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




8 replies
  1. Sherryl Caulfield
    Sherryl Caulfield says:

    Hey Hildy. Thanks for popping by. Perfect post…at least according to my pre morning cuppa eyes. 😉 Yes, given where you and JJ are in the book reading industry, I’m sure you have seen it all. It must be frustrating because you can compare the quality (content aside) of many self-published books. Plus, I think from memory, you have friends who have gone on to publish so know their processes well.

    I think one of the pitfalls with self-publishing is the fact that you can publish it as soon as your book is done and back from beta readers. Authors are less inclined to leave the book untouched for six months before revisiting again. This used to be how it was while you waited for an agent or publisher to get back to you. You’d move on to writing the next one before returning to your first, months later.

    I certainly had months and years to leave my books alone and come back to them. I know this process definitely helped, not necessarily with picking up all the mistakes, but with the way the story was rounded out…knowing that readers needed to see certain things I hadn’t covered, possibly due to POV. Coming back to my books after a long break also gave me greater insight into my characters. I knew them better after that period of time and knew more of their story that needed to be told.

  2. Hildy
    Hildy says:

    Hey Sherryl!

    Great post! As you know, I read both traditionally-published and self-published books. I don’t think I remember ever reading a book without an error or two. I truly understand that not all errors will get noticed prior to publishing and when I see an error, it doesn’t bother me. Unfortunately, I’ve read books that have had 60 or 70 errors and were relatively short books and I’m not an expert. I can’t see past that many errors. I start highlighting the errors instead of the good stuff and my attention gets blown. I think that authors should have some quality-control measures in place for editing. If they can’t afford a professional editor, then they really need to find a friend who is excellent at catching errors. Mistakes happen, but trust me when I say that I’ve seen books that don’t seem to make much sense and are so poorly edited that it looks like they just wrote the book and threw it out there. I’m guessing that’s not the message they want to send.

    Having said all that, have I read books with quite a few errors that I’ve loved? Yes! I read the hilarious travelogue by Tony James Slater that probably had 50 errors that I noticed and I didn’t care at all. Some of Kristen Ashley’s earlier books were really horribly edited but I ate them up. I don’t think I’d put up with that now. Having spoken to JJ privately about our post, I think she was mainly referring to books that are indecipherable in places because the sentence structure doesn’t even make sense. That’s just not okay with me. There is a self-published book that’s making a lot of noise lately but two of my friends have told me that it is horribly edited and doesn’t make sense in places. I’m just not going there.

    Did we write that post with your book in mind? No way. Did I find some errors when I read it? Yep. They were not glaring errors that stopped the flow of my reading. I enjoyed Seldom Come By immensely and could tell the quality of the storytelling. You’d be shocked at some of the work we see.

    I’m so afraid that this comment is going to have a whack of errors but I’m too tired after a long day of work to look at it anymore. 🙂

  3. Sherryl Caulfield
    Sherryl Caulfield says:

    JJ, thanks for stopping by. I’m sure as a book reviewer and blogger you have seen your share of self-published books and can speak with far more experience than I about this category. Thanks also to you and Hildy for not being a book snob when it comes to self-published authors. It’s so heartening as a writer to come across blogs that are more than eager to give indie authors a shot. Earlier this year I read the The Summer Before the Storm, Book 1 of the Muskoka Trilogy. It was well written, well-edited and self-published, so I know good self-published books are out there.

    And yes, Paullina Simons is a star isn’t she? It was wonderful to be a part of her Forum in the early days and even then I think I was part of the second wave. I resisted reading her books for years…I thought TBH was going to be a soppy romance…one day in desperation I picked it up from the local library as it seemed the best on offer. Biggest lesson ever in giving a book a shot!

  4. JJ
    JJ says:

    You are soooooo darn cute!!!

    I completely understand what you are saying.
    I have done some proofing in my past life……….and unless you are a robot, you
    just CAN’T catch everything. The more eyes who read it the better (for content and typos/grammar).

    I do know how much pro editing costs. AND there is no guarantee they will find everything. I totally get that.

    I do think some self-pub authors could “try a little harder”……but if the bones and meat of the story are awesome,
    I can totally see past a few typos and other errors.

    I’m sooooo incredibly jealous that you got an email back from Paullina. I would have it bronzed <3

  5. Teddyree
    Teddyree says:

    I don’t think it’s a spotlight that should be solely on self-published novels? I’ve had good and bad reading experiences with self-published novels and mainstream… well written, great story, poorly written, spelling errors, grammatical errors or just not my cup of tea. I rate on the reading experience in its entirety, my enjoyment on a whole. So in the scheme of things I could care less … an error here and there is bound to escape the most diligent eagle eye/eyes and in no way affects my enjoyment of a good story. (eek is it effects or affects haha)

    One of the worst reads I’ve had to date was a YA novel and a well known, popular publisher. Sadly there was little positive to say, large portions of the book made little sense, poor sentence structure, absolutely riddled with spelling and grammatical errors. I wondered how on earth something like that could escape the editing/publishing process? And yes I rated it low … the whole reading experience was painful. But I felt sad for the author … after all it was her ‘baby’ and I thought the ‘process’ in some way must have failed her.

    I picked up the ‘tie’ error in the paragraph you included but I honestly don’t remember whether I picked that up when I read the book years ago, and if I did I probably would have giggled. Another of my all-time favourite series.

    Most of us readers would have little idea of the cost of professional editing … I know I’m shocked. What new author can afford that, it would be difficult to justify.. A perfect mistake-free edit would be unrealistic but well edited would obviously be nice. Is there a duty of care when you pay that much … refund for a crap job? lol

    Enlightening post Sherryl, I liked getting the ‘other side’ of things 🙂

    • Sherryl Caulfield
      Sherryl Caulfield says:

      Great to have your perspective Teddyree, knowing that you have read and rated/reviewed nearly 1400 books across the spectrum of mainstream and self-published novels. Thanks for taking the giggling approach!

  6. Jennifer Collin
    Jennifer Collin says:

    Hi Sheryl!
    What a great post! Well said.
    I remember so vividly going through the pros and cons of paying for a professional editor. My expectations of how well my first book would do were quite low, and it was hard to hand over the money with no expectation I would see it returned. Fortunately for me, despite the overlooked typos, Set Me Free had done very well and I am now in a position where I have the luxury of including the professional edit in my budget. And yes, despite the problems with Set Me Free, I am okay with going there! But I know it’s still no guarantee the book will be mistake free. I would encourage readers to let authors know if they come across mistakes, just as you did with Paullina Simons. It doesn’t matter how many eyes, professional or otherwise go over the 70,000 – 150,000 or so words in a manuscript, little mistakes can still slip through. If you spot one, the author will be incredibly grateful if you let them know!

    • Sherryl Caulfield
      Sherryl Caulfield says:

      Thanks, Jen. I agree completely with your last point. I am very happy for readers to email me with any mistakes they find or queries they have. A lovely woman from Canada emailed me after reading Seldom Come By advising me of a few historical and locational errors I had made. It was helpful to have these pointed out and also great to learn about these developments. From there, our dialogue has continued and I value her reaching out to me. I know people mostly just want the best for me and my books. 🙂

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