Someone once asked me what, as a writer, was my biggest fear. Was it writer’s block? Impostor syndrome? Clichéd composition?
I always give the same answer: typos.
Few types of business offer as many opportunities to mess up as publishing. After all, in addition to the gross issues of production, distribution, sales, and marketing, there’s the fact that every book is composed of tens of thousands of words, all of whose myriad letters must be correct and in the right order.
At First Contact went out with two instances of the name for a character being wrong. We fixed it, but not before we’d sold our first fifty copies (and ordered a couple dozen copies for ourselves).
Our very first book, the first Rediscovery volume, had several typos; there was even one instance of an entire paragraph fragment being repeated (it was at the bottom of a page and thus easy to miss).
The second Rediscovery volume doesn’t have any typos, so far as I know (yet), but the first 100 copies went out without its dedication to Dr. Lisa Yaszek! Talk about embarrassing.
Why am I airing our dirty laundry? For a couple of reasons. The first is that every business makes mistakes, especially when it’s starting out. If you’re an independent publisher or a self-publishing author, you’ve probably made some cringeworthy mistakes. You may have even felt overwhelmed by them, to the point that you worried that you’re just not cut out for this biz. That your reputation is forever sullied.
The fact is that every mistake can be fixed. With Ingram and Amazon being our main printers, we were able to upload new copies of Rediscovery and At First Contact immediately as soon as we knew there was a problem. Our personal copies of At First Contact? We printed out a bunch of little labels with the right names and fixed the books ourselves. And the dedication on Rediscovery 2? Well, there are other ways to let everyone know who a book is dedicated to.
Believe me, other publishers, bigger publishers, have done much worse. A friend of mine had a book published, and the first 500 copies had the freaking editing notes by both editor and author included in the intro! Even the Big 5 routinely produce titles with typos. To err is human.
And the reading public doesn’t just forgive. They forget. Or they email you with helpful annotations (“Page 47 has a typo”) and then they have the pleasure of being part of the solution. A mistake isn’t the end of the world.
That said, it’s better not to make mistakes, right? And that’s the second reason for this week’s article. The only way to ensure fewer errors is a process that detects and deters bugs before they happen.
We have two levels of error-checking, one in the editing process, and one in the production process.
For editing, two things are vital:
- You must get multiple eyes on a manuscript. The ideal number is four: the initial writer, the beta reader, the editor, and a final reader. The final reader only gets the manuscript when the other three are sure it’s “done”. Going in cold, they will find the issues that have entered the blind spots of the first three.
- Read it out loud. Seriously. Not a single word of your manuscript should stay inside. You will not only shave off awkward corners, you will find the bad typos, the repeated phrases, the continuity errors, everything.
- You need a spreadsheet template with every single step of the production process, no matter how trivial, listed.
- We’re talking things like: author contract, cover, book webpage, first draft, final draft, ISBN procurement, etc. Our sheet has ~30 items on it. Including “have each proofreader make sure every section is in the book!”
- You’ll want a column listing the progress of each step: ot Started, Started, Completed.
- You’ll want a formula such that each task has a due date dependent on a publication date you can change.
- Every week or month, as appropriate, you’ll review the template and see what tasks you have to take care of.
- Build in lead time. If you don’t cut yourself slack, you will end up on publication day with a major problem.
- For instance, the first version of Sirena had a wonky cover. Not on Amazon, but on Ingram. Turns out you have to be particular re: color profiles. That wasted a couple of weeks.
- I Want the Stars went out three weeks later than we wanted because of the whole “Ingram won’t work if you accidentally clicked Expanded Distribution on Amazon”.
Thanks to our templates, Rediscovery, Volume 2 was ready on time, even with hiccoughs in production. And the dedication issue was fixed within 48 hours of the official launch date.
Most importantly, don’t beat yourself up. Each error is a learning experience. Find out how to fix the error and make sure it doesn’t happen again. That’s the best you can do.
Eventually, your work will be prefect, without any mitsakes.
P.S. Your work will never be perfect. But at least you’ll make new mistakes rather than repeat old ones… 🙂