Spellchecker Blues

We interrupt our regularly scheduled blog post, The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Class of 2006 (And What The Sex Pistols Mean To Me), to bring you this important message, courtesy of an understandably anguished e-mail I received this morning.

Since the author is in a position I was once in, I suspect that this happens often out there in writerdom, so it’s only appropriate that I share this with them – especially you up-and-comers who are just about ready to lug that manuscript to the post office for the first step of the journey to publication.

This is an edited-for-length version of the e-mail:

I sent out my first submission on 2/14. Haven’t heard back yet, but of course, I haven’t expected to. However, I’ve discovered a problem. The spellchecker on my open source word processor is rather finicky when it comes to .doc files. I found were 3 typos: frimly instead of firmly being one of them. They were all stuff like that.

Now I’ve never presumed to count on a spell/grammar checker to find every mistake. I proofread my submission, as did a few others, but about 4 typos got by us. They’re all rather blatant, and could have easily been picked up by the spellchecker if it would have been working correctly. I’m really frustrated, because I’ve already sent it out, and these typos are just really, really stupid and I should have picked up on them.

What I want to do is email them and ask them to disregard the submission I sent them, because I want to resend the manuscript. In my email, I’ll explain to them that I only want them to see my very best work, and because of a few mistakes I just noticed, I’d like them to discard the first submission.

I won’t explain the problem to them like I did to you; I know they don’t care. But I really don’t like my chances unless they allow me to resend it. I know that these typos are easy to pick up on, and I’m really discouraged.

What’s your advice?

My reply:

I can imagine your feelings of panic – I was there once myself with a similar situation (more on that in a moment).

My advice? Relax. Chill out with a nice cup of herbal tea. Don’t worry about it.

Four misspelled words in a manuscript of 100,000 is a failure rate of .004%. Meaningless, unless that’s a mathematical error when you’re traveling from Earth to Alpha Centauri.

Ever read a published novel and found a typo? So have I. That means it got past at least one spell checking program, the editor, probably an assistant or a copy editor, the author, and whoever else they have for quality control. Imagine what this was like back in the days of the typewriter, which is when I started.

If you have a compelling story, four garbled words aren’t going to be a deal-breaker. You’ve submitted your book to an editor trained to read for impact, not one who is looking at it with the critical eye of a third-grade teacher with a steel ruler in her desk. You’re not turning this in to a rigid professor who can keep you off the curling team if you don’t pass his class with at least a “B”.

I think it was Dan Simmons who submitted his first novel – at a length, as I recall, that rivalled Gone With The Wind – single spaced. If memory serves me correctly, it sold to the first house it went to. After Del Rey had my novel A Death of Honor for ten months, I discovered that there was a page missing from the manuscsript. When I called and told them I would be sending them the missing page, they said fine – and that’s when I found out that the book had made it all the way to the final decision making process. Yes, without that page.

You did your level best to get a manuscript to them that was every bit as perfect as you could make it, open source word processor notwithstanding. That’s what counts. What counts even more is that you told the best story you possibly could, in the most compelling way you know how at your level of writing proficiency.

And if they like your story, trust me – you’ll get the chance to fix any mistakes you’ve made. Over and over and over again.

Hope this calms your fevered brow a bit. Meantime, use some of that energy to do that gets your mind off of the situation… like starting your next novel.

I order chicken and a chilled chablis
She brings me grapefruit and a cup of tea
She’s a little Mephisto
In this Mondo Sinistro

(via iTunes shuffle play)


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