used to work for a small publishing firm that handled a range
of non-fiction books; mostly new age stuff and music almanacs
and self-help tomes. For months, there had been this music anthology
moving between design desks.
It was being worked and reworked and tweaked and prodded and
poked by pretty much anyone who had anything to say about it.
I was handling the cover
art mostly (including the back cover and flaps). The design
mandated that the top ten popular musical artists of the past
one hundred years or so were represented. Which meant Elvis,
The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Michael Jackson, Aretha Franklin,
Of course, it wasn't
everyone's top ten. As ever, contemporary flash-in-the-pan/one-hit-wonder
popularity figured highly, and even then it seemed likely that
some of the included personalities were, before the decade ended,
likely to fall from the public balcony and disappear forever.
But a selection was made, and the cover was designed
and adulterated to death and duly signed off, and the advance
copies of the book arrived a few weeks later.
Jimi Hendricks was on
the cover. He'd ousted Elvis for the prime position, and was
right in the centre twanging a Gibson Flying V or something.
But not Jimi Hendrix, note, but Jimi Hendricks.
Whoever that is.
No less than eleven good
and reasonably literate people proof read that cover. Eleven
people that included five or six designers, the book editor,
the account director, the assistant account director, a couple
of secretaries, whoever else happened to be milling around and,
of course, the proof reader himself.
But no one spotted the
fact that James Marshall Hendrix had his name spelled wrong.
No one spotted any of the other dozen or so errors that appeared
as if by magic elsewhere in the book. Those 60,000 words—plus
178 full colour pages—went
through a very sophisticated publishing system and rolled off
a two million pound Heidelberg press with a gaping error smack
bang in the middle of the cover.
It could have been worse,
It might have been John
The point is, typographical
errors in manuscripts are like weeds; they just keep popping
up. You can't stop them. It's impossible. But that doesn't mean
you shouldn't try.
Why? Because literary
agents and submissions editors loathe spelling mistakes and
typos, and it can—
the difference between acceptance and rejection.
You might get away with
one or two—or
the manuscript is very good. But make no mistake that every
error on your submission will count against you, and sooner
or later the axe will fall and your 3 sample chapters (plus
synopsis) will be on its way home.
So what can you do about it?
ever discover a sure-fire, foolproof method of presenting a
manuscript without typos, let me know. The best you can do is
spell check rigorously and then have as many people as possible
read your manuscript or sample chapters before you post it off.
Try offering them one pound (or one dollar) for every error
they discover. That should motivate you both. And it could be
Another trick is to change the font
on your second read of the sample chapters. For instance, if
you're using a Times New Roman font, make a back-up copy and
convert it to Helvetica or Courier. The reason for this is that
familiarity blinds, and the more familiar you are with your
document, the more likely you are to ignore an error; the irony
being that the harder you check, the more inaccurate you are.
Next, try increasing the point size
of the font on the back-up document. Same principles apply.
What you're trying to do is give your eye a fresh view. Increasing
the point size will shift words around the paragraph.
Best of all, leave as much time
as possible between your final check—and
your final, final check. And then spell check one last
When working on this site, I'm amazed
at how many errors have crept in. I'm not sure that I'm significantly
more useless than anyone else. But my literary garden sprouts
fresh weeds on an almost daily basis (and if you spot any, please
feel free to tip me the wink—but
I'm not going to send you a pound or a dollar for your trouble).
doesn't the publishing industry employ
does. And a good proof reading is a skill in itself, as opposed
to a knack. I've known proof readers without an obvious ounce
of creativity anywhere on their body. Some, if not most, of
them have been terminally dull and uninspiring. But throw a
newspaper on their desks and they'll instinctively reach for
the red pen and will begin highlighting all the errors that
some other proof reader missed. They can't help it. It's a genetic
If you can get a professional proof
reader to check your manuscript, then do so.
But beware. Many of the proof readers
who advertise their services on the www simply aren't good enough
(and some would argue that many of the professional editors
aren't so bloody hot either, and they'd be right).
Otherwise, just do the very best
you can. With luck, the literary agent who's just rejected your
latest manuscript will set you straight here and there, which
will improve your next submission. If they do, be grateful and
make corrections before sending your sample chapters off anywhere
Meanwhile, here are
some of my You Tube videos that might be of interest to you.
Hope you enjoy them.
Mr Edit. Let's talk about dialogue
Mr Edit. Pitching fiction to a literary
Mr Edit. 5 Minute Fiction Fix.
Mr Edit. Let's talk about tautology.
Links for writers
& Editors. Here's where you can check out the credentials
of literary agents and publishers. A must for any writer.
Helpful resource for the creative community. Articles, links
Writing Blog. Lots of useful posts on all aspects of writing,
both for print and online, plus a guest post for anyone who
wants to make a contribution. Check it out.
Plotting a novel
Finding a literary agent
Choosing a literary agent
Agent query letters
Inspiration for writers
5 minute fiction fix
How to get published
Active & passive voice
top UK literary
agent, on books,
publishing and success
Charlie Fox series of books
New York literary agent,
Crème de la Crime:
managing editor of a smaller—but
a piece of stiff white card, buy a scalpel or other suitable
cutting knife, and make a slot just wide enough and long enough
to accommodate a single sentence of your novel. Use that on
the final read. It will mask the rest of the page which, whether
you're conscious of it or not, will always be a distraction.
If you can't do this, at least use a strip of white card to
blank off the sentence beneath the one you're working on.
Start at the last word on your novel (or at least sample chapters)
and crank your cart all the way to the beginning. Yes, it's
tedious as TV. But it can work well.
checking software - but don't rely on it. Grammar checkers
haven't much sense of creativity and will warn you of sentences
that are wrong, and yet so very, very right.
Note your weaknesses
on a sheet of paper and check globally for them. For
instance, I'm in the habit of writing the word "new" when I
mean "knew" - and I'm by no means knew to the business.
Keep this list
close and sensitize yourself to your weaknesses. You'll never
get them all, because new ones will always crop up.
for botched plurals such as: There were many car's in the
street. The apostrophe in that sentence isn't needed - and
this is another persistent weakness of mine.
Learn to proof
read as you read books or newspapers or billboards. You don't
want to get too heavy about this, especially when reading fiction
(which, come to think of it, probably includes newspapers
and billboards) because it will spoil your enjoyment. Just try
and keep an eye open for typos wherever you happen to be. It
all increases your writing muscle, and anything that does that
is probably a good thing.
At the very
least, never send off a submission without at least checking
the name and address details of the literary agent or submissions
editor. Get it accurate right down to the postcode. Attention
to detail shows that you care about the written word. And it
will help elevate you above everyone else who can't be bothered
to do these relatively simple things.
If you're sending
stuff overseas, such as to US agents and publishers, you might
briefly mention that you're using English spelling (or US spelling
if you're Stateside sending to the UK). It's a small courtesy
and can't do you any harm.
Back to the