The Hokey-Pokey

If you want to watch me shoot around the room backward with steam coming out my ears, then avail yourself of Amazon’s “quality assurance” tools, and report as wrong something in my books that is not an error. Tell Amazon that I used the incorrect word when I absolutely did not, or inform Amazon that my grammar is in error when it’s correct. (Rhetorical font!) Amazon kindly passes each and every ding on to the author and expects us to fix or explain them all, lest the book suffer the dreaded Quality Warning. (Not that Amazon pushes out the corrected files, of course…)

Folks, I honestly do not expect a 100,000-word book that’s sold for $4.99 to be perfect. The publishing industry rule of thumb (outside of Amazon) is about one typo or other error (homonyms, transpositions, miscellaneous fumbles) every 20,000 words. A handful of boo-boos per book is considered within normal limits by the big New York houses.

And yet, if I had three wishes, squeaky clean book files would be among them (as would world-peace-and-justice-with-great-chocolate-and-a-livable-planet-for-all). One study I saw claimed that the top reason readers cite for not finishing a book is too many bloopers. So here’s Jeff Bezos himself helping to clean up my books for free (well…), and I’m in an intergalactic swither because readers sometimes miss the mark when they try to assist.

“Grace Ann,” I ask myself, “aren’t you ever both wrong and passionately sure you’re right? Frequently in error and seldom in doubt, like our best old friend Percival, His Grace of Matchmaking?”

You will be astonished to learn that I am. I was a staunch advocate for term limits on political office, for example, but the research says term limits actually have an anti-democratic impact. Well, pooey. For a long time, I was wrong about the word “delope,” because my mother used it to mean “decamp.” I did not know that loath and loathe meant different things.

What it says about me, when I shoot around the room backward over a reader mistakenly taking issue with a single word, is that I would rather be right than learn something. I’d rather be right than open-minded. I’d rather be flawless than human. It says I should not have to take the time to double-check, when it’s my name–and nobody else’s–on those books.

I need to simmer my behonkis down and get some perspective on the fine art of acknowledging author errors. Amazon’s quality do-loop has problems (authors get trolled, and you can’t fix a file that died on your old computer five years ago), but the larger issue is my reaction to it. I do want to know when I’m wrong, I want my books to be squeaky clean. At least for new releases, I have the time (and files on hand) to do the double checking.

Have you ever been wrong even though you KNEW you were right? Has anybody ever presumed to correct you when they themselves were mistaken? How do you handle the whole business of feeling like you’ve screwed up? To one reader, I’ll send a $25 Amazon gift card.


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24 comments on “The Hokey-Pokey

  1. I hate to be wrong. And I grew up with a mother who never, ever apologized when she was wrong. It has taken me nearly 20 years of marriage (and being intentional about admitting wrongness) to get to a place where I can (through clenched teeth) say , “I was wrong. You were right. I’ll fix it”. I think I will never get to an accepting place wherein I will happily accept criticism and rectify my mistakes, but it’s good to have goals.

  2. Teaching and directing and leading, I’ve learned there is always someone who thinks I’m wrong about something (a pitch or rhythm or pronunciation)and has no hesitation of sharing with everyone in rehearsal. I know I’m right most of the time and I am confident because I do the work before–practicing, score study and doing the research–and that helps. Doing the work BEFORE is key.

  3. Not including doctors, I have four people in my life who like to correct me every day of my life. I can half-ignore two of those four, but the other two? They’re tougher. I’ve learned for them to just not say anything as it only creates defensiveness and anger in them when I try to defend myself. For them, control is too important and I like harmony and don’t like conflict… so, I have, essentially, apologized for things that aren’t my fault because peace was more important.

    I try to always apologize (or laugh at myself, or call myself a goober) when I am actually wrong or feel like I’ve screwed up, though. (I say “try” because I don’t know for sure that I’ve done it _every_ time.) It’s important for me to acknowledge when I am wrong… or I have not given an important piece of information to someone else so that they can get their job done.
    I am a heavily anxious person, so for my own peace of mind, I need to achieve peace more than just about anything.

  4. My husband is always right, even when he’s wrong! Ha! Ha!

    I made an “I was wrong” sign that I placed on the fridge. He’s worn it several times in 32 years of marriage.

    Most of the time, I ignore him when I know that I am correct or pretend I don’t hear him.

    I do my best to prepare for work and meetings. I co chaired a dog show with 3 other people. So much time was wasted because everyone had to be right. I was told several times that I was wrong…and I was in fact correct. I remember saying sure..let’s do it your way. It diffused several arguments.

    When I am wrong, I own it. Sometimes, to end an argument or discussion that’s going nowhere…I say ok I was wrong (even if I am not) because life is too short.

    Have a great week!!

  5. Well, many years ago, while working as a graphic designer at a small print shop, I typeset a Calendar for the local school system. Lo and behold, I spelled it “Calender” which spell check did not catch because it actually is a word (cal·en·der, /ˈkaləndər/ noun: calender; plural noun: calenders: a machine in which cloth or paper is pressed by rollers to glaze or smooth it.verb: verb: calender; 3rd person present: calenders; past tense: calendered; past participle: calendered; gerund or present participle: calendering, press in a calender), though apparently NOT the word the school system was expecting to see! Unfortunately, though many proofread, no one noticed my error until the print job was done! Fast forward to all hands on deck pasting labels with the correct spelling on 5000 calendars!!!! It’s only shocking that I still had a job after that! So, yeah, I can empathize…. Just like a certain amount of “impurities” are allowable in our food (Yuck!!!), a certain number of typos are allowable in publishing. I figure “Calander” filled my quota for the year….

  6. This year I am trying something new and doing LovingKindness meditations, designed to make me offer MYSELF grace and forgiveness. It’s an antidote to the New year, New You attitude that new year’s resolutions are designed to fix things are supposedly “broken” about oneself. An interesting concept, and one that I hope makes me much less hard on myself. So hopefully when I realize I’ve screwed up, it doesn’t completely derail me, as it has in the past. Fingers crossed!
    And thank you so much, Grace, for the lovely surprise in my email yesterday!! Can’t wait to open and enjoy it 🙂

  7. First of all, my first job out of high school was as proofreader for the advertising department of a small newspaper and I can tell you, it’s nearly impossible to find every last little typo that could make its way onto the printed page.

    Secondly, I now work in compliance. Government compliance. Internal Revenue Service, Depart of Labor, that kind of stuff. People rely on me to guide and advise them to keep their business compliant and out of trouble. And I have been wrong more than a few times in my 23 year career. It’s not the kind of stuff you can sweep under the carpet when you’re wrong in an interpretation or application of a rule no matter how much you wish you could. I have to own it, and I have to fix it. I have to determine if there’s a cost to the mistake in penalties or fines.

    I have one thought on people who feel it necessary to report typos to the seller. Who was harmed? Certainly not the reader unless they truly lost the whole context of the story through that typo. And is that really possible? The harm is to the author who’s probably not the end of line proofreader but bears the brunt of any reader dissatisfaction. So if you really want to help your favorite author, find a way to ask the author whether what ended up in type is what was intended. I would never assume to second guess someone who’s job it is to write and tell an unrelated entity that what they wrote is wrong.

    Typos happen. In my industry we carry insurance to protect against typos in case the typo does actually change the context of a document because we all know they happen. But are the typos book readers are complaining about really changing the context of the story? I think not. And most are probably not worth mentioning.

  8. If we were perfect we would not be here in human form.!!!!!!!Just read Cam’s story.Stayed up all night to finish it.New interesting story,old friends,What could be better

  9. Ok. Here goes. I have a nephew who is officially, measurably, a genius. He has two boys, who, I didn’t know (because it was a great family secret), both have dislexia — one more so than the other. Once, on a family vacation, we were getting ready to sit down at the dinner table (it was my night to cook), and one of the boys said something that was grammatically incorrect. As I recall, it was a simple subject-verb disagreement. I caught it as I was going to and fro, quickly bringing the dishes to the table, and I corrected him (with a smile and a wink, because that’s what you do with ten-year-olds, when you’re their great aunt). The child looked as if I’d slapped him, and his dad laid into me as if I actually had. I happened to have read somewhere that if someone is yelling at you, the best thing to do is nothing. So that’s what I did (though it cost me later). My nephew yelled and yelled until he was actually frothing at the mouth, even after we were all seated at the table. Then I said, passing him a full bowl, “shrimp?” Everyone laughed, except my nephew, who turned bright red and sulked through the rest of the meal. What I want to know is, did I do something terribly wrong? Are grownups no longer allowed to correct children’s grammar, or for that matter, other obvious mistakes that they make, particularly if they do it in a friendly way? By way of background, I am a retired journalist and have done copy desk duty in my time. And, in case you’re wondering, my nephew is 6’2”.

  10. I’m sorry you are having this issue. In your post, you mentioned the reader ‘mistakenly’ took issue with the word. That isn’t something you should correct, and I can see that it would be annoying that the person didn’t take the time to double-check before they reported it as an issue to Amazon.

    It’s rare to read a book where there isn’t at least one error – maybe something like the word ‘is’ being left out or something like that. Those aren’t show stoppers. Now if the name of a character or the town, etc. changed halfway through the book, I’d mention it to the author.

  11. Yes, I have been wrong even though I KNEW I was right. It makes me turn beet red (dratted fair complexion) and feel very embarrassed when I discover my mistake. I am an eldest child and a Virgo/Libra to boot, so I expect that I will be perfect all the time and I tend to be very hard on myself when I find I’m not. However, one advantage to being so old is that I do handle it better these days. I’m still terribly disappointed in myself but have enough experience to know life is like this.
    I have sent emails to authors if I discover an error in a book, but it’s only to authors I like and to give them the opportunity to fix it if possible, since I suspect they would like to be perfect, too. I would never point it out in a public forum since I know how easily these things happen (I wouldn’t be surprised to discover after I click to post this that I’ve made some kind of mistake. It wouldn’t be the first time.)

  12. I will freeling admit that I have at times been wrong when I was convinced that I was right – I just cannot think of a specific time right now. So maybe one way I handle being wrong is by having selective memory??

    How I handle things when someone tells me I’m wrong really depends on the situation. I used to work in a family owned pet store that sold mostly higher end pet supplies. One day I had a very irate customer come in and tell me that everyone in the store had lied to her about the food we sold her. I did the whole empathy and apologetic song and dance to calm her down and then asked what the lie was. She said she needed food without any poultry products for her dog and that everyone knows that chickpeas are chicken testicles. Wait, What?!? We ended up refunding the money on the one food and examined the ingredients in a lot of foods before finding one she was happpy with. She refused to believe that chickpeas and garbonzo beans are the same thing. I try to remember her when ever someone tells me I made a mistake.

    As far as the Amazon error reporting thing goes, I doubt that I’ll ever bother using it. I’m in the middle of an anthology that was sold in part to raise money for animal rescues. The very first story needed to be proof read at least one more time. The same dog was randomly referred to as both he and she through the entire story. Is it worth reporting? Probably. Will I be the one to do it? Nope.

    Happy Valentine’s and Galentine’s Day!

  13. Being right rings memories of marriage that I endured for many years.A husband who bellowed his profound unhappiness and disappointment of his wife and children when they got it wrong.Being married to a perfect man was difficult because we all know that no single man or woman can be perfect.When I finally threw in the towel and walked away I knew that I had made a very right decision for both me and my children who were embarking on their careers.Many years later and struggles I can honestly say you don’t have to be right all the time to get it RIGHT.Amazon drives me nuts sometimes but I need to have your books so I put up with it.An author’s lot is not easy so I can only applaud you.Thank you.

  14. In a college English Lit course, the professor was lecturing on a poem by Donne. I can’t remember the exact poem–it was 40 years ago!–but the metaphor was similar to the one in Donne’s Holy Sonnet 14:
    “Take me to you, imprison me, for I,
    Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,
    Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.”
    The professor stated that the poem’s persona was obviously female, and that’s when I raised my hand to say something like: “But in relationship to God, every soul is feminine—like the Church is the Bride of Christ.”
    Of course, he shot me down.
    Sometime later, a visiting theater troupe from England did a presentation of dramatic literary readings. One of them was the poem in question declaimed by a male person.
    I was SO right! And yes, the professor was in the audience. He wouldn’t look me in the eye. 🙂

  15. My sister always corrects me for mispronouncing words, and I love her for it because I don’t want to appear to be an idjit at work 🙂 On the other hand, when anyone else corrects me about any fact, I shrug and say “Google it.” Not to sound immodest, but nine times out of ten, I’m right and get more satisfaction that I didn’t get all bent out of shape about it. I’m also able to be more ungrudging in my praise for the other person’s acumen.

  16. Having grown up with constant gaslighting I find that my relationship with what is true / false, right / wrong is complicated. Being allowed to be right (when I am, indeed, right) is important to me and I struggle with feeling negated and defensive when I “know” I am right but am wrong. I practice apologizing and admitting I’m wrong to model it for my kids but it is still a struggle more often than not. It has helped defuse the intense emotion some though. I’m thankful for that, and that I can let my children be right when they are, and validate them even if we don’t agree on who is right.

  17. Happy Tuesday! It is hard to choose sometimes but my biggest and best choice as a Bible Study leader was to apologize to preserve a friendship irregardless of whether I was right or wrong. People are precious especially when they are your friends. I think that was a valuable lesson for me because being right became less important than being a loving friend. Thank you for your great books! Have a blessed week!

  18. My mom taught 5th grade before I was born & confused teacher mode with mommy mode til the day she died. So I learned to be wrong early & often. 🙂

    I lean on the side of what’s the kind thing to do? My ego is healthy enough to withstand correcting, rightly or wrongly. If I goofed, I’ll say so. (Shocked a bunch of folks doing that.) If it’s a matter of life & death & I think I’m right, I’ll argue. The rest of the time, I’ll either say “I disagree” and leave it there, or walk away, depending on how the other person is determined to be. Life’s too short for the current fashion of my way or the highway shrieking & acting like rabid baboons just cause the other feller doesn’t see it your way.

  19. Ah, Grace. I learned the art of apologizing for being wrong from the Duke of Not Nice himself. I just finished reading his book for the umpteenth time as it is one of my favorites. He’s right, it gets easier and easier. I came to understand this because I realized I could not forgive others if I didn’t forgive myself first. I am a perfectionist. In order to deal with the stress of being a perfectionist, I decided to forgive myself for “just being human” because, I asked myself, what the heck was I trying to be besides human? That put me in my place.

  20. I don’t buy Amazon and definitely don’t support authors being trolled for occasional manuscript errors although I have read a few books with eyerollingly irritating lack of copy editing. A pair of favorite authors with a devoted following (such as I assume you have) are published by Baen who offer the final edit version of their ebooks for sale until the final versions are published with the result that eager readers purchase the early versions, read them, and report “tyops” to the authors for correction in the final manuscript where they are acknowledged for their help if they so choose.