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Typos in Published Books (Why Are There Grammatical Errors?)

When you publish a book, your wish is to have work that isn’t littered with grammar and spelling mistakes.

But… To err is human.

Even the best writers have, at times, fallen victim to the confusing trio of “they’re” “there” and “their,” or have mistakenly slotted an “it’s” where an “its” was supposed to be.

Someone once said, a good writer is the one who knows the difference between “they’re” “there” and “their”.

Although that is very true, the existence of typos can sometimes be attributed to something other than the knowledge of the difference in the meaning of words such as those three, or the lack thereof.

When we’re writing large texts, the mind can get clogged and play a few tricks on us. Some unyielding typos have slipped multiple rounds of editing and proofreading to end up in published books.

Why is this so? How can a writer go around these problems?

I have got all corners of this conversation in this post. Read on to find answers to these and other niggling questions about typos.

typos in published books (why are there grammatical errors)

Do Published Books Really Have Typos?

Yes. They do.

Now and then, publishers get calls from readers reporting errors.

If you were a cynical grammar Nazi, you would be outraged over a simple “its” sitting in place of “it’s”. But generally, typos are pretty benign errors. They might be an annoyance, but they won’t ruin your life or that of the author.

However, there are typos that might change the meaning of the message in the book and force the publishers to take it off the shelves, correct the mistakes, and republish it.

Usually, you will find a single-letter error like a missing “s” on a plural or there are entirely incorrect words (affect, effect). Bottom line; some errors are more damning than others.

So, every once in a while, you will find typos in a book—some relatively harmless, others not so much.

Why Are There Typos in Published Books

Although we usually expect publishers to put out books that are perfect, there still are a lot of published books (self-published or published traditionally) complete with flaws.

Why?

There are a bunch of reasons actually, and here are some of them:

#1. Proofreaders Make Mistakes Too

edit and proofread
Although proofreaders are responsible for spotting errors, they are can still make mistakes.

Well, they’re only human, aren’t they now?

They can also make mistakes and that doesn’t disqualify them from being the professionals that they are.

You don’t need an English degree or a college education in literature to be a proofreader. But you at least need an excellent command of English and be quick-sighted.

But even the lynx-eyed and seasoned proofreaders do miss one or two typos. However, if a proofreader allows a host of errors to slip past them, that can only be attributed to pure inexpertness rather than mere mistakes.

#2. Self-Publishing with a Limited Budget

When you get published traditionally, you utilize the publishing house’s resource base—money, human resource, etc.

The publishing house makes sure that your work will have to be scrutinized and go through multiple rounds of editing in order to produce a book that is cohesive and error-free.

On the other hand, when you’re a self-published writer, you probably don’t have access to the resources or budgets that the traditionally published authors have. So, you can barely hire an “expensive” professional proofreader. The result is a published book riddled with grammatical and stylistic mistakes.

This is a common thing with self-published print books and eBooks. Self-publishing platforms, including Amazon Kindle have a lot of books that have numerous mistakes which literally make them inapprehensible.

However, there are a lot of splendid high-quality self-published books—which have been thoroughly proofread.

#3. Writing and Editing Under the Pressure of a Tight Deadline

writing and editing under the pressure of a tight deadline
Writing and editing in a compressed amount of time.

When you self-publish, you have the freedom to set your own writing objectives and publishing deadlines. Contrastively, publishing houses rarely give their writers the same liberty.

Publishing houses offer their writers a publishing contract in which there’s a deadline for delivery of the manuscript, among other things. The deadlines determine the timeline for the book’s writing, editing, proofreading, printing, and other things.

For example, when you want to publish a Christmas book, you have to start writing it around spring or early summer.

If your draft writing is behind schedule, it means that people who are supposed to work on the same book (editors, proofreaders, marketers, etc.) will work on a tighter schedule. The rush on the coattails of your missed deadline will result in a published book that is rushed and not thoroughly edited.

Books need to go through a couple of drafts before mechanical edits can be performed. If everyone is working under immense pressure (due to a tight deadline), a bunch of gnomish typos will find it easy to slip through the checks of the “otherwise hawk-eyed” line editors, copy editors, and proofreaders.

#4. The Easiness of Self-Publishing

When you publish under a publishing house, you require an editor’s approval to get your book past its first draft.

But, self-publishing doesn’t have such red tape, and a book can be published as soon as the writer deems it finished.  

A lot of self-published writers (especially those without a big budget) handle all the stages on their own—they write, proofread, and design the book cover on their own.  In addition to that, it usually takes most of these writers only a month or two to get the book from Scrivener to Kindle. Books published this way usually are of low quality.

#5. Stubborn Writers

stubborn writers
Stubbornness blinds writers to what other people are really seeing. 

Yes. Writers are very stubborn people and don’t like people changing what they initially thought was correct. Most of them think that not changing a lot of the initial stuff maintains their unique writing voice.

Some proofreaders have complained of writers rejecting suggestions and corrections offered by them. Most proofreaders just give up and let the writers go with their beloved mistakes—after all, the proofreader will still get the check, right?

I saw this funny argument between a writer and his editor. They were arguing about whether to use the word “irregardless” in a dialogue.

The editor said it wasn’t a word, the writer said it was.  I think they were both right. “Irregardless” used to be a correct adverb a long time ago.

So if the story were set in that time period, the writer would be right to insist it remains in the dialogue; if the story was set in modern times, the editor was right.

On Average How Many Typos Are in Books

With large volumes, one or two mistakes will slip some writers and editors regardless of how thorough they do their job.

You can almost be sure that your book will not be error-free, but is there an acceptable “error rate”?

No. no amount of errors is acceptable, full stop.

But professional proofreaders will tell you that proofreading that leaves a book with about 1 typo per 1,000 words is just too amateurish.

A better error rate would be about 3 typos per 10,000 words.  At this rate, even readers wouldn’t be able to notice some of the mistakes.

Are Misprinted Books Worth Money?

Yes, and No.

Misprints don’t automatically make books rare or valuable. Certain types of printing errors contribute to a book’s collectability, and others just make them more inexpensive.

If a book is inexpensive and not that good, any misprint won’t lead to an increase in its value.

However, collectors are always looking for rare bestsellers from the olden days —say a hundred years ago. If you have a book from the 1910s or earlier with a misprint, it’d be valuable because the misprint might indicate that the book was one of the earliest issues before the misprint was corrected.

If you can provide extra proof that the book was among the earliest editions (the correct date, publisher, and binding), that’d increase its collectability.

Some of The Biggest Typos from Famous Books

#1. The “Wicked Bible” published in 1631: The “Wicked Bible” was a 1631 version of the Holy Bible that had one small but damning typo; the adverb “not” was missing from one of the Ten Commandments. The commandment horribly read, “Thou shalt commit adultery.” 

wicked bible
“Thou shalt commit adultery” (Image credit: Narrington77 on Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 4.0)

#2. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by J.K. Rowling: The first edition of the Harry Potter books, “1 wand” is listed twice on the school supplies for Hogwarts.

#3. Pasta Bible by Lee Blaylock: The Australian cookbook nearly became a cannibalistic handbook. An automatic spell check corrected a misspelling of the word “pepper” to “people” was a suggestion that chefs should season their meals with “salt and freshly ground black people.”  The error forced the book to be reprinted.

#4. The Queen’s Governess by Karen Harper:  The book had a typo in this sentence: “In the weak light of dawn, I tugged on the gown and sleeves I’d discarded like a wonton last night to fall into John’s arms.” Karen Harper wrote “wonton” instead of “wanton,”.

Ways to Prevent (Or Reduce) Grammar Errors in Your Books

1. Turn Off That Spellcheck

In these “modern” times, we often have these two guys who are doing their best to help.

But their efforts don’t usually translate to clean work, their honest intentions sometimes create a bigger mess than the one they were trying to rectify.

These “helpful” guys are called spellcheck and autocorrect, know them? I bet you do.

The best comment I have heard about them is, “they’re just honest friends trying to help, but they’re drunk.”

Ha-ha.

If you go back to the example of the cookbook typo that I gave you, you’d actually see that that comment is true.

So turn them off, and create your own errors, you’re going to edit them later.

2. Have a Friend Read your Work

have a friend read your work
It’s a good idea to ask your friend to read your work because another set of eyes can catch typos and other errors.

When you finish writing, have someone you trust to scan your document for errors that you might have missed.

It is very easy for you to overlook one or two typos in your own piece of writing because your head reads it like you conceptualized before you wrote, even if you might have typed something totally different.

What you need is another set of eyes to help you catch the discrepancies.

3. Don’t Proofread Soon After Writing

If you insist on proofreading the writing yourself, it is ill-advised to do so right after writing it.

The best time to proofread is after the content becomes a bit cold. If you edit your work instantly, you’ll be editing it in the same state you were writing it in—whatever you thought was right when writing is likely going to look right when editing, and you won’t have much success catching the mistakes you made.

So, take a break. Do something else. Take your mind off the draft. Take hours or a day off, and when you come back, your first reaction to your writing is likely going to be something like…

This is rubbish.

That’s the spirit. Let the editing begin!

4. Hire a Professional Proofreader

I don’t recommend proofreading your own work. Maybe just as the first round of editing your work. But before putting out work (especially novels), it’d be wise to solicit the help of a proofreader.

They aren’t perfect. They also make mistakes. But you have a better chance of getting a cleaner manuscript with the help of a professional proofreader rather than going solo.

5. Use a Grammar Checker

Using hired editors can sometimes be draggy; you send them the draft through email and wait for them to find it, take a look at it, compile some notes, and send back the feedback.

By the time you start working on the suggested corrections, a lot of valuable time has been lost.

There’s a faster and convenient way to proofread your texts on your own—use grammar checkers. In the comfort of your home or office, and on your computer, you can utilize an AI-powered buddy to check grammar and spelling errors, look at and improve your writing style, and check your text for plagiarism.

grammarly free

Grammarly is always my top recommendation when it comes to grammar checkers. You won’t find a quicker, more in-depth, and adequate grammar checking tool on the market today.

Conclusion

Your drafts are always going to have errors in them. The trick is having thorough edits—a couple of rounds of them.

And always have a good budget for your editing process. Either hire a good proofreader or buy a grammar checking tool just like Grammarly.

High-quality work will cost you a dime, but it’s worth it.

About Jessica Majewski

Jessica started off as an avid book reader. After reading one too many romance novels (really... is it ever really enough?), she decided to jump to the other side and started writing her own stories.

She now shares what she has learned (the good and the not so good) here at When You Write, hoping she can inspire more up and coming wordsmiths to take the leap and share their own stories with the world.