A while back I used to teach college level English classes. Several were introductory level courses – how to write a college research paper. Every class had a few people who would ask “does spelling count?” My reply then – and my reply now, whether you’re still in class learning the ropes or writing or you’re out in the real world writing your own novel – is yes, of course spelling counts. It’s worth a deeper dive into this topic.
Don’t Just Throw A Draft Over The Wall
Among coders, there’s sometimes someone who’s either new and doesn’t know any better or just doesn’t care about their work. These people will write sloppy code that’s difficult to follow and even worse to try to maintain. Other developers will refer to this practice as throwing it over the wall. In case you’ve never worked in an office, the reference comes from figuratively throwing the code over the wall and letting the next person worry about it. It’s not fun cleaning up after these people.
This happens in writing too. I’ve been done all kinds of judging gigs over the years, and in every contest there are inevitably submissions filled with spelling or grammatical errors. In the worst case trying to read one of these is akin to mentally reading a brick. This results in an angry judge who will throw said submission into the rejection pile while reaching for a bottle of aspirin. The piece may have merit; there may be a really original voice in there; but because of the carelessness it never gets past the gatekeeper because the writer just threw it over the wall.
Take Pride in Your Work
If you’ve reached the point where you’re thinking of sending your work out, congratulations. This is a huge step and it’s not something you should take lightly. Before you send that piece out, you need to work for it. Set it down for a couple days and give yourself a cold read (see The Cold Read). In the early days you should probably do this a few times before you send your work out.
If you don’t trust your spelling, don’t trust the word processor’s either. These are a good starting point, but programs can’t understand context or style and are far from perfect. Have a trusted friend or mentor read it and try to catch the errors as well. If you’re thinking of going indie, I strongly advise you consider a paid edit.
Yes, this takes time. It takes work. But this time and work will maximize your chances of success. And you want to succeed, don’t you?
My parting thought is that you should bust your ass to make sure your work is as good as you can possibly make it, but don’t chase perfection. If you chase perfection you will never finish, because you’ll never get there. You have to do the best job you possibly can before you send that submission out. And no matter what you do, things will still slip through.
However, despite all this effort you may still wind up with something getting through. I’ve had projects where all of us missed a boneheaded mistake – both in writing and in IT projects.
The worst story from my own work was when I had a side door to a major comic book publisher. I was younger and excited, and I put together what I thought was a cool pitch with one of their major heroes. I sent it in and gave it to a friend of mine, who kindly pointed out the spelling error in the title. I slapped my forehead, knowing that snailmail submission was on its way in and there was no way to recall the message. I got a kind “Thanks, we liked this but we’re going to pass. Keep going!” back. In hindsight The rest of the pitch may not have been so strong, but that boneheaded mistake in such a visible place probably drew some laughs at my expense in the submissions meeting.
Even with all your work some things will slip through. I say if someone spots one in your work it really shouldn’t bother you much, long as it’s not on page one and the rest of the story is high calibre. I think I had 8 or 9 typos in THE TRIP, which when you compare it to the word count (I think it was 75k words or so?), this is an extremely low failure rate. I feel bad they got through, but at least there were only 8 of them in the entire novel. The point is people are human, and sometimes we miss things. It happens to indies, it happens to traditionally published writers as well.
Sh*t happens. Do the best you can, push to do better every time. And if an occasional typo slips through, don’t worry about it.