Friday, February 01, 2013

Apply Polish Before You Publish, Please!

Finding mistakes in our published work is the plague of an author's existence. As many times I read The Prince Charming Hoax in the various stages of proof (hundreds) and had other readers (a dozen +), I found two errors in the proof copy from the printer—a missing word and a brand name that needed a capital letter. Resubmitting a new corrected file was an unwelcome expense and delayed the launch, but I knew I'd regret it if I let it go.

I was fortunate to find out about the trademark error from someone who was reading the ebook just in time to make the correction in the print proof. But what about errors you don't see because you don't know they're wrong?

I've been reading and enjoying a good number of self-published novels lately, in both digital and print formats. Most of them are very well written, yet too many of them contain mistakes that are rarely found in traditionally published books. Rather than the usual complaint of typos or sloppy errors, I noticed poor formatting, incorrect grammar, and wrong word/spelling errors—which lead me to believe these authors did proofread, but missed what they didn't know.

Some of the OMG! errors I came across in my recent reading included physic for physique and birth-rite for birthright. Less gasp-producing—but nonetheless very noticeable to me—was poor formatting, probably due to the authors' lack of publishing experience. True, I've been an editor for almost 40 years and these types of mistakes jump off the page at me, but anyone who has grown up reading books by traditional publishers is aware of what a book should look like, and can tell if it doesn't.

How to correct typical formatting errors found in self-published books:

  • Incorrect usage of hyphens (-), en dashes (–), and em dashes (—). Use hyphens in compound words (blue-green algae). Use en dashes to separate spans such as March 2–March 15, and em dashes to set off appositives mid-sentence (as I did in the previous paragraph) or to indicate a break or interruption in conversation ("Are you—"). Using a double hyphen (--) to stand for an em dash is not acceptable in print. To create an en dash (on a Mac) use option + hyphen; use option, shift + hyphen to create an em dash. PC users should google or check your Help sections for instructions.
  • Page numbers, headers, or footers on blank pages. Blank pages should be blank and don't need identifying copy such as page numbers, headers, or footers.
  • Front matter copy preparation. Front matter is the section of the book that contains your title page, copyright page, and any other pre-book sections such as dedication, acknowledgements, preface, introduction, etc. What goes on each of these pages is specific, and the best way to prepare your copy is to refer to The Chicago Manual of Style. Buy the book, or purchase an online's one of the best investments you can make in your publishing career. At the very least, check traditionally published books in your genre as samples for guidance on how to structure your book.
  • Incorrect titling and order of book sections. The preface, prologue, introduction, and foreword each have different functions—and in the case of the foreword, a different author. Some sections (like Acknowledgments) can go in the front or back, depending on the author's preference, but most have specific placement and specific order within the sections. 
  • Incorrect pagination. For print books, begin page 1 on a right-hand page. You can use roman numerals in your front matter, but usually it's not necessary to place page numbers on most front matter pages. You may want to use page numbers in front matter sections that run several pages or if you need to refer to a page number in later copy. Do not place page numbers on front matter single-page sections such as your title page, copyright page, dedication, etc.
I've seen a number of other gaffes, but these are the most obvious and frequent bloopers. 

To avoid these and other errors of the newbie author, become familiar with the general guidelines for formatting a book. You can do it yourself if you take the time to learn the rules, but your best choice would be to send your book or ebook to a professional book editor for a final look-see before you prepare your files for the digital or print publisher. Remember, an English teacher is not an editor, and I highly recommend using an editor with book publishing experience. (This final proofing is in addition to, and does not replace, copyediting or developmental editing while in the manuscript stage.)

You wouldn't go out in formal attire with unpolished shoes or uncombed hair. Your book deserves the same attention to detail. Include this final round of pre-publication polish and be sure your book will be judged for its great writing quality only.


  1. "Hoards of people" is the funniest one I've come across. I felt sorry for the poor little people all squashed away in cupboards...

    1. :-). There are so many of these...good topic for another blog post!

  2. Glad you mentioned hyphenating words. The add so much clarity and are so missed when omitted.

  3. Wonderful and useful info mentioned in this article! I also find errors all the in books, especially formatting errors.

    Lea Ellen {night owl in IL}