos, grammatical errors, and any plot inconsistencies, and, well, you know the author’s job by now.
While you certainly hope for a good strong editor and copyeditor who will do extra work to make sure every little detail is correct, you can’t always count on the fact that they’ll be the ones to “fix” things. That’s no one’s job other than the author’s. If you are one of the lucky few who end up with a terrific copyeditor, it’s always nice to send a note of thanks. They are a very talented and yet underappreciated bunch.
And yes, I am not forgetting that there are the rare times when an author’s corrections do not make it into the published book. In that case the author should definitely turn in a list of corrections to her editor. Hopefully they’ll make the fixes the next time they go to press.
Typos are inevitable, you just hope they aren’t embarrassingly noticeable.