Sunday 19 April 2020

Proof-reading issues


A surprising average number of mistakes

Did you know that the average number of grammatical mistakes and typos that elude the proof-reader in an average-sized novel is fifteen? I’ll give it the Big Five – they have very few and produce some books that have none at all. They’re less good at formatting for Kindle and other e-books but that’s for another post another day. And of course the average number becomes fifteen because some, but only some, self-published books haven’t been properly proof read.

The importance of proof-reading and how we do it

We certainly shouldn’t take short cuts with proof-reading. Employing an independent proof-reader is money well spent. In our imprints we’re old-fashioned enough to go through three stages of editing and the third is almost a proof-read. Thereafter we get two people in-house to proof-read. One will be the original editor and the other one of three of us who are used to proof-reading.

This final proof-read is of the camera-ready PDF that will form the inside of the book. We ask the author to look at this too, not so much to look for typos, spelling mistakes or grammatical errors but to check that the formatting is correct. Sometimes they’ve embedded some code in that will make the text format in special way. We’re sometimes not sure whether the author wants the text to look the way they presented it or the way that the coding suggests. But if they happen to find anything else, good. They’re helping us to get the book to be the best it can be.

Yes, we still miss the odd thing but we come out well below the average of fifteen. And we’re careful. Very careful.

Reviewer’s delight

Unfortunately there are a few reviewers who seem to delight in taking a type of moral high ground about this but some of them fall badly.

I recently read and reviewed a book I’d enjoyed and put my four star review on Amazon and Good reads. I was appalled to find another review there that said this:

“I would ask why this book is so badly edited? It contains spelling error, grammatical errors, and missing words.”

Really? I need to make several points here. First of all, I didn’t spot a single thing wrong with the text. And believe me, as soon as I spot one of those fifteen errors I jump out of my absorption in a text. There are two possible explanations here: either there were no mistakes and the reviewer doesn’t understand grammar, or the book was so absorbing that even I failed to spot the mistakes. However, I doubt the latter is true as I gave the book four stars, not five, as it didn’t absorb me completely.

But let’s look at that review. The writer “would” ask. Why a conditional? In which circumstances would they ask? Why not just say they don’t know or even better just state that there are spelling and grammatical errors. Yes, errors, not error. Of course  one can say “spelling error” is grammatically correct but stylistically this doesn’t work so well. I’m pretty sure anyway that it’s a typo. The writer probably meant “spelling errors and grammatical errors” which would have been better as “spelling and grammatical errors” anyway. Why the question mark at the end of a statement? And there really is no need at all for an Oxford comma.

For one of the books we published a review said “does suffer from occassional misspellings and one or two grammatical errors”. Oh yes. Sic. It didn’t actually anyway. Deliberate choices had been made by the author for the sake of the voice in the text. The editor had agreed. Yes we should know the grammatical rules and only break them when we really know what we’re doing. Grammar is there after all to help us make our meaning clear. But we also would do well to remember there is no ultimate authority on English. The only thing that really matter is whether we communicate effectively..

Point-scoring? Kettles, pots and black?

Or should I be more lenient and admit that those two reviews work so it doesn’t matter about the mistakes within them? However, if both reviewers went on the way they’re going they’d score more than the fifteen in 46,000 words. And I can’t quite take them seriously which brings us right back to just how important proof-reading is.                                       


  1. This reminds me of when I posted a short story told in monologue form on a writer's site, where anyone could review what was posted. I had some encouraging comments, and then one reviewer who tore it to shreds, his main complaint being there was no sense of place. He was vicious, and it threw me completely for a few days. Then, out of curiosity I went and read the opening chapter of his novel, which he'd posted on the same site. It was a veritable Where's Wally of a scene. There was so much description of place I felt I was going to trip over as I read. I resisted the temptation to retaliate, but I'm so glad I read it, it removed all the sting of his criticism. However, I never posted another story on there.

    1. Yes, some reviewers seem to have a strange agenda. I had lots of very good reviews for a book on language learning I wrote and then one scathing one by someone else who had written one. Mine was for ordinary people trying to learn enough to be able to enjoy a holiday homes and his was for university students. They weren't meant to be the same.