Writer’s Digest published an article by Craig Silverman in their November/December 2009 issue called “Regret the Error?” about having errors in our published works.
We’ve all seen typos and factual errors in books. As much as the authors pray their works will hit the market in pristine condition, errors can be overlooked and be copyrighted right along with the good stuff. Readers have varying degrees of tolerance. I’ve used the example before of a former cop who read a novel and was thoroughly enjoying it until he reached the point where the MC “flicked the safety off his Glock.” Glocks don’t have the type of safety that can be “flicked.” The cop laid the book down and never picked it up again.
I’ve read where an author populated her Texas setting with prairie dogs in an area too rocky for the critters. They don’t live in that part of the state. I didn’t stop reading the book, but at this point it’s about all I remember of it.
Writers are responsible for their content’s accuracy just as they’re responsible for catching typos and spelling and grammatical errors. According to Silverman:
Accuracy is an ethical and professional responsibility for all writers, and a significant error in a book or article can ruin your reputation.
Silverman writes nonfiction, but the statement is just as true for fiction writers. Someone will know when the author has scrimped on research and may respond as the cop did–never pick up the work again.
Preventing errors isn’t always a fool-proof process, but things can be done to avoid them. Silverman suggests we acknowledge our weaknesses:
- What words do I always misspell?
- Does my process, or lack thereof, for keeping track of my research cause me to make mistakes?
- Do I have a tendency to get names wrong?
Answering these honestly will prompt us to double check our weakest areas. Having a quiver of knowledgeable and experienced critique partners with fresh eyes for the work also helps. (Author K.M. [Tarin] Weiland wrote an excellent article for AuthorCulture, “Never Miss a Typo Again,” which includes ideas like having your Adobe Reader read your work to you. Miss Adobe has a pecular voice, but this technique works.)
Errors can slip through despite our best efforts, and Silverman’s remedy is one guaranteed to keep him in the good graces of his readers: Acknowledge the fact that you can make mistakes:
. . . you need to realize (and acknowledge) that you’re human, and humans make mistakes. Those who present themselves as infallible gods are first to be renounced.
After you and your critters have checked your work, there will be fewer errors–hopefully no errors–but it’s always possible something slipped by. Silverman says to “be up front with readers about wanting them to help you identify mistakes. Create a system for correcting them.” He calls this his “Statement of Accuracy” and provides a place on his website for readers to report the errors they’ve found, then he posts the latest corrections on an RSS feed or readers can sign up to receive the information via email.
He says he enjoys the feedback from his readers:
Even though they’re pointing out your mistakes, it’s satisfying when someone takes time to read and respond to your work.