Let’s say you’ve just picked up that new hardback by your favourite bestselling author, you race home, make yourself a cup of hot chocolate and settle down on the sofa and start to read. On page 57 you find a typo. What’s your reaction? Do you roll your eyes and wonder how the combination of author, editor, publisher and proof reader let it slip through? Do you curse that the book you just paid ten quid (for even twenty if you got it from a proper book shop instead of Tesco) could have been so sloppily produced? Does it spoil your enjoyment of the book? Or do you shrug your shoulders and go, oh well, this book is 500 pages long so it’s hardly surprising the error slipped through and just carry on enjoying the book regardless?
I have to admit that I tend towards the latter. For the last twelve months or so I’ve made a real effort to stop reading books as a critic and start reading them for enjoyment again. For a long time, especially while I was actively involved in The Fishtank, I found myself passing comment in my head on anything I read in the same way I would pass comment on work submitted to the tank. Some would say that’s a good thing because it’s all about learning more, but it started to spoil my enjoyment of the books I was reading and I knew I had to stop it. I think that as a writer it’s still possible to learn from what others have written without re-writing everything in your head. So now, I just try and ignore the typos and misplaced punctuation marks and enjoy the thing. I know they are there, but I don’t let it bother me.
So when it comes to me own work, you’d think my attitude would be the same, right? Wrong. When it comes to my own work I’m something of an obsessive compulsive. I’ll worry over which is the right word of two and which sentences would be better joined and which deserve to strike out alone. When I write, it’s as if a DVD is playing in my head and all I have to do is write down what happens, what’s said and describe the environment. The biggest problem I have is trying to keep up. Sometimes I have to scramble for the remote and hit pause while I catch up. And sometimes the movie in my mind will stay on pause for a long time while I agonise over the best word to use here or the best phrase to use there.
I recently looked over the manuscript for Kissed by a Rose to do a last proof read before it goes to print in March. And I was horrified when I found half a dozen small typos – and I mean small, be it one letter, a comma or a missing word. But seriously, a half a dozen errors in a ninety thousand word novel – is it really that bad? We’re talking 99.98% accuracy here.
But it matters to me. It got my name on it and I want it to be perfect.
So my question is, does it matter to anyone else. If you buy a book with half a dozen errors in ninety thousand words, are you going to resolve never to buy from that author/publisher again? Will it spoil your enjoyment of the book? Or will you even notice if the plot and characters are good enough to keep you absorbed?
As for me, I’ll keep on striving for perfection in my work. I have to – it’s the way I’m wired.