The One Thing Authors Want You To Know About "Errors"

I want to take some time today to talk about something that I’ve seen disproportionately impact self published authors: errors. But more specifically, readers pointing out errors, DNFing because of errors, or rating books low because of errors.

Now wait before you get grumpy. I’m not talking about actual typos, missing words, duplicate words, punctuation issues… I’m talking about these “errors” that readers think are errors but are not actually errors.

I know what you’re thinking, “Jess, that doesn’t actually happen. Readers only point out *actual* errors.”

No, they don’t. And let me give you an example.

In case you’re new around here (welcome!), I just sent out my first round of advance reader copies for my debut fantasy book, The Syren’s Mutiny. My book is a historically inspired fantasy romance featuring mermaids and pirates (the pirates is the important part of this convo).

ARC feedback has started rolling in and there’s one common thread I’ve gotten and that is “there’s some grammar issues.”

My stomach DROPPED when I read these comments. I am a perfectionist to my core and I have had not one, not two, but THREE different professional editors in this book at various stages. If there were big errors I was literally going to cry.

But I kept scrolling through the feedback where I asked for where specifically the errors were in the book (so I could fix them) and then I noticed the issues...

The “grammar” issues that people pointed out were exclusively in my dialogue. Let me reiterate so this doesn’t get taken out of context. The ONLY errors people were pointing out were in my dialogue.

I'm not trying to toot my own horn, I'm sure there are other errors and actual typos that have snuck past me, three editors, and about 20 ARC readers. It happens. But that's not what we're talking about (right now).

I don’t know if you caught this earlier or not, but this book is about pirates. Pirates, and any real human I’ve ever met, do not speak with impeccable English and proper grammar.

One sentence that was brought up 4 times in the feedback is when Cameron (a fan favorite already) was explaining how he knows how to braid hair. Here’s the scene excerpt:

“I meant to ask last night,” Duncan said, leaning in, “but where’d you learn to do a girl’s hair like that, Cam?”
He shrugged nonchalantly, picking at the splinters in the table in front of him. “Three younger sisters. When my ma died, someone had to tame their hair. And it sure as hell weren’t my da.”

The bolded piece is where people kept pointing out I had made an error. This is NOT a grammatical “error.” It’s a stylistic choice of diction that is character appropriate. Cam would not be realistic if instead he SAID “It surely was not going to be my father.” That wouldn’t make sense for his character or the story.

Now, what the heck am I rambling about?

There has been an overwhelming trend lately that I’ve seen self published authors getting torn apart in reviews, in TikToks, in Instagram posts for “sloppy writing” or reviews saying “this book needs an editor." And these may be true, depending on the book.

But I’m imploring all readers to take an objective look. Is it truly an error? Or is it a stylistic choice?

Even if you think it truly is an error, does it REALLY detract from the writing? If it’s one or two typos in the book, I’d say probably not. I’d like to see you write a book and not have any typos by the end of it. It’s just not going to happen.

Authors shouldn’t read reviews, they’re not for us. But if someone comes to me directly and tells me “hey there’s an error in your book” I’m going to fixate on it for days, only to find out it’s because I used “you good?” instead of “are you okay?” in my dialogue. That is not an error.

So TL;DR is it actually an error, or is it a stylistic choice? If it’s stylistic (or even if it’s just a stubborn typo) maybe don’t point it out.

One final note, for the love of god, please don’t report errors through Amazon. Especially if you’re not sure if they’re ACTUAL errors or just something you THINK is an error. That’s how authors get their books taken down. This DOES happen.

But again, it might not actually be an error. Especially in dialogue.

Most authors have an email or a website contact form, tell them about the error and if it is a true error, they will gladly fix it.

I know Kindle has that nifty feature where you can highlight something and mark it as incorrect, but unless you are 100000000000% certain its an actual mistake, don't use that. It just makes life about 8 million times harder for the author.

Also, I have yet to meet a person in real life who uses perfect grammar 100% of the time, so why the hell do we expect it in fiction?

Okay, that’s all! Thanks for reading my rant (let’s call it what it is). If you'd like to chat about it, please drop a comment or shoot me an email! I'd love to talk more.

Meet Cam and the crew on November 9th and learn all about his hair braiding prowess!