Wednesday, February 10, 2016

The Red Badge of Courage

Erica here:

The Red Badge of Courage:

Not the Stephen Crane Civil War novel. The Red-Pencil Edits kind of courage. 

Recently, on an author email loop I belong to, we got to discussing edits. Not the ones from our editors, which we rely on to make our stories better, but the ones that come from readers after the work is already in print.

One author said a lady offered to show her the mistakes in her novel...and she knew the exact number of mistakes and where they occurred.

One reader wrote in to say the author had ruined the English language for her. (Wow! That's some power to come out of a romance novel.)

And to me, the piece de resistance: a couple of authors said they had received their books back in the mail from a reader who had gone through them with a red pencil and corrected everywhere they perceived a wrong to be! 

O_O      X_X      O_O 

(This is me blinking in total shock!) What???

Now, the purpose of this thread of emails among the authors wasn't to bash readers, but to ask what is the correct response to such occurrences? (And to commiserate a bit and share war wounds and encourage each other through the sting.)

I've had someone come up and say, "You had a typo on page 752! You should fire your editor." I've had offers to show me where my boo-boos are. I've had someone say my research was wrong about something (and leave that opinion in a review for all the world to see forever.) I got where the authors on the email loop were coming from.

So what is an author to do?

These seasoned writers had some sound advice.

The general consensus was:

1. No response was better than a sarcastic or bitter response. Don't burn a bridge.

2. Remember Aunt Allie's Advice: (From my friend and fellow author Allie Pleiter) "If you're small enough to need it, I'm big enough to give it to you." Mostly, folks who want to point out your mistakes just want to feel as if they know more than you do. They want to feel important. Okay. I can go with that.

3. Evaluate the reader's concern. If your ebook was uploaded from the publisher, and there is a glitch...say every apostrophe shows up on their kindle as an ampersand (I've had this happen to books I've bought on amazon.) thank the reader for bringing it to your attention, then contact your publisher and let them know so they can upload a clean copy. Not all reader feedback about errors is baseless.

The truth is: If you have a 100,000 word book, and it is 99.9% mistake free, you will still have 100 errors. 

Authors do their best. They have many editors, and the manuscripts go through many rounds of edits. Sometimes errors slip through, sometimes what a reader perceives as a grammar, spelling, or punctuation error is really a style choice, and sometimes I think it's gremlins.

I have decided if I get a book in the mail that a reader has red-penciled for me, I'm going to put it on my trophy shelf as my "Red Badge of Courage."

And I have decided to extend grace, both to readers and to authors. A typo or two isn't going to ruin a reading experience for me.

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  1. I'm bad about noticing errors. Even in the best of books there are two or three, no biggie. What really bugs me is for instance an author puts in the wrong name in the wrong place and I go huh?

    1. I tend to skim over the errors I find, but the ones that get me the most are when there's a name in the wrong place, too. Mostly because I don't like to be popped out of the story world to try to make sense of things.

  2. Wow, it seems I have a lot to look forward to if I manage to get published someday :) This is all excellent advice, I especially liked the quote from Allie - I can think of other situations where that mindset would apply as well. I so appreciate being able to learn from more experienced writers on this crazy journey!

    1. Laurie, I love Allie's advice. I use it often!

  3. Wow. Seriously? Authors get a red pen corrected copy of your book back?! How in the name of pollyanna do these red-penners think that will help them? I'm shocked, but in all reality I shouldn't be.
    I find one or two typos, but don't care. It certainly doesn't take away from the story. These people have way too much time on their hands. The world has all kinds in it. :)


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