Do mistakes matter in a book?

Do mistakes matter in a book? It is a question I often see being asked by self-publishing authors who are reluctant to spend a lot of money on editorial support. The simple answer is ‘yes’.

Part of my role as an editor for a professional publishing house was to produce high-quality, error-free books. Achieving that objective took a great deal of training and each book a great deal of editing, proofreading, checking and correcting. Publishing a book involves a lot of critical and close reading, questioning of ideas and attention to detail.

Self-publishing authors do not always want to invest their time and money in getting their books to a high standard. Click To Tweet

Self-publishing authors do not always want to invest their time and money in getting their books to a high standard. The price of editing and proofreading often seems high – after all, anyone can do it, can’t they, so why is it so expensive? I often come across authors who believe they can edit and proofread their books and that maybe all they need from a professional editor is a quick check.

There are times when this is enough, for sure, but that is rarely the case. It leads me to these questions: if editing is such a low-grade task, why do editors spend years training and learning their craft? And if the editorial role is so low in value, why do publishers invest so heavily in getting editorial work done? In a publishing house, the editor is one of the most powerful and significant in the company.

So the short answer to the question: “Do mistakes matter?” is yes, they do. They distract the reader by tripping them up and disturbing the flow of their reading. Mistakes reduce the perceived value of the book and its content. Mistakes make a book look shoddy and they make a publisher look slapdash. Mistakes in a book are damaging to the book, to sales, to the reputation of the publisher and the status of the author.

So, if you think mistakes are of no importance and that it is just the message that matters, think again. Having a lot of errors in your book makes you look slap-dash. That in turn puts your content in doubt. And ultimately, who is going to recommend or give a positive review to a book that has been thrown together carelessly. Why would your reader care if it doesn’t look as if you do?

Correct, but not too much!

With this knowledge, though, there also comes a note of caution. As well as the goal of eliminating errors,  there is another important thing I learned from all those years of reading, checking and correcting books and that is that there is no such thing as perfection. Every book has errors in it. It is inevitable.worry

As we read and correct a book, we clear one set of mistakes only to reveal another. Each person who reads a book notices different mistakes (that is why the editor does not proofread the book) because they see the book with fresh eyes. This is why someone who has never seen a book before can pick up a glaring error that the author, the editor and the proofreader all missed. It happened with the books I produced over and over again, and boy was I grateful that the person who spotted the mistake took the time to tell me about it.

But we have to stop at some point because we need to get things done. We need to finish, to publish and to get ‘out there’. So before you drive yourself mad by trying to get your book totally error-free, take the weight off your mind and remind yourself that there is no such thing as perfect. Attempting to achieve it is called perfectionism and there is a price to pay for that – inertia. And inertia doesn’t achieve anything and it doesn’t get any books published at all.

The sane way to get rid of mistakes in your book

  1. Read for mistakes at least three times.
  2. Correct your mistakes and check your work to ensure you have not introduced new errors.
  3. Make sure at least two and preferably three people read the book so you have fresh eyes on the book after it has been edited and corrected at least once.
  4. Look for a range of mistakes: wrong fonts, wrong text sizes, lists that are wrongly numbered, bullet lists that are inconsistently displayed, errors on the contents page, errors in the acknowledgements… be broad minded about where errors might occur. It’s not all about spelling mistakes and bad grammar.
  5. Thank anyone who points out mistakes to you and make a note of them so you can include them in updates.


Above all, stay rational, avoid perfectionism and simply do your best!

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