Telling it like it is

Even the best authors – Richard Flanagan, Paullina Simons –struggle with mistakes

There’s a discussion over at The Book Bosses Facebook page regarding editing in self-published novels and a question:

Do you give a self-pub book with many typos and grammatical errors a lower rating?

It’s a very good question. They do have good discussions on that page. What do you think? The overwhelming response was: ‘Yes.’ There were two issues covered.

  1. typos and grammatical errors
  2. Poor sentence structure…you know when you have to re-read a sentence to try and work out its meaning, what the author is trying to say.

I’m probably one of those who prompted this conversation. I own my mistakes. Not happily. I know for a fact I had typos in my first book, Seldom Come By. I had 2016 when I meant 1916. I stumbled over haemorrhage. I had one too many ‘c’s in Rebeccca. Jon, a retired neurologist, wrote and explained the difference between chord and cord. And after I read his note, I slapped my forehead and said, ‘of course, I knew that but I forgot.’ The spellchecker never picked that one up. My 16 beta readers, yes 16 over three different versions, and my manuscript assessor, personally recommended by the managing director of Harper Collins Australia, did not pick this one up. It just goes to show.

These have all (fingers crossed) been fixed. That is one of the beauties of eBooks and print on demand. You can edit a file, upload a new version and then when people connect to their devices they are automatically sent the latest version. With a print book, from that point onwards, the latest version is the most correct version. But I know it doesn’t help at the time if there are mistakes in your version.

I know how frustrating this can be for readers because I am one too.

When it comes to writing and publishing I can’t talk for other indie authors, I can only share my own experience. Actually, that’s not correct, my friend Jennifer Collin, paid for a professional editor for her first novel Set Me Free, and after she published it, she was told it had mistakes. She was not happy 🙁  Jen, take heart, there weren’t that many. 🙂

I had three people plus myself proof the final version of Come What May, none of them professional editors, but people who are solid readers and have a good command of the English language, two of whom do a fair bit of writing in their day jobs. During those frantic 10 days I spent uploading what I thought was the final version to Amazon, Smashwords and CreateSpace (final files uploaded on 9 September) I was still finding tiny errors, odd spacing that I had missed. Oh the flagellation that goes on. The human eye, aided by glasses, can only take so much.

Over the years what I’ve learned through my corporate work and this publishing journey is that one person alone, no matter how good they are, can’t spot all the errors. Neither can many. Errors often are found once a document or book has been published; found by readers, who for some reason notice something no one else ever has till then. This is true. Keep reading to find out about my exchange with Paullina Simons.

So I think even with paying for a professional editor, mistakes can slip through. I investigated professional editing options for Come What May. To pay for an editor, the lowest quote I received was $2000. For me to recoup that at say 60% / $3 an eBook would require me selling close to 700 books. I still haven’t sold 700 copies of Seldom Come By. I can only wish. That decision was weighed up along with:

  1. I earn well below the average Australian salary. It’s the life I choose as I try to juggle freelance marketing work, continue to write novels and promote those novels, while still trying to pay off a mortgage.
  2. If I paid $2,000 would I end up with a perfect book? All my experience tells me no. Nearly every book I’ve read this year has had typos in it – even the ones I loved: Amy Harmon’s Making Faces, Louise Doughty’s Apple Tree Yard and Richard Flanagan’s The Narrow Road to the Deep North, which has just been shortlisted for the Man Booker prize. Even in my old favourite, Outlander, which I picked up again earlier this year in preparation for the TV series, I found a mistake that I had never seen before.

Many people know one of my favourite books ever is The Bridge to Holy Cross, called Tatiana and Alexander in some parts of the world. I first read it in September 2004 when I was ill and home alone in New Zealand while my partner was half a world away in the United Kingdom. Then in March 2006 I picked it up to read again on my birthday as a special indulgence and you’ll never guess what I found in the opening paragraph.

Have a read yourself and see if you notice anything. Here’s the link to the book on Amazon so you can see inside the current version. Better still; to save you the trouble I’ve pasted it below.

Bridge to Holy Cross Small

Did anything stand out in that opening paragraph? Well in case you missed it, here’s my letter that I sent to Paullina:

 Subject: Tatiana & Alexander – opening para

Hello Paullina

Greetings from New Zealand. I hope Spring is coming early to you in New York.  I’ve just been re-reading Tatiana & Alexander and for the first time ever I noticed something unusual in the first para and thought I would drop you a line about it. Maybe it’s something I’m not getting…however in the first line Alexander’s tie is described as red and then four lines down it is described as gray-and-white. Just thought you would like to know this in the event that it’s not what you intended.

I hope the writing on your next novel is going well 🙂

All the best

Sherryl Caulfield

And here’s her reply, sent on my birthday, such a wonderful birthday treat!

Sent: Saturday, March 04, 2006 1:59 AM

To: Sherryl Caulfield

Subject: Re: Tatiana & Alexander – opening para

Dear Sherryl,

May I say, it’s too funny.

I mean, the book has been read and revised and edited not just by me, but by my husband, and my two editors, and by two copy editors, and by four proofreaders. The last time was just this summer when I was getting it ready for the American publication. Just goes to show you, doesn’t it, how things skip by, and this is the very first time I’m hearing of it. Oh, well, never you mind. Oops. 😀

More important, I want to thank you for your lovely card, sent last Christmas, that I just picked up this week from my post office box. It was very lovely of you to write me such kind and generous words that made my heart gladder.

Perhaps when I’m in New Zealand next, you can come to one of my little shindigs and I can shake your hand.

With my best wishes,


I was reading the original version published in 2003. But the US version that came out in 2005 had 8 paid professionals working on this book – imagine the cost of that – and they all missed it too, along with Paullina and her husband. Incidentally, you’ll note it hasn’t been fixed. Because there are more important things to worry about! There are new books to write, which millions of fans want right NOW!

So my takeouts are:

  1. People are only human, no one is perfect. I certainly am not, which really challenges my perfection streak!
  2. I apologise for any mistakes in my books. I am sorry if you stumble over them, if they detract from the story and stop you enjoying it. Because, most of all, I want you to enjoy my stories. I sincerely hope you can see beyond those errors and enjoy the story for what it is. I sincerely hope you can find compassion in your heart for all writers – those of us who are self-published and those who are traditionally published – to cut us some slack.

Do readers deserve a perfect book? Yes, they do. I will continually strive for perfection. Hopefully one day I’ll be able to afford professional proofreaders and may even have a publishing team behind me. Please understand that still won’t guarantee a perfect book. In the meantime I will do my best to write a good story.

Please feel free to comment on this post.

With thanks to Paullina Simons for writing back to me all those years ago, for being so engaging on her Forum when she had the time and for touring Australia and New Zealand as she has done. Sadly I left New Zealand in 2006 and didn’t meet Paullina then but my sister caught up with her in Australia that year (see pic below). It was wonderful to meet her in Brisbane in 2008 and 2012. (Thumbnail pic above.)

Paullina & Anita Brisbane Nov 07 @ Mary Ryans




Win The Iceberg Trilogy 3 pack

Come What May rafflecopter pic


And the winner is:

Gina Deckman

Congratulations Gina! ☺ Please contact me via Facebook or send me an email so I can organise delivery of your prize. A big THANK YOU  to everyone who entered.

* * * * * * *

I’m delighted to be launching Come What May, Book 2 of The Iceberg Trilogy, this week and to celebrate I am giving away a great 3 pack:

  1. A personally autographed and dedicated copy of Seldom Come By
  2. A personally autographed and dedicated copy of Come What May
  3. A Paullina Simons autographed copy of her novel, The Bronze Horseman*.

* This is one of my favourite novels and what do you know, I have 2 autographed copies, so am keeping my old worn favourite, published in 2000, and giving away my spare copy published in 2008, barely touched.

The competition is running from Monday 15 September to midday Thursday 25 September 2014 Brisbane time and is open worldwide.

To be in the running you must enter via the Rafflecopter competition manager – SEE BELOW – and

  1. Provide your name
  2. Like my Facebook page
  3. Comment on one of my Facebook posts
  4. Share one of my Facebooks posts

You will see once you sign-up to the competition you can do a number of activities multiple times (e.g. 3 & 4 above) to obtain Bonus points again and again for that category. When the competition closes, the more points you have earned, the greater your chance of being randomly selected as the winner. It’s a numbers game!! Good luck, have fun and thanks for getting into the spirit.

Winners will be announced here and on my Facebook page on Friday 26 September and I will email you. You have 3 days to notify me at: to collect your prize.

Sherryl’s Rafflecopter giveaway

In memory of Auld Lang Syne

How music and memories entwine

I am not as musical as I would like to be, not as musical as my brother, father and paternal grandmother that’s for sure.

Granma Jessie Caulfield was a fine pianist. She could play practically anything by ear. I used to love listening and watching her play In the Mood, Baby Elephant Walk and the mournful Godfather theme song. She never seemed to tire. She had a pianola, which we all wanted to play. Even though it was hard work pressing those pedals, press we did, hoping that by osmosis we too could tinkle the ivories just like her.

Granma Caulfield 2My grandmother had been playing the piano since the nineteen teens. During the second world war her husband, my grandfather, a taxi driver, would often arrive home for dinner, calling out as he came up the stairs, ‘Another one for dinner, Mama,’ giving her five seconds warning to rise, warmly greet a US soldier and put on more vegetables. But it was never a bother. She loved welcoming people into her home. Afterwards, she would play the piano for them with my aunt and uncle joining in for sing-alongs.

She played at country dances and private parties as well, and as my father grew up, he too would join her, playing the piano accordion. Years later when my brother, Greg, and I arrived we would tag along to these social events and at the end of many a gathering, everyone would form a large circle, hold hands, sing and charge to Auld Lang Syne – literally translated as ‘old long since’ but commonly translated as ‘for the sake of old times’.

It was my favourite part of the entire evening, albeit a challenge sometimes for me to stay awake till this climax – particularly on New Year’s Eve. To me, singing Auld Lang Syne was a sacred ritual that bound people together in a way that words or physical actions rarely ever did. To stand in that circle and hold someone’s hand gave me a palpable sense of belonging. This humble Scottish tune fills me with bittersweet nostalgia every time I hear it. It fills my throat with a great lump of emotion every time I sing it. Sadly it’s an important tradition, a beautiful tradition, that is dying.

In Come What May there is a moment when something sacramental is called for to mark the significance of an occasion. And in that moment one of my characters steps forward and sings Auld Lang Syne.

This version and this clip come close to capturing what that moment was like. The singer is Daniel Cartier from New York; the clip was filmed on a windswept winter’s day on Cape Cod.

Daniel in water

Daniel 2 in water

Years ago I went to Cape Cod on a windswept winter’s day. I was in Boston attending meetings with a spare weekend in between. My partner, Mark, was with me and we decided we’d go to Provincetown, even if were January and far from sunny. We’d seen enough of Boston in winter. (Seriously, this was my fourth winter visit.)

Provincetown, at the tip of Cape Cod, was charming, full of wooden clapboard houses  and shopfronts. I bought a set of earrings made from space shuttle material, or so I was told. The Sonoma chardonnay we drank over dinner was mellow and superb. Everywhere we went the people were wonderfully friendly and as Mark and I discovered wonderfully gay. We could very well have been the only straight couple in town. We stayed in a place that reminded me of the inn from Nights of Rodanthe. Being the quiet season we had a choice of rooms. We chose one on the bottom level at the rear with glass windows around three sides opening to a bleached wooden deck hovering just above the grey sleepy sea. Late that afternoon a storm with winter lighting (!) swept across the harbour. It was exciting and elemental, lashing all around us while we were high and dry in our glass cube.

Years later when I was writing Come What May and wanting my character to sing Auld Lang Syne I went searching for the song, just for the pleasure of listening to it once more. And that is when I stumbled upon Daniel. His version warmed my heart in so many ways, reminding me how fortunate my life has been, reminding me of loved ones who are no longer with us, reminding me of the beauty of wide open spaces and the communion of kindred souls.

I hope you love it just as much as I do and come back here again when you get to that part in Come What May. Here’s what Daniel has to say about his rendition:

It’s one of those rare songs that makes me feel joy and sadness all at once. Faces from the past… faces from the present… all come together and tug at my heart. 

The one constant we have in life is change. In every life there are heartwarming hellos and heartbreaking goodbyes. That’s not always easy to handle. Embracing the new. Letting go of the old. Laughter and tears. This song has always driven these points home to me.  

I recorded this version in my home studio. The whole process took 10 minutes. I had a good cry when I was through. A few days later – my partner and I filmed the video with a cellphone, on a deserted beach of our beloved Cape Cod. It was well below freezing and very windy. I think we were on the beach for 15 minutes.