This is an occasional series based on actual emails I receive, and my actual responses.
Everybody Writes is just shy of its second birthday. Since its birth, I’ve heard frequently from readers who have highlighted the same few typos in the text. (Sometimes nicely. Sometimes less so.)
The “few typos” sounds dismissive. But the truth is that those typos pain me. I’ve cleaned up (most) of them by now… but earlier copies of the book are still in the wild. So I still get letters like the one below, questioning the book’s credibility.
That’s the thing about writing a book about writing: You set the bar pretty high. So you’d better be the kind of linguistic pole vaulter who’d qualify for Rio, if linguistic pole vaulting was actually an Olympic sport. (Side note: It should be.)
So why do mistakes still happen, no matter how toned and buff we might be?
No matter how many hours we’ve spent in training?
Here’s why they happened in my case.
From: [Name Redacted]
I’m on page 12 of Everybody Writes and have already found two errors. The bottom of page 11 says “then” instead of “than” and page 12 says “than” instead of “thank.” Questioning whether this book is actually going to improve my writing.
Hi [Name Redacted],
Thanks for the note. It’s always nice to hear from readers?
A bit of explanation: The “then” vs. “than” on Page 11 is a direct quote from Atlantic editor and author Ta-Nehisi Coates. I pulled it verbatim from the source with his (incorrect) word use, because my journalistic sensibility prevents me from modifying direct quotes.
You must have an original printing of the book. (Congratulations, by the way! Maybe it’ll be a collector’s item some day!)
In subsequent printings I modified the quote by inserting a [sic] after the “then” to indicate that the poor word choice was his, not mine.
Ta-Nehisi Coates is a talented writer, so I didn’t want to embarrass the guy. But I was tired of taking the hit for him.
As for the other issue, on Page 12, that is a pure, 100% grass-fed typo.
As I said, you have an original printing of Everybody Writes, which includes that typo.
In subsequent printings, we lassoed that errant free-range “k” from the prairie where it roamed a little too wild and free… and we wrangled it back into its proper position.
Now, Neil Patel and Kathryn Aragon are properly “thanked” and not just “thanned.” Because “thanning” is not even a thing.
Typos happen, even in great writing.
Robot editors can’t catch all of them.
(Your honor! I’d now like to call “than” and “thank” to the stand as expert witnesses!)
And human editors are… well, human.
All we writers can do is comb through a manuscript with a minuscule fine-tooth comb, until we deem it slick and perfect.
Then, we lovingly wave goodbye to our little fledgling as we watch it trundle off to the printer, and sit back and wait for the sleek, grown-up final book to arrive back to us. We hardly recognize it — Look at you! All grown up! — and we couldn’t be more proud…
…only to be mortified when we get notes like this one.
If you aren’t thoroughly disgusted with my life’s work at this point, see pages 77, 193-195, and 252 of Everybody Writes for more on practical solutions on how to deal with typos, an unfortunate and annoying reality of life.
Again, thanks for writing. Let me know how you like the rest of the book.
P.S. There is a gem of a typo on Page 38, which has yet to be corrected. I’m not sure why I haven’t alerted the Everybody Writes printing staff at Wiley Publishing about it. But perhaps it’s because only the sharpest-eyed copy editors will ever find it.
P.P.S. Let me know when you do.