Tuesday, March 20, 2012

How Many Typos by Andy Scheer

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.


B. J. Robinson said...

Great advice, especially as it's so hard to get through those gates. Narrow is the way. As a new writer, I remember taking careful, precious time on my query letter, and I did get responses. Once, I even received the best rejection letter I ever got from a top Christian publishing house. I saved it and still have it some place. The editor praised my characters as well developed and had only good things to say about my manuscript, but it didn't fit with their line or something like that. That novel was first penned over a decade ago. Since that time, I've revised it and created an entirely different ending, and it has seen the light of day, but not through a traditional Christian pubisher as I had once hoped. I so enjoy reading this blog and still strive to learn and improve my skills and writing craft. Blessings, BJ Robinson

Rick Barry said...

A writer once commented on a different blog that she had been "pouring over" her manuscript. That's difficult to picture, but it evoked visions of a stack of soggy pages.

Linda Glaz said...

What frustrates me is when I tell a potential client OR even a client to reread their work out loud to themselves. It's not impossible, but darn near so to miss typos and incorrect words when you read it aloud. And I can always tell when they don't.
***sigh*** Sometimes I just figure why bother? Do people really want help or just to hear how brilliant the work is???

Linda Glaz said...

Okay, reread that and I sound crabby. Sorry, guess I'm tired today.

Heather Day Gilbert said...

Definitely true. I understand errors when you're in the critique process, but if you have trouble w/spelling and grammar, have an expert eye check over it BEFORE querying your MS. That said, I'm shocked how many published authors admit they can't spell and don't "get" grammar. I suppose editing goes a long way sometimes!

Cheryl said...

Excellent advice. I see many errors in the books I review. I can't say you won't see them in my work, but I hope by sending my work out to two critique groups and reading it aloud, I catch as many as possible. I find it's better for me if I leave a manuscript alone for a while, so I approach it with fresh eyes. There are days it all blends together.

Thanks for this helpful post.

Davalyn Spencer said...

I think the mote in my proofreading eye will always be the mote I wrote when I wanted moat. Thankfully, a reader found it for me.

Carrie Fancett Pagels said...

Andy, I just found a typo plus a repetitive word in a sentence on the first chapter in a proposal that seven of us reviewed. ACK!!! You are correct but these things can happen.

Sharyn said...

A member of my writers group once said she's not good with grammar or spelling, as if she should get a pass. To me, that's like a doctor saying he's never figured out medications so he can't prescribe anything.

In my opinion, if you're a writer, it's part of your job to learn that stuff. Even if you have to constantly check your Chicago MoS or AP or go back to school and take a basic proofreading or grammar class, it's worth it to look more professional!

And how, in the era of spell check, can there still be so many misspelled words? I just read a book critique webpage that spelled receive with an "ie". I have a hard time signing up for a writing site that doesn't have the "i after e except after c" rule down. (And that's just one of numerous errors on the site.)

Linda, as a professional editor, I completely empathize with any crabbiness you might feel. :-)