I’m scared to read my own book!

As writers, we like to think our books are perfect and completely error-free, but deep in our hearts and in the dark corners of our minds, there is a niggling worry that, somewhere, the typo/spelling mistake/punctuation mistake/grammar mistake of doom is lurking, waiting to annoy our unsuspecting readers.

In a recent post about pet peeves, some readers commented on how much spelling mistakes and typos bother them when reading, and I totally understand that. I too feel a bit irked when I’m reading a book released by a well-known publishing house, only to come across a misplaced punctuation mark or a blatantly obvious typo. You’d think their editors would do a better job, right?

However, since I started working as an editor, I’m trying come to terms with the fact that, hey, editors are human too, and all humans make mistakes. I too have made or missed some mistakes while editing, so it’s useful when my fiancé proofreads what I did. Even then, however, it’s possible to still overlook some mistakes. We try to polish manuscripts as much as possible, but we ask our clients to bear in mind that we don’t guarantee a 100% error-free manuscript. Nobody can do that. We’re not perfect.

With that in mind, I still am afraid to touch my novel, because I will always be reading it with a critical eye. What if I find a typo? What if my tenses are inconsistent? What if there’s a grammar or spelling mistake somewhere? What if I was too redundant somewhere? What if I repeated the same word several times in one paragraph? The mere thought alone upsets me. Editing feels like a never-ending process, and chances are – even after you decide that enough is enough and publish the book – you’ll still find something you’ll want to change about it.

One person who reviewed my book said that she loved the story but was a little irked by some errors. I froze in horror, thinking that after all my work, people have still managed to find mistakes in the book. You probably think that I took the novel down and edited it again, but I did not. It’s out there now, and regardless of the amount of editing I do, someone somewhere will still manage to dig up something. Even if I do revise the novel again, I still might miss the errors she had in mind while writing that review.

I’m not saying errors are okay, no, and I’m less lenient when a book is published by a major publishing house. Though I do think indie authors should be allowed a margin of error. After all, they don’t have a whole team of editors backing them up.

What are your thoughts about this? How do you react to errors? What would you do if someone mentioned errors in your already published novel?

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72 thoughts on “I’m scared to read my own book!

  1. I edited and proofed mine for THREE MONTHS solid. Took out every unneeded word or phrase. Tightened it up to perfection.

    Published it on Amazon. Read the sample. BANG! Typo on the very first page. Two more in the whole sample.

    You can’t avoid it, I’m afraid. I’ve submitted several updates, so it’s fine now. But little things, little mistakes: readers will spot them for you. I have a little Secret Group on Facebook where people who’ve read the book can discuss it without spoilers, and sometimes in there they’ll address me directly with something they noticed, like a continuity error. So helpful. I’d recommend it!

    • That happened to me too! I couldn’t believe I’d missed a typo on the very first page. I was appalled.
      And that sounds quite helpful! I may have to try it with my next book. =D Thank your for the suggestion and for your comment!

    • Yep me too. I published my second book and was looking at the Amazon sample and there it was! I reworded a sentence and forgot to take the apostrophe s off of the name. What did I do? I immediately tweeted my horrific mistake. Yep I told everyone about it. Better me telling them. And when I published the third book, I had done the same exact thing! But not on the first page this time.

  2. I don’t like looking at my novel either, for that exact same reason. Once I did look, and I found a typo, and I thought about pulling it, but then I figured I might as well just leave it out there. The next one will be better. :)

    • My thoughts exactly! It’s already out there, so the only valid option would be to improve the next one. That.. and the fact that taking down a book for edits can be such a hassle!

        • Haha, if it were only on Kindle, that would’ve been easy! But since I publish in print on Lulu, I would have to order a new proof copy every time I changed the content of the book, and that’s both a hassle and a waste of money. =/

        • Oh yeah…that’s a little more difficult. My print copies are definitely sold “as is”, lol. After that supposed final review of the proof (takes me about three weeks to go over and over the proofs, making changes and such), then whatever errors sneak in, the are there to stay until the next print run.

  3. I don’t have a published book (yet?), so I don’t know how I would react, but judging from how very much it bugs me in other people’s works, I’d probably die from instantaneous mortification combustion.
    That’s not very helpful to you though, is it? Sorry…
    Maybe this will cheer you up: I’d never hold it against the author, even though it annoys the hell out of me. Not if it’s one, two or five. If there’s one on every page, it’s different. But usually, it just makes me angry at the editors. (oops, you’re an editor yourself… sorry again.)

    • Ahaha, no worries! As I said, authors and editors alike are human. We just have to do the best job possible, but guaranteeing error-free manuscripts? That’s impossible, especially since some things tend to be entirely subjective. Of course, nobody can be excused if there’s a mistake on every single page. Also.. bear in mind that sometimes authors ask for specific things from editors; I’ve had several people tell me not to touch anything but spelling and typos, and leave everything else alone. It takes a lot of effort to stop myself from editing things I don’t agree with, but hey, I’ve got to do what the client requested, right?

      • Sure, of course. Although I imagine that’d be really difficult. I’ve done some proof-reading of academic work, but I’ve never not corrected (or suggested a correction) when I thought it needed one. Don’t know if I could.
        I’m sure you’re doing a great job though, and as soon as I have achieved something for which I allow myself a reward, I’ll get your book, because I’m really curious now. I’d sort of vaguely thought I should for a while now, but now I just want to read it so I can tell you that it’s perfect. :)

        • Well sometimes when it’s too blatantly obvious, I feel compelled to point it out. But one client actually got kinda miffed about it, so we’ve learned to just stick to what is asked of us to avoid trouble.
          Oh dear. Now I’m all anxious! I get the feeling that you’re going to unearth a tonne of errors and I’m going to end up feeling so very embarrassed, haha.

        • No way! I will get totally lost in the story and not notice anything else. I’m sure about that. I love your blog, so there’s no chance I’m not gonna love the book.

        • Aww, thank you! I’m glad to hear you say that, and now I really REALLY hope I don’t end up disappointing you!

  4. I hear ya…loud and clear! Just released my baby book out into the world a couple of weeks ago, and I’m just waiting to hear about some grammatical issue. Who am I kidding? Issues! Knowing myself, I will want to fix and upload a new version, since that is the wonderful advantage with e-books. : )

    • But the question is: how would you know where the issues where? Unless you are willing to ask the reviewer, you’d have to read the whole book again! That alone sounds like a daunting task, doesn’t it?

  5. Before I hit that big publish button for my first book, I must have reread it 50 times looking for typos. Thank goodness it’s only about 12,000 words. Now I tell people if you can find a typo in it, I’ll send you a copy of my second book. (confident aren’t I) But so far no one has taken me up on my challenge or they haven’t found any typos :-)
    We all have typos. We are human. And I can’t afford an editor or proofreader, so I basically have to do it myself and I am my own worst critic.

    • Haha, that’s a great deal! And if nobody has managed to take you up on the challenge yet, it must mean you’ve done a good job editing!
      I believe that as long as a person does the best they can, they really shouldn’t feel /too/ bad if someone discovers typos. As an editor, I know how easy it is to not notice a mistake!

  6. I loathe spelling errors! They make me go ‘grrrr!’ I especially dislike it when I find errors in my own work, so when someone finds an error that I did not spot; I internally explode, in embarrassment basically. However, when reading a book, I think you need to come with an open mind, knowing that it was written and edited by humans, and humans do make occasional errors. So until the day the robots begin to write and edit work, there will be a couple errors here and there.

    • Well, consider MS-Word’s spell check, or the proofreading tool on WordPress… both of those can be considered “robots” to some extent, but even they cannot pick up some typos or realise that some words are actually words. Though I can relate to you in the thing about exploding in embarrassment; that has happened to me!

    • Hi T.W. I don’t mind a few typos here and there, but I picked up an ebook one time that had at least 12 typos on the first page. I’m going to say the writer wrote it, ran it through spell check and published it. Now we all should know that spell check can find spelling mistakes, but if you’ve written “their” instead of “they’re” or “here” instead of “hear”, spell check won’t catch that, nor will it catch the fact that there’s an extra word “in in” the sentence. I kept having to reread the sentences just to figure out what the writer was saying.

      • I’m more forgiving of self-published authors (go figure), I’ll admit. Read a Clive Cussler book that had errors that actually made me lose my place. Not spelling or grammar, but sentences that were cut off in the middle and character problems. Still a great story, though.

  7. wow. you wrote a book! Writing a book, is in itself a success…and i admire you for that. and as what i’ve read in the previous comments, it’s actually a common phenomenon. wow! you are an author! gotta read your book then!! :)

    • Yeah, it does seem to be quite common. And aww, thanks! It’s always nice to hear that, but I don’t promise my book is all that great, haha.

  8. I try hard to make sure it’s as close to perfect as it can be before publishing, but after that, unless it’s some grievous error, I tend to leave it. No point worrying about it, and it’s rare that they’re anything but small errors anyway. Give me any book, and I mean any book, and I can find something. It’s just how it works. That’s much better than the people who clearly skimp on the editing process, so all I can say is that I’ve done the best I can do and leave it at that.

    • Yush! What qualifies as an error can be subjective. For example, some people consider the Oxford comma to be wrong, while others think it’s perfectly acceptable! We just have to hope that we did a good job!

  9. herminestrand says:

    I can’t afford the $200 to $500 that a competent freelance editor would charge to edit my short stories, so I have to rely on myself and the occasional writer friend who agrees to do some general nitting and proofing for free. One thing that helps is to put the manuscript aside for a day or two and come back to proof it first thing in the morning. But editing for content–not necessarily errors, but just to improve the wording–is my third-most-favorite writing-related activity. My real risk is that I’ll edit for content until I die of old age and never publish anything, so I have to put the brakes on the content editing at some point–and the proofing gets stopped at the same time. Then, of course, I publish the story, download a copy in order to review the conversion, and find “Smashwords” spelled as “Smachwords” right on the title page. Sigh. Yes, it absolutlely never ends. Thanks for a good post, because the requirement that a manuscript be totally perfect is a bit of a dogma, and minor errors are held against indie authors much more than against the name brands published by the large publishing houses.

    • I’m glad you like the post! It’s definitely helpful to have a second eye reviewing your book, because authors are always too close to their work to be able to notice some things (regardless of how small they may be!). I think all authors run the risk of editing until they die, so I wonder where each person decides to draw the line. I think there’s a lot of stigma against indie authors because the truth is many of them tend to publish after a simple MS-Word Spell Check, giving the good indies out there a bad name.

  10. Hey zen, how right you are!! My book The Everything Theory had been proofread many times, been on sale for over twelve months, sold over a thousand copies and then a friend of mine emailed me a couple of weeks ago and said she had found a typo towards the end of the story! I couldnt believe it! They’re insidious …

  11. Zen, you read my blog. You know what a mess I had on my hands. Even after making edits, I’m sure there are still errors, but hopefully, only minor ones now. I, too, am pretty lenient when it comes to self-published works. If the story is good, I simply don’ t mind a few errors here and there. Sometimes I think my proof-readers get so engrossed in the story, they gloss over simple errors – like a missing “a,” or a quotation mark. But as soon as I read your title, I knew what you meant. I love to look at my covers on my Nook, but I’m afraid to open the book. ;-)

    • Yes, there’s always room for error! And same here – I wouldn’t hold it against the author if I truly liked their story.
      And it’s sad, isn’t it? I would love to read my book without a critical eye, but I just can’t!

  12. I think that a few errors are acceptable in self-published works. If, however, a book has been professionally edited, I am less impressed when I find a typo.

    I know how easy it is to miss errors (even the odd whopper) in my own writing and I must admit to being a bit paranoid about it. And now I am offering my copy editing services (amongst other things) in return for payment…no rest for the wicked!

  13. This was the best post to read. I just finished my fourth round of edits. I can’t believe the errors I found. I would have thought it was first time going through it if I didn’t know better. Reading your post and the comments made me feel so much better. Thank you!

  14. I can literally edit FOREVER! But after an edit or two I have to make myself step back and just put it down. It’s definitely hard to let go, knowing there might be some errors here and there – but as you said, no one is perfect, and I have had to accept that there is always something left to edit if you look hard enough.

    • AuthorWorld says:

      Andrea i agree with you & everyone else. Something i have found quiet useful is reading the story from the end to the beginning … that way you as the writer aren’t predicting what’s next & so its slightly easier to spot mistakes … But obviously as its not always 100% effective … but it helps :-)

      • That is a good practice! It’s definitely hard to get the same kind of suspension of disbelief when you’re reading your own book, but I’m sure part of this comes from the fact that as a writer, we rarely read it all the way through. I’m going to have to try that with my most recent work and see if I can get in the mindset of a “reader” this time around :)

  15. prestonwfuller says:

    Oh jeez, I’m so OCD about stuff like that. I think I might seriously take an extra year just revising it over and over, but then, I’m the guy who takes perfectly clean computer code and redoes it all from scratch to change one little detail, then actually feels accomplished at the end of the day. x)

    • Haha. Well, I think you’re perfectly blameless if an error comes up after you’ve done your best! You’re too close to your work to notice all the little details.

  16. I think the rare typo is acceptable – even ten people might miss the same thing. But I can’t stand reading something full of errors and typos, even on things like fanfiction and fictionpress. There’s no excuse for not using spellcheck. Not that I’m perfect, but like I said, there’s a difference in rarely seeing something spelt wrong compared to every other word being wrong (or constantly getting you’re/your and their/there/they’re mixed up).

    • herminestrand says:

      Spellcheck is just as much a writer’s enemy as autocorrect is. A real writer, in my view, turns off spellcheck the second after installing new word processing software. Writers should know spelling without having to rely on shortcuts such as spellcheck.

      • I can understand the annoyance of spell check at times, but personally I find it a God send, especially when it picks up small typos. I still read through my work after spell checking it. As a kid, I had a huge imagination but really struggled with spelling. It was only after using spell check for a while that my spelling improved, hugely. And I wouldn’t call it a shortcut; there are some words that it is difficult to remember, or words that some people just struggle with. Plus, well, I can’t count the amount of times I’ve just stared at a word convinced it was spelt wrong – sometimes, I really do need spellcheck there, especially if I’m really getting into the story and am typing fast.

        • herminestrand says:

          It’s a personal preference. Back when I was in school in the 1970s and early 1980s, when spelling was still core curriculum, I routinely got 100% on spelling tests. Even today I have to MISspell words on purpose because other people can’t spell. For example, the noun form is “practice” and the verb form is “practise,” but if I use “practise” nearly every reader considers it a spelling mistake and gets irritated. That, however, should be a separate blog post. :)

        • I do think grammar is something that changes with the times; but yeah, there are small things that can be a bit confusing. I can’t count the amount of times on Fictionpress someone has pointed out a word and I’ve had to explain it’s the British spelling, not the Welsh.

          My lack of spelling skills weren’t, I think, down the education. My primary school teacher was great, and really tried to help me with it – she also very much encouraged my writing. Yet I just couldn’t get my head around words. Nowadays, some of my friends, my brother and my mum ask me how to spell words. I think it’s part spellcheck, and part the fact that I write so much I just learnt how to spell. But yeah, I do think spellcheck is a preference thing; some people are more comfortable with it, others without. It just depends on how you write best.

  17. This is a great post!

    I will be self publishing my book, but there is no way I can proof read my writing. I am terrible at that. English is not my first language, so it makes it even more difficult to spot a misspell or grammar mistake. However, avoiding mistakes, even for professional editors is impossible. The mind plays tricks. It fixes the word in your mind, even if it is “MSISLPEL” :D

    There is a study where people can read entire paragraphs with words like the one I wrote above, in CAPS. In that study they concluded that as long as the word has the first and last letter in place, the brain can figure out the word. So, if our brain can do something like that, I am sure it will overlook some typos. On the other hand, I wish I would have the skills to avoid them as well.

    • I’ve seen that study! I was able to read the passage quite easily, so it does explain why we often miss typos. There’s another test where you read sentences and you find that you’ve switched words around without even noticing, because the brain already registered them long ago in a specific order. With all that taken into consideration, it’s great that we still have readable books!

  18. As a copy editor, I completely agree with you; you are only human. But still, it’s hard to forgive yourself for anything you overlook. As an editor, too, I have developed the annoying habit of seeing any and every mistake in other books. In any novel by Philippa Gregory (not a small name in the writer’s world), I find 3-5 mistakes on average, in every book.

    I don’t really mind. Because I know that editors are humans, and no matter how many people look at it, there will always be mistakes. Murphy’s law states that in anything you’ve written or edited – on the first page you will read, there will be a mistake. As such I have never opened any magazine I’ve edited, nor any book. So, you’re not alone in this fear!

    I just hope that, if I can forgive mistakes in other books, mine will be forgiven too.

    • That law is fairly accurate! I’ve encountered many people who have – after countless rounds of editing – found errors on the very first page! So embarrassing. A little bit of leniency is definitely a must when it comes to books and editors.

      • Well I’m going to love reading it, only you’re going to have to wait a looong time for me to review it! :( aghhh why can’t christmas be in september XD! Or maybe I could have two birthdays like the queen of England and get double the presents………..

  19. I don’t mind a few grammar errors. Although, if I have to read the sentence over and over again I think that the author/editor could have made it flow better. The only exception is if the writing is meant to be classical. Then it is being historically accurate.

    • Definitely! Some things can’t be excused, but small things don’t really matter in the grand scheme of things. And yes, I agree with you there about classical writing. =] Thank you for your comment!

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