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Professional Writing Tip: How Much Do Your Typos Matter?

Back on March 8, I published a creative writing related post about typos titled, “How Bad Are Those Editorial Mistakes You Made?

It was after I got an attention-grabbing marketing email from Amazon’s self-publishing arm, CreateSpace. Complete with the dire subject line of “The True Cost of Editorial Mistakes,” it essentially tried to scare recipients into purchasing its editorial services by telling them that a single typo could destroy their entire book… Nay! Their entire lives!

Okay. It wasn’t quite that drastic. But it was still intense.

And it was intense for no good reason since a single typo in a 100,000-word novel isn’t going to destroy anything. At worst, it will confuse a sentence.

The same basic principle applies to professional writing. An editorial mistake here or there is not the worst thing to ever happen to your copy.

Don’t get me wrong. Good grammar and proper spelling are important. I’m definitely not trying to say otherwise. And there are occasions when a misplaced letter or wrong word choice can, indeed, change the meaning of a sentence. Sometimes drastically.

That’s why it’s always important to, at the very least, double-check your work.

But if somehow, someway, a typo does make it into your final copy, the world probably isn’t going to explode. Chances are high the majority of your readers won't even notice it since they’re either A) too rushed to pay that close attention, B) don’t have a perfect grasp of good grammar and proper spelling either, or C) some combination of the two.

That’s why, in the end, it’s not the technical aspects that make or break your copy. Unless you’re addressing an audience of professional proofreaders, it all comes down to how clearly you convey your main message.

A Tale of Two Copies

Personally, I like to read. A lot. Depending on my mood and what’s available, it might be the news, a non-fiction book or a novel. As a result, it’s safe to say I’ve been around the library block a few times. Yet I can’t think of a single time when I stopped reading something because of a typo.

In fact, professional editor though I am, I’ve been riveted before by copy that was rife with spelling and grammatical issues. Oh, believe me, I noticed them. They popped right out to me. Yet they were a mere blip on my mental radar in the middle of an otherwise phenomenal read.

In one case, I was reviewing the memoir of a young Jewish girl who escaped Russia and then Poland in the early 20th century. Because English wasn’t her first language, there were understandably mistakes every few paragraphs.

Even so, her story was poignant enough that it didn’t matter. Those typos ultimately meant nothing when her message and personality were as powerful as they were.

Another time, I was reading a young adult sci-fi novel, which was written by two native English speakers who also needed to enroll in English Grammar 101. Either that or they needed a much better editor. But once again, that failing didn’t faze me – not when the story line hooked me right from page 1 to reel me in all the way to the end.

I was a happy customer in both cases.

The reason they were able to rise above their numerous typos was that they were written about interesting subject matters with engaging voices. Plus, the stories they told flowed in smooth, logical patterns built by word choices that worked – and worked well.

Those are the same aspects that will make or break you as a professional writer. Not typos.

So the next time you’re screening something you intend to publish, consider this primary checklist first:

  • Does it make sense?

  • Is it honest?

  • Is it interesting?

  • Does it employ the right language for targeted readers to understand and relate to?

  • Is it structured well so that each paragraph builds off of the last instead of repeating points or skipping relevant subject matter?

  • Does the sentence structure vary to keep readers from nodding off?

Once you’ve got all that taken care of, then you can go back and check your spelling and grammar.

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