I’m reading a Walt Longmire mystery by Craig Johnson. The bad language aside, I really like his books. He does a fabulous job with characters. Walt and Henry Standing Bear share one of my most favorite bromances. However, right now, I’m a little peeved because a previous reader has kindly shared with me—and anyone who checks out A Serpent’s Tooth from John Igo Branch Library—some of the errors Craig Johnson made in this book. The reader has taken a pencil to the margins and corrected factual errors regarding ammunition (hollow points are not dumdums, apparently) and airplanes (a Bonanza is a Beech, not a Cessna. How did Craig and I not know this, I ask you!).
As a reader, I’m really irritated. Not at Johnson, but at the reader who made these notes. Every time I come across one, I’m pulled from the story. I’m not an expert on either topic so I would’ve read blithely on, unaware of the error had this know-it-all not pointed them out. As a writer, I keep thinking, yikes, has someone done this to one of my books?
Being a fiction writer can be a tough gig. You have to know a little about a lot of topics. I’ve flown to Missouri and driven hundreds of miles to research all three of my Amish series. I’ve watched Youtube videos of mares giving birth to foals and bugged my farming relatives to fact check my horse training scenes. I’ve interviewed chicken farmers and
saddle makers. I’ve learned about avian flu, beekeeping, saddle making, shoeing horses, Amish weddings, Amish funerals, Amish courting rituals, vegetable gardening, canning, how Amish select their church elders, and most recently, how to get a body of a loved one back from El Salvador. I try very hard to get the details right.
All writers do, but sometimes we make mistakes. At a recent meeting of my local writers’ group, a fellow novelist said she got dinged for describing fireflies in Utah. Apparently there are none. Who knew? I once had an Amish church district with two ministers. It seems there are never two, only one. I remember commiserating with my photographer husband when I read a book in which the main character was a TV news journalist who kept talking about filming stories (they were videotaped in those days). An agent blogged that a reader told him she stopped reading a book because a writer had a flower blooming in the wrong season. All the author had to do was google the flower to know, the reader argued.
Sometimes I think as readers, myself included, we take a little pleasure in pointing out the errors. There’s a certain sense of superiority. Like my Longmire reader who wrote, “no,” next to one passage, and “yes,” next to another, as if confirming the facts for future readers.
Sometimes, despite my best efforts, I make mistakes. Sometimes errors make it past conscientious line editors and proofreaders even after they’ve made themselves cross-eyed doing their best to catch every last one.
As a reader, I desire a story that completely wraps me up in a wonderful fictional world. As a writer, I want to create that wonderful fictional world.
So do readers like me a favor. Don’t highlight errors in library books. Let future readers like me, who don’t know this stuff, enjoy the story, oblivious to whether a Bonanza is a Cessna or a Beech. Grin to yourself and say, tut-tut, or tell your husband/wife.
Or let writers like me know via email. I’ve had a reader or two email me to tell me about a typo in one of my books. This is good to know. It can be corrected in future printings.
Here are my questions for readers: What are your thoughts on writers who get a detail wrong? What was the funniest factual error you’ve read? Or the most egregious? Would you feel the urge to write a note in a book for future readers? Would you stop reading a book because you found a factual error in it? Thanks for sharing!
Natalie Kreitzman, Ed.D
I have made many terrible mistakes regarding contacting authors and pointing out the error of their ways. I figure it this way. I am not being paid for being a writer–I never said I was a writer–however these spelling errors and missing words are a great turn off for me. I don’t want to ever feel as if I am reading the first draft of a book. I don’t really use the library–I should but I don’t. So every book in my hot little hands has been purchased by me. So yea I contacted the author and was met with a lot of disdain. She probably knew half her book was filled with errors. Amish fiction, to me, is just as important as the New York Time’s Best Sellers. If you don’t take pride in your work, who will? I check these messages I write 35,000 times and still have made errors. The 35,001st time evidently was the charm. Have a blessed day and make sure the Deitsch is correct in the books you pen. L,N
I’m sorry you had that experience, Natalie. I have had a reader point out a typo and I was glad. It can be fixed and that’s important. It’s amazing that an error can still occur as many times as it’s been read and by so many people before it gets to production. I appreciate that readers have spent their hard earn money to buy my books and spend their valuable time reading them!
Natalie Kreitzman, Ed.D
In case you are interested, the author got dismal reviews of her book because of all the typos and spelling errors. You never know what irritates the reader.
A ton of typos and spelling errors would bother me as a reader. Nowadays it may mean the book was self-published and the author didn’t have someone else edit the book. It can be expensive to do that, but it is worth it to make sure you catch the errors. You can’t catch all your own. Spellcheck should catch the great majority, except ones where the word is still a word. I’m so thankful for my line editor and proofreaders. They do a great job. Yet, an occasional error still gets through. And I end up with egg on my face! LOL
I could not write a book that you would enjoy reading. I could write a technical manual that would bore you, however, and would be completely correct. While some glaring errors are impossible to ignore I would never presume to bother an author who has had the courage to gift me with a book and an escape I would not otherwise be enjoying. And I would never write in a library book! That person should have their library card snatched away.
I agree about taking that library card, Angela! It’s like defacing public property!
I am a librarian and it would really irritate me to see a patron had written in a library book for any reason. I would make them replace the book. I have read some self-published books that I could not finish due to the errors. I also realize no author or editor is perfect and mistakes happen. I cannot imagine being so upset that I had to deface public property. If it really bothers you, politely email the author and call it to there attention. A good story is not going to be ruined, due to a simple mistake, so just continue to read and enjoy! If an author continues to make numerous mistakes, they aren’t going to have good reviews and you can avoid purchasing their titles.
Oh, my, I am sitting here with a blanket and fighting flu and just noticed all of my own errors!
Oops. That’s okay. Happens to all of us, which really is the point! LOL
Agreed. In this case, the person wrote in pencil so it can be erased. I’ll point it out when I turn the book back in so they can decide what to do . . .
Linda D. McFarland
I read books for enjoyment and escape. I may at times find an error but as long as it doesn’t take away from the story it’s no big deal. I read a lot of ARC’s so it goes with the territory! I would never write in a library book and dog-earing the pages is obscene. I agree that person needs their library card revoked. Love your books and your blog.
It’s okay to find mistakes in anything – I delight in finding them in movies and books. If there are a lot of errors, then it begins to lessen my pleasure in the story and I might quit. But for the most part in the books I’ve read they have been scarce and don’t bother me at all. I don’t email the author to let them know about the error because I don’t want to call them out on such a tiny problem. The author wrote a book, which I could never do, and I don’t want to feel superior by pointing out such a small thing.
As for the library book defacer, I would report them to the library staff. I would NEVER write in a library book. It would take away from the enjoyment of the book for me. It’s amazing they didn’t write in red pen! Such audacity.
It would drive me crazy to read a marked up book like that. Note would one thing but grading a book would drive me crazy. if I see a typo in a book I just think “well mistakes happen”, I wont get crazy about it. If its important enough to question something I’ll Google it myself.
I tried to read the Longmire books an the language really bothered me , but I will try again. I love the show.
The language bothers me too, Kimberly, and this one is R-rated for language. It’s a shame because the mysteries are good and the characters are great. There are some really funny, eccentric characters in this one.
As a writer, I’m thankful for spellcheck. Perhaps book defacer could develop a program that checks usage and, of course, punctuation, and grammar too. Oh, and facts. BEFORE the book is sitting on a library shelf. (By the way, I just typed “cook” for “book” and since cook wasn’t misspelled, it was accepted. A “usage” check would’ve caught that, and the cook could’ve gotten off the library shelf and back in the kitchen right away.) I wonder … Would the book defacer have found that one? Meanwhile, I’m with you, Kelly. Leave the factual errors alone for the sake of those oblivious to the facts in the first place…like me!
I need that program for usage, that’s for sure. Glasses and classes. Friends for fried. So far commenters all agree that this person should not be writing in a library book!
I would never deface a library book, but I do often find and correct errors in my own copies. Mistakes don’t ruin a story for me but I think more highly of an author when I don’t stumble across them.
I can understand that, Liz. Believe me, most authors, feel awful when an error shows up in their books!
I worked in an elementary school library for many years. The children were much more respectful of books than some adults. I would not write in any book that was not mine no matter how bad the spelling, grammar, etc.
I know I taught mine not to write in library books, Becky. The consensus is definitely that we don’t think it’s a good idea!