Since the introduction of e-readers, such as the Kindle, Nook and Kobo, there has been a huge rise in the number of books being published and made available in electronic format, including many that are self-published. On the whole I welcome this literary explosion; since acquiring my Kindle eighteen months ago I have often found myself reading and enjoying books that I probably would never have picked up in printed copy. The ease and immediacy of buying e-books online, combined with the typically lower cost of the books, means that I am generally less choosy about what I buy and, as a result, have come across some hidden gems in that time.
There is, however, a downside to the ready availability and inexpensiveness of these books: all too often they have not been thoroughly proofread. Now, publishing is not my area of expertise, so I don’t know if the lack of proofreading has been due to trying to keep costs as low as possible or for another reason. On the other hand, reading is something I do have quite a lot of experience with. As a reader I like to immerse myself in the flow of words and the images that they conjure and a poorly proofed book prevents this from happening. I know I am not alone in this, reading through customer reviews on Amazon the complaint crops up time and time again.
The most common mistake I encounter is probably also the least intrusive – the misuse of apostrophes, or the so-called greengrocer’s apostrophe. Now, although this is irritating to a grammaticist, it is usually still fairly easy to determine the author’s intended meaning. Other punctuation errors are much less frequent although misplaced commas or forgotten speech marks do creep in.
More disruptive for the reader is the sentence where a word has been omitted. Usually this is only a small word such as ‘it’, ‘not’ or ‘with’ but without that word the sentence doesn’t make sense. Some readers may automatically fill in the blank without even noticing it, but others will register the anomaly and have to stop and re-read the sentence. This stop-start approach to reading interrupts the flow and detracts from the reader’s enjoyment.
The final error that I often encounter is probably the most disruptive for the reader and is one that is more common than it should be: name substitution. A fiction author may use the name of one character in error when they mean another. The sentence itself will be grammatically correct and make total sense but becomes nonsense in the overall context of the book and can completely throw the reader. A variation of this that I recently came across was a novel whose main protagonist was female but who masqueraded as a man. Consequently (s)he had both a male and female name and it was jarringly obvious when the wrong one was used. This should certainly have been picked up and corrected by a beta reader, even if a professional editor or proof-reader was not involved in the publication process.
So why does it matter? Apart from the fact that good grammar use does matter and is there to enable a writer to get their message across correctly, there is a commercial aspect to it. Along with the rise of ebooks has come an increase in customer reviews, especially on Amazon. If a book has errors in it, then quite often a customer will say so in their review of the book. They may just leave it as a passing comment or they may rate the book lower in the starring system than they would have otherwise done. Negative comments or lower rated reviews will affect sales and although there are ways to counter this it is better not to have to deal with them in the first place. The best solution is to use a professional proof-reader and/or editor before publishing. Mistakes can then be picked up and corrected before the book gets into the hands of the discerning and reviewing public. Failing that, even getting a number of different friends or acquaintances to beta-read the book may at least highlight some errors which can be rectified.
What are some of the worst errors you’ve ever come across in a published book? Feel free to tell me in the comments below.