How many typos does it take to create a bad impression?
It depends. Are these typos in your manuscript, in your sample chapters, or in the front of your proposal? Do they appear in your cover letter or even in your query?
I've been screening queries for three decades. In publishing, it's a fact of life: No legitimate publishers can accept everything that comes their way. Within their target market (no matter how broad or how specialized), they can accept only the best of the best that comes their way.
So gatekeepers need quick ways to assess what doesn't measure up. Both in the material and in the writer who stands behind it.
For me, typos send a signal. The earlier they appear in the process, the louder the signal. In any full manuscript, I expect some typos. (I've also been proofreading for three decades.) Even in those three sample chapters I expect a few.
But they better not appear in the first page, the first paragraph, or especially the first line. Ditto in the proposal itself. The earlier they appear, the louder the signal.
When the signal sounds loud and strong, I ask two questions: Is the writer not competent? Does she just not care?
This past week I received this query. (To protect all parties, I've made the title generic.) Count the mistakes in the first seven lines:
Although "Book Title" was not specifically written for the Christian market, it's upbeat theme, lack of graphic violence, clean language and Scripture-quoting characters may appeal to the average Christian reader.
If so, please read further:
If you're looking for an intriguing historical novel that blends German spies, witty Irish sailors, old-World Danish characters, colorful West Indian characters, and a heroine right out of Jane Austen's "Northanger Abbey", then "Book Title" is right for you.
I didn't spend much time with this query. But counting violations of Chicago style, I quickly found five. (If you find more, sound off.) Quite a first impression.
How many typos does it take to sour the gatekeeper on what you send? Sometimes just one—when it's in the spelling of the recipient's name. That hasn't happened since yesterday morning. As I scanned that query, I quickly saw the pitch was for a category the agency website clearly says I do not consider. Sometimes first impressions prove true.
Please, edit and proofread not only your manuscript, but also your proposal. And pore over every word of your cover letter and query. First impressions count at least double.
Based on what gatekeepers see, they assess not only your topic, but also your competence as a writer. Don't give them an excuse to draw the wrong conclusion.