I Found A Typk, What Should I Do?

Cedar is on the road today and discovered that WordPress is being evil and won’t let her log in. ‘nother Mike is filling in with a guest post. Cedar will be back next week, WordPress willing.

I Found A Typk, What Should I Do?
By ‘nother Mike

This is really a posting for fans. See, I’ve noticed that sometimes in our enthusiasm, we whack our favorite authors in the face, publicly, and I think it’s a mistake.

Let’s back up and think about history. One of the great changes in the publishing world is that authors are much more accessible to their fans. Back in the day, the accepted wisdom was that if you wanted to contact an author, you wrote a letter (on paper!) and mailed it to their publisher, who would, eventually, forward it to them. In fact, I have done this.

But with the electronic age? We get to see them at conventions, read them on blogs, follow them on Facebook, and so forth. They post, we reply, and sometimes we even get a bit of dialogue going. It’s great!

But, one activity that has also heated up is finding typos, grammatical disagreements, and even structural disagreements in their books. As fans, we stumble over these, and know in our heart of hearts that the author needs to know about this immediately, so that they can correct it! Which results, all too often, in an off-topic reply to some posting by the author in which we explain all about the problem we found in their book, or even a string of them, on a blog, forum, or other place that we associate with the author. We’re talking directly to the author, and the other readers won’t mind, will they?

Whoa! Stop a moment, and let’s talk about how to handle those observations. Because, frankly, yes, the authors and publishers do want them, but not laid out in the public like a cat putting a dead mouse in your shoe.

First of all, make a list. More than likely, you are going to find several typos or whatever in that book you are reading. In the Kindle app, you can use the highlighting and commenting tools to mark what you find, and then send the whole thing to your email. Personally, I go through and clean it up a bit. Or use your local notes, notepad, or whatever to keep track. I tend to include a bit of context and then my suggestion as to what the fix is. But either way, get all the remarks in one clump.

Second, don’t just dump the problem out in the nearest public venue. You may need to use the public venue to get a contact address, although many authors make an email address easily available if you look around a bit. You also want to think about who is best to contact. Yes, the author is the obvious person, but… For example, Baen has asked that typos be reported to info@baen.com, where the publishing elves can do something with them. Think about what you are commenting on, and who is likely to be able to use your comments, and see if you can send it to them privately.

Third, I suggest starting with a bit of positive comment, and warning the author about what you are sending. “I really enjoyed reading Spiders of the Outer Moons. However, I noticed some typos, and made a list. I’ve attached that list for your use.” Something like that. Give them a chance to get set before pointing out that their baby has dirty underwear, okay?

Incidentally, don’t expect that the author is necessarily going to immediately republish their book, with all of the corrections and changes that you have suggested. Remember, they are in business. Yes, making corrections is good, but… It doesn’t pay the bills. Also, if you are sitting there with a published book, gathering comments for a while before you push another version out there is smart. You really don’t want to get tied up in daily revisions!

So, my advice. Put together a whole package, don’t send it out in dribbles and drabbles. Send it privately to the right person. And give them a bit of positive boost before you hit them with the problems. Then be patient, and start reading their next work!


Amanda here. I want to second what ‘nother Mike said. Authors are generally more than happy if a reader contacts them privately when they see a problem with a book. We appreciate it when folks contact us via email, or even snail mail, with their comments and with their praise. The key is sending the “corrections” privately. Why? It really isn’t because we don’t want it made public. Sure, it stings when we realize that we missed something. It really stings when we have had an editor go over our work and they missed it as well. But that isn’t the real reason. What I, and others I have spoken with about this have discovered, a lot of the “corrections” that have been sent to simply aren’t valid. Whether it is someone who believes the rules governing business writing or formal research writing should apply to fiction — and they don’t always apply — or those who don’t believe dialect should be reflected in writing to those who think they know how to spell something but really don’t, not every “mistake” they see is an actual mistake. The last thing we, as authors, want to get into is having to explain to a reader in a public forum why their comments aren’t valid.

Mike’s post brings up something else I want to address to indie authors. I have seen, and more than once, indie authors commenting that they really don’t worry about making sure their work is completely proofread because ebooks can be edited and corrected as many times as necessary. Don’t take that attitude. Please. Readers want to know that they are getting the best book from you they possibly can. We are already fighting an uphill battle with some readers who expect a lower quality product because we haven’t gone through the traditional gatekeepers. Don’t give them more ammunition. Besides, where Amazon used to automatically push through the corrected version, they don’t now. Your reader has to go in and update the file they have downloaded. So don’t put the responsibility on your reader to do so.

All that said, a big thanks to Mike for his post and, for those of you who have been sending in your corrections, keep doing it. Just follow his advice and do it privately. Trust me, authors really do appreciate it.

27 thoughts on “I Found A Typk, What Should I Do?

  1. Then there are those crazy people (like me) who purchase the Baen eARCs.

    The eARCs are electronic Advanced Reader/Reviewer Copies and have not gone through the final edits.

    While the Great & Glorious Heir to the Great Editor has provided a way to report typos, some of the typos we spot in the eARCs will be corrected by the Baen elves even before we “complain”. 😉

    1. Also, given the nature of the mechanics of publishing, by the time we get our hot little hands on the eARCs the final product may already be at a stage where changes can be either expensive or disruptive to the point of delaying the publication date.
      Unless a flaw is especially egregious, something like Jupiter Johnny has three heads in chapter three and five in chapter six with no reason given, or it’s obvious that the eARC was never copy edited and the typos are rampant, and by that I mean several per page, I rarely bother reporting back to Baen.
      If it’s one of the authors I first or beta read or did a copy edit for on the other hand, my head explodes and I get on the horn immediately.

      1. Yep, eArcs are a horse of a different color. They are labeled “not yet proofread and final” so spending a lot of time reporting errors is just silly. Same thing goes for early chapters and such, unless the author or publisher asks for help. In which case, follow the directions!

  2. I was taught, a long time ago, as a worker / supervisor / human being, that you praise in public, rebuke in private.

  3. From the “Well Meaning but Not a Correction” file: a fan who is Roman Catholic wrote me a very nice note saying that they liked the Elizabeth books but the saints were not correct. They provided several possible real saints as alternatives. I thanked them for their interest and the effort they went to, and assured them that all would be explained at a later date.

    1. I remember being tempted to do something similar, but kept reading instead due to a suspicion there was a Reason. And there was, so I didn’t.

  4. I grew up reading ACE paperbacks. I got sort of desensitized to typos, duplicated lines, or misplaced blocks of text.

    1. Oh hell duplicated pages and then there was the book I remember that had the 2nd half in reverse order……. I have no idea how it got that way and better yet I have no clue how it got published that way but there was that ACE paperback.

      Those bring back memories. The books where generally enjoyable their where just some challenges in reading them.

  5. I just put a new short story up, and got a nice private note with the three typos the reader found. I just uploaded the fixes. Particularly if something just went up, it feels easy to fix stuff.

  6. I noticed a small mistake with the quotation marks in my story that just appeared in a new anthology. I don’t know if it’s a mistake I made and the editors missed, or a mistake they made typing it up. Oh well. It’s a new milestone for me: my first typo!

  7. This is much like seeing a person leave a restroom trailing toilet paper on their shoe, or their fly unzipped… or maybe the person has spinach in their teeth or – God forbid – the ‘thing in the nose’. It’s much better to approach them privately and whisper the problem to them rather than to yell it out across a crowded room. It helps prevent embarrassment on the part of the person you supposedly like, and it keeps the bystanders from experiencing any subconscious feelings of disgust. You know… that ‘eww, gross’ reaction and the distancing yourself or averting your gaze.

    That last is the most important to avoid, because for authors it means people not buying books… for fans, the consequence is not getting as many books from that author you tried to help because they have to keep that day job because ‘not enough sales’.

  8. I have looked hard for contact information at writers’ websites and at least once could not find any and eventually, squirming mentally for the author, posted a review about how awful the print copy was. Cedar noticed and I proved my point privately (with measurements & everything), but I hated having to say it publicly on Amazon to get her attention.

    I know no one likes spam, but if you don’t want reviews of that sort it would be nice for you all to have an address (reasonably easy to find) that we can send notifications to.

    and once it has been said in a public venue do you want us reviewers to come back and say the author agrees & will take steps, or should authors say it, or …?

    1. > I have looked hard for contact information at writers’ websites and at least once could not find any and eventually,

      I see a lot of that. Annually updated blog with comments turned off, no email address, no mailing address. Often enough, no list of their books or where to buy them.

      Then there are the authors who spent huge amounts of time on their “media presence.” They have a private mailing list, a blog, a static web page, a web forum, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Myspace, Friendster, WhatsApp, Instragram, Tumblr, Compuserve, AOL, and an IRC channel, and they’re always going on about this great discussion on some service you’re not signed up with, and have no intention of ever signing up with, and can’t see unless you are. So some sizeable portion of your audience is left feeling left out. And you know what? They’re likely to resent that.

      A static page or a blog is open to anyone with http access. But a bunch of your readership is *never* going to sign up for “social media.”

      Some successful authors prefer not to have any contact with their readers at all. I used to buy books from a popular mystery writer until he chose to add an addendum in one of his novels about how it annoyed him when fans wrote to him and he threw their letters away unopened. Well, screw you too, Bud. If you’re going to do that sort of thing, at least STFU instead of bragging about it in print.

    2. Ah, I know the review – went over it when reviewing the same (but ebook, which had no such problems).

      I’m kind of torn on the issue right now, particularly with problems like that one. My blog is mostly oriented, at the moment, to going over the mistakes I manage to make as a beginner – with the hopes that some who follow me will not make the same ones. So I want them out in the open – at least on the blog. (And, to be honest, if I manage to make an unusable product, I would rather people be warned off and not buy it until I have it fixed!)

      Sigh. Speaking of moribund blogs, mine has been lately. Slowly coming back to life after an illness. Trying to find a happy medium again between the two extremes that TRX mentions…

    3. Oh, on the last – authors should not get into the loop on reviews. What you can do, once steps have been taken, is post a new review (and, yes, that means buying it again, or the author giving you a free copy, which then gets you into the obligatory “I have been compensated for this review,” which opens another can of worms, dang it all…)

      Would be nice if Amazon had a “quality corner” where an author can acknowledge publishing problems and that they have been corrected. Plus some mechanism to make unhappy customers good (at least an auto-push when the author indicates a quality-adjusted copy has been uploaded).

      1. Or, if it’s an ebook, not a paperback, call up Amazon customer service and get them to push the revised ebook file onto your kindle. Then you can see the fixed version and simply update your review.

        For example: “ETA: The typos I mention above have now all been fixed. It’s a dynamite story, so grab a copy!”

        1. Yes, ebooks are relatively easy that way (although they still require the customer to do something more).

          I’ve not heard any really bad things about the physical quality of Createspace books – so I’m cautiously optimistic that if I get everything done right, any of mine will be decent products.

  9. I noticed a few years back that in the reader I was using, some of the Baen Free library and Free CD books (And possibly some that I purchased) had missing letters from words at a pace that appeared to be a regular pattern, every few pages.

    I wondered if there was a fault in the conversion software, the reader, or if it was a form of stealth identification of the source of the books, like the method that Tom Clancy had Jack Ryan using, where each copy of a document had a different set of errors to help identify the source of a leaked document? If the latter, it could be used to show whether someone illegally reselling an e-book got it from a purchase, BFL, or a CD.

    1. Yes, I just assume, these days, that typos are the result of auto-correct, which often doth mock me severely.

      I hope I’ve never been such a pain, but considering I have thought of it as being more minor than a piece of lint on a collar, I might have. I don’t imagine that the author doesn’t know how to spell the word! I figure it is the technology.

  10. I don’t think there is a standard magnitude scale for typos.
    We could typoize the Richter Scale and call it the Rictor Scale.
    “The author had a magnitude 7.4 Rictor and it threw me right out of the story.”
    Or perhaps the typo scale should be named after an author noted for egregious typos. Or different scales for different types of typos.

    I will try to contact the author if I see a typo that takes me out of the story.

    greyratt nailed it with the mention of, “praise in public, rebuke in private.”

  11. You know, it’s a pretty sad commentary on the state of Big Publishing when it is assumed that indie/small press books should have fewer typos and errors than titles from Big Publisher Inc., LTD, GMBH, EIEIO. On the gripping hand, that means indie has really made progress.

  12. I’m always happy to get corrections from the readers, I will thank them and when I get enough, I’ll update/republish the ebook. No one, at least that I know of, can catch EVERY error.

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