The holy grail of writing is having readers who get lost in your story. When your beta readers forget to make comments, that’s a good thing. Really it is. Most writing advice is about how to achieve that wondrous state with great words and perfect sentences. They tell you things like – don’t use cliches or adverbs, they throw your readers out of the story. Be careful about the slang you use, modern slang will throw your readers if your story isn’t set in modern times. Even names have to be right because a mismatched name will throw your readers.
There is something else that will throw your readers every time – a missing word. I’ve seen this problem recently with increasing frequency. It tends to be more rampant the farther you get from the big New York publishers, but even they aren’t immune. The problem comes from not having enough copy editors look at a piece before it gets published. Oh, I know that the reason all comes down to economics – copy editors are expensive and profit margins are slim enough as is. Still they are important.
Nothing slows a story to a dead stop like a word that isn’t there, or worse the wrong one. Some readers will be thrown for bad spelling too (though not me, I can’t find a spelling error to save my life most of the time). Misplaced punctuation is another deadly error. A comma in the wrong place can totally change the meaning of a sentence (Eats, Shoots and Leaves by Lynn Truss is a great example and a wonderful style guide too).
The thing that surprises most writers is that the final copy edit should happen after all the formatting. Yes even in today’s world of copy/paste the process of formatting can and will introduce new typos into your manuscript. It’s crazy. It doesn’t make any sense at all. It happens because the imps have found their way into our computers. Deal with it. By that I mean, hand your formatted manuscript to a copy editor just before you publish it. More than one if you can afford it.
That’s the other thing about typos – they are small and easy to miss. Especially if you happen to have several of them near each other. Typos have a tendency of hiding each other. They are good friends that way. Also, different editors will spot different errors more easily. It only takes one little error to throw a reader.
Of course if your story is the kind that draws the reader in and makes them stay up reading until three in the morning, they will jump right back in. I don’t want to make this sound like it’s all doom and gloom – one error and your career is over. It’s not that dire. It could make the difference in how quickly a reader picks up your next book or how fervently they tell their friends about it. There is a world of difference between “it was a good read” and “I couldn’t put it down”. Trust me, you want the latter. You want readers complaining about how tired they are because of your books. I hear about a book that’s going to keep me up and it jumps to the top of my to-be-read pile. Not because I want to be tired at work but those are always the best reads and thats what I want to read.
In short, whether you are traditionally published or taking one of the newer routes, make sure that your manuscript gets a good look over by a good copy-editor or three.