Why are there typos in my edited book?!

Editing detailOccasionally I have a client comment that they found typos in their book after a structural edit.

Most of the time they’re okay about it – they realised that we significantly reworked their content, chopped a third of their word count, created a five-step process from 28 unrelated chapters, consolidated repetition and made detailed recommendations on new content. They understand that, when you make large changes, often the smaller details get missed (this is the major difference between a structural edit, a copyedit and a proofread – more on this in my post Which type of editing do I need?). They know they might need another around of editing.

However, occasionally they aren’t happy. They question whether this is an acceptable level of service, and some even asking for an additional edit or a discount.

On one hand I understand – they’ve paid for a professionally-edited book, so it should be word perfect, shouldn’t it?

The truth is that there are typos in every book the first time it goes to print. This is true whether the book is self-published or traditionally published (though tends to be more common in self-published books, as many don’t go through a rigorous editing process), and these typos can range from a similar yet incorrect word appearing where another one should be through to punctuation and formatting issues.

Why does this happen? The simple answer is that there are a lot of individual character in any given book. If your book is 30,000 words, and the words have an average of five characters each, that’s 150,000 individual characters. If your editing team ensures that 99.99% of the characters are correct, that leaves 1,500 that might be off. (I saw this recently in a new release by one of my favourite authors, where nearly every time a sentence started with the letter ‘A’, the space was missing between the previous full stop and the ‘A’. And when Book Blueprint was republished in the US, the most glaring issue I found was a list with two items, and both had been labelled with the number 1.)

So, unfortunately, there will always be typos in new books – they just haven’t been seen by enough eyes to catch every single one of those 150,000 characters.

You see, each time an editor goes through your book they will catch about 80% of the issues in your draft.

Now, if an editor goes through your book three times over the course of an edit:

  • In the first read through they’ll catch 80% of the issues (meaning 20% of your errors will remain),
  • In the second read through they’ll catch 80% of the remaining 20% of issues (80% of 20% is 16%, so 4% of your original errors will remain), and
  • In the third read through they will catch 80% of the remaining 4% of errors.

80% of 4% is 3.2%, which means 0.8% of your initial errors will still make it into the edited manuscript.

What does this look like in practice?

It depends on how much work your book needs. If you’ve essentially just brainstormed 30,000 words of content relating to your main topic, then your editor is going to need to look at how you organise your content, repetition, irrelevant or tangential content, and gaps in the content. The majority of the first round of edits (or the first 2-3 times your editor goes through your content) will be focused on those macro issues, i.e. the 80%.

If your book is like this, I can guarantee your book will come back with typos. Because, even if 99.2% of all of your issues have been caught, the more issues you had in your book to begin with, the more issues will be present in that remaining 0.8%.

This is one of the reasons we created our whole shebang editing package – because I found some of our clients were expecting their books to be ready for print after an initial round of edits and, when I had to make far-reaching changes, there was often a lot more work for them, including reviewing and approving or rejecting those changes, and adding new content where required (sometimes this can be another 10,000 words or more). This can be pretty disheartening, and some authors end up putting their book aside indefinitely as the enthusiasm wears off and they focus on more immediate priorities in their business.

This is why this package includes three rounds of edits (a structural edit, semi-structural edit and proofread) by two editors – to ensure that your book has been reviewed so many times that we catch as much as possible.

How can you get away with one round of edits?

What if you don’t have the time or budget to do three separate rounds of edits, though? Are you doomed to publishing a book with typos?

I recommend you:

  • Thoroughly plan your book before writing to ensure you have the best possible structure and content before you start working with an editor
  • Review your draft and have friends and colleagues review it to get feedback on your content and any glaring language issues
  • Get clear on what you want from your editor based on this feedback and your initial work – do you want structure and content feedback, or are you confident with your work and just want someone to review the language?
  • Prepare to do additional work after receiving your edits, especially if you get a structural edit (in this case you’ll probably need to add new content)
  • Enlist people who are your ideal readers to review your book after you’ve made any post-edit changes

As you’ll see, regardless of if you get one round of edits or several, the trick is reviewing several times before print, to ensure that remaining percentage of errors becomes so small that your published book will be of a professional standard.

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