Back in the day, when publishing a book was an enormous labor requiring dozens of people focused on a tight production window, stamping out typos was an incredibly important goal. Beyond the obvious embarrassment of allowing a typographical gaffe into print (something that still holds today), the production process itself made typo-hunting imperative because publication involved print runs of a specific number of books at a time, and most books only received a single printing. Meaning any typo would appear in every copy of a work, with no opportunity to fix the problem after it was discovered.
Print-on-demand (POD) publishing, including self-publishing, has changed that dynamic completely. While typos are still embarrassing, and you should do everything humanly possible to omit them from your work, text can now be fixed in anticipation of future orders as soon as a mistake is discovered. Unfortunately this welcome aspect of POD technology has not caught up with long-standing reader reaction to typos that formed in the print-run era.
Recently I was told, almost by chance, that a typo had been found by a third party in my grandmother’s posthumously published POD memoir. (The word “liker” should have been “liked”.) After cussing myself out for not catching the mistake, what struck me was that there was no imperative behind this information when it was told to me. Instead of treating it as useful or helpful it was seen simply as an amusing anecdote, and one that had been all but forgotten until I triggered that specific memory by pure chance.
In the print-run era of publishing this reaction obviously made sense because readers and writers were powerless to make changes unless another run was ordered. But in the POD era that’s not the case. Fixing that typo required only that I update one file, upload the updated file, then wait for the file to be approved by the POD provider. This took about sixteen hours, the vast majority of which was waiting time, not work.
Call it crowdproofing, call it being a good literary citizen, call it whatever you want. If you find a typo in something you’re reading and you like the work or the person who wrote it, please take a moment to point the author to that mistake — preferably via email rather than in the comments of a blog or other public space. All you need do is put “Typo” in the subject line and point them to the page and line in question, and I guarantee that 99.99% of the people you do this for will be truly thankful. As for the ungrateful 0.01%, you’ll profit by learning that they don’t deserve you.
— Mark Barrett
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