Author   |    Speaker   |    Chief Content Officer


This is an occasional series based on actual emails I receive, and my actual responses. 

Everybody Writes is just shy of its second birthday. Since its birth, I’ve heard frequently from readers who have highlighted the same few typos in the text. (Sometimes nicely. Sometimes less so.)

The “few typos” sounds dismissive. But the truth is that those typos pain me. I’ve cleaned up (most) of them by now… but earlier copies of the book are still in the wild. So I still get letters like the one below, questioning the book’s credibility.

That’s the thing about writing a book about writing: You set the bar pretty high. So you’d better be the kind of linguistic pole vaulter who’d qualify for Rio, if linguistic pole vaulting was actually an Olympic sport. (Side note: It should be.)

So why do mistakes still happen, no matter how toned and buff we might be?

No matter how many hours we’ve spent in training?

Here’s why they happened in my case.

6/28/16
From: [Name Redacted]
To: Ann
I’m on page 12 of Everybody Writes and have already found two errors. The bottom of page 11 says “then” instead of “than” and page 12 says “than” instead of “thank.” Questioning whether this book is actually going to improve my writing.

Hi [Name Redacted],

Thanks for the note. It’s always nice to hear from readers?

A bit of explanation: The “then” vs. “than” on Page 11 is a direct quote from Atlantic editor and author Ta-Nehisi Coates. I pulled it verbatim from the source with his (incorrect) word use, because my journalistic sensibility prevents me from modifying direct quotes.

You must have an original printing of the book. (Congratulations, by the way! Maybe it’ll be a collector’s item some day!)

In subsequent printings I modified the quote by inserting a [sic] after the “then” to indicate that the poor word choice was his, not mine.

Ta-Nehisi Coates is a talented writer, so I didn’t want to embarrass the guy. But I was tired of taking the hit for him.

As for the other issue, on Page 12, that is a pure, 100% grass-fed typo.

As I said, you have an original printing of Everybody Writes, which includes that typo.

In subsequent printings, we lassoed that errant free-range “k” from the prairie where it roamed a little too wild and free… and we wrangled it back into its proper position.

Now, Neil Patel and Kathryn Aragon are properly “thanked” and not just “thanned.” Because “thanning” is not even a thing.

Typos happen, even in great writing.

Robot editors can’t catch all of them.

(Your honor! I’d now like to call “than” and “thank” to the stand as expert witnesses!)

And human editors are… well, human.

All we writers can do is comb through a manuscript with a minuscule fine-tooth comb, until we deem it slick and perfect.

Then, we lovingly wave goodbye to our little fledgling as we watch it trundle off to the printer, and sit back and wait for the sleek, grown-up final book to arrive back to us. We hardly recognize it — Look at you! All grown up! — and we couldn’t be more proud…

…only to be mortified when we get notes like this one.

If you aren’t thoroughly disgusted with my life’s work at this point, see pages 77, 193-195, and 252 of Everybody Writes for more on practical solutions on how to deal with typos, an unfortunate and annoying reality of life.

Again, thanks for writing. Let me know how you like the rest of the book.

Your friend,

Ann

P.S. There is a gem of a typo on Page 38, which has yet to be corrected. I’m not sure why I haven’t alerted the Everybody Writes printing staff at Wiley Publishing about it. But perhaps it’s because only the sharpest-eyed copy editors will ever find it.

P.P.S. Let me know when you do.


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61 Responses to Dear Name Redacted: Why Typos Happen, Dammit [Questions from Readers]

  1. Teresa says:

    Oh, bless your heart, there’s a typo in your blog post about typos.

    “As for the other issue, on Page 12, that a pure, 100% grass-fed typo.”

  2. Dee says:

    I love this post so much! Both because it makes you, Ann, as real as the rest of us who make typos and because your response was light-hearted, complementary, and smart all at once!

    • Kelly Grace says:

      Dee’s comment is spot on!!!
      I enjoy your writing so much that the only book I brought on our 2 week Canadian vacation is Content Rules. Weird, right? Now I can’t wait to get home and challenge my proof-reading skills by searching page 38 in my own copy of Everybody Writes for that typo.
      Remember Highlights magazine, the one with the Hidden Picture puzzle page? This post delights with bits of hidden wisdom peeking out from behind the main message. Like the ? “It’s always nice to hear from readers?” Brilliant Ann.
      Kelly

  3. I love your response Ann. Clever as always. 🙂

    I feel your pain! All we can do is change the ones that can be edited and apologize and move on from those that can’t.

  4. I love your response, your balance of humor and humanity, and your book! Words of wisdom spelled incorrectly are no less wise. 🙂

  5. Katybeth says:

    Hi [Name Redacted) or Assholio,
    I’d skip the writting and look for a therapist to help you find your life.

    I just learned that of course is not hyphenated. I’m still stunned. Needless (I am not going to google if this is the correct usage of Needless–or if it could be omitted) to say, (comma or not) you won’t find me combing page 38 of your book.

    Everybody Writes helped me. It proudly sits on my bookcase and I check in with it from time to time. But don’t worry if I ever write my book ….I promise not to mention how much it influenced me!

    Mama always said, “Those that can do, those that can’t criticize other people.” (I think she was paraphrasing.) You do beautifully. Always.

  6. Chris says:

    “If all you can do is say, “You’re missing an r in the second paragraph,” you’ve abandoned your humanity in favor of becoming a spell checker.
    Compliance over inspiration…
    Correct is fine, but it is better to be interesting.”
    ~Seth Godin, The Icarus Deception

    Thanks for always being interesting, Ann. 🙂

  7. Dear Ann. I love reading your stuff. Could you increase the font size on mobile ( At my age I can bitch and get away with it :-).

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  9. Mary Ann Borer says:

    I think I found it, Ann…it’s “people’s annual incomes,” not “peoples'”, right?

    • Ann Handley says:

      Mary Ann: Nope. Keep searching….!

      • Ben says:

        But that’s indeed erroneous! “Peoples'” refers to something possessed by multiple different cultures, not the possessions of multiple individuals (that’s “people’s”). For example: “The Indo-European peoples’ stonework was among the finest in the world at the time…”

        That said, I found it. Check the fine print… 🙂

  10. Some people put the “annoy” in “annoying!” I love how everyone has a mountain of criticism but fails to note how much work and effort has been put into the book.

    Good job, Ann. You continue to inspire me in my professional career.

    • Ann Handley says:

      Thanks, Tammy. I actually appreciate notes that point out mistakes. But since I’ve gotten a boatload of them about two particular ones (above), I figured it was time to go public!

  11. Leigh says:

    Well played Ann, humor, humility and truth all tied up in one beautifully written post. You really are quite brilliant.
    Thanks for elevating us all.

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  13. Tom Bentley says:

    Ann, I was the copyeditor for a big software company in the 80s. They sent out an annual print catalog—to over 100,000 customers—of all their products, with a order form in the middle, which had (in perhaps 120-point type) the company’s 800 number for orders. I had seen that number, oh, eleventy gazillion times.

    So what if this time the number was one digit off? When the COO saw it, his first words were, “Fire that X#$@@$! guy!” I survived, but barely.

    You can’t catch ’em all.

  14. Mike Myers says:

    So, let me get this straight, you get 99.97432% of the book complete and accurate and some guy (or gal) comes along and corrects you? Who does that? Kudos to you for responding at all, let alone so graciously. Pretty sure mine would have been some version of, “Dear sir, $ #%^* you and the horse you rode in on.” Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to find that typo on page 38. Thanks for always keeping it real.

  15. Mark Matchen says:

    So I’m reading and enjoying your post, and I notice a missing subjunctive and then a wildly out of place “lovingly”. And I realize I’m not enjoying your post even a bit less because of them. Because good writing is allowed to do things like skipping the subjunctive; it’s allowed to trust the writer’s ear. (Sure, sometimes the writer doesn’t know what the subjunctive is, but that doesn’t change the point.) OK, that “lovingly” does bug me, not because it’s in violation of some rule but because it actually messes up the meaning. I had to pause and re-read. You should fix it, but I repeat, it didn’t degrade an excellent piece in any significant way.

    It’s craziness to walk around with a metaphorical or literal (à la Lynne Truss) black marker with which to emend typos or misusages. (Is that a word? It should be.) Unless you’re an English teacher, or actually a copy-editor. (Are there any copy-editors left? Certainly not at the National Post, which hardly has any editors at all left.) And even then, you must leave it at the office each night. The important parts of reading are learning and enjoying. Ann’s writing delivers both. She does her level best to write error-free copy. So get a life.

    You may have noticed my tendency to begin sentences with conjunctions and occassionally to let a fragment stand on its own. You get to do that when you are a generally good writer. Picasso mastered the orthodoxy of traditional portraiture, thereby earning the right to throw every rule away.

    But Mrs. Trump and her plagiarism? Off with her head!

    • Ann Handley says:

      Mark: You know what? You’re totally right about that “lovingly.” FIXED. It sounded correct when I wrote it — but I can see how the read is off because of it.

      PS The one that bugs me is the misplaced “only.” As in: “We only ate five rutabagas” when really you mean “we ate only five rutabagas.”

  16. D to the J, Waldow says:

    “It’s always nice to hear from readers?”

    Well said.

  17. Sita says:

    Guess its the human nature – the irresistible urge to point out mistakes, just as natural as making them is! But I really like the poised manner you reacted to all of it. Love you Ann, as always!

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  20. Alan Quarry says:

    typos are good for humanity.

    there, I said it; i mean it.

    semi colons are worthless however.

  21. All books probably have a typo or two in them when they go to print. Because they’re written, edited and published by *human beings.* Your response here is SO GREAT!

    As a fellow writer who is pained by typos in her own work, I just want to say you’re doing an amazing job. Keep up the great work, and don’t let the rude responses get you down — because we NEED your writing!

  22. Love this post and the wittiness of your response! And yes, you made me pull out the book (pretty sure I have an early-ish copy) and go to page 38. Can’t find the typo, don’t care to keep searching, because if there’s one thing I know for sure we humans are perfect at, it’s being imperfect. And that (as well as typos) are fine by me!

  23. Typo hawks tend to fall into two camps: 1) people genuinely excited to find something for the sheer pleasure of fixing it or 2) sanctimonious blowhards who seem to delight in pointing out another person’s mistakes. Your post inspired me to comment because it seems like the latter group is growing by leaps and bounds. Perhaps people have “raised their standards” because technology implies we should write perfectly every time. I’ve realized that every time I see a typo in a book, I find myself thinking of the person who wrote it and the other people who helped publish it. It’s a lovely reminder that the book I’m holding came from the mind of the creative individual who dared put words on a blank page. For me, that thought trumps the random wrong letter or misplaced comma.

    • Ann Handley says:

      “It’s a lovely reminder that the book I’m holding came from the mind of the creative individual who dared put words on a blank page.”

      I love that. Thanks, Britt!

  24. Mistakes happen because you are not using Grammarly.

    What a great app, it auto-suggests spelling as well grammatical correction automatically. It always seems to get me on my use of commas. Darn!

    If you use it, you will love it. Oh, did I mention it is completely free?

  25. Michael Buschmohle says:

    Dear Ann,
    Concerning typos, you should take comfort in the words Lin Yutang in his marvelous book “The Importance of Living.” He states that ancient Chinese editors would not worry about typos, because they wanted the reader to experience the supreme satisfaction of finding a few typographical mistakes for themselves. Keep inspiring us with your dedication to writing.

  26. Leslye Wood says:

    Can I just say I love the comments as much as I love your post (question mark or period?). My guiding principle is each time you proofread, you will find another typo, so at some point, as my graphic design prof was fond of saying, “You just have to stick a fork in it.” And even though typos tend to jump right out to writers, 99 percent of the world will not notice them.

    Here goes: At the bottom of page 38, you have a citation but there’s no reference to it in the page text. Neither does the citation appear in the notes on page 280.

    Has the eagle-eyed landed?

    • Ann Handley says:

      I love your eagle-eye here, Leslye (and below). But none of it is the typo I referred to, above. 🙂

      • Ben Opsahl says:

        This is driving me insane. I’m with Leslye on her second guess (plural “budgets”).

        However, I also notice a potential comma splice in “Each one is a Big Idea, how to win in a certain…” (should be a colon or semicolon?)

        And finally, while I don’t think it’s incorrect, I do prefer the phrasing “…the word means form or routine, *in the sense that* it’s something you practice…” rather than “in the sense of”.

        But this is a game, isn’t it? The fact remains that I didn’t lose any value, trust or meaning in your message due to these particular typos. So none of these are considerable issues (in full agreement with your post).

        Of course, you should put more effort into proofreading when the stakes are higher, but I’m less concerned about the occasional typo than I am about those disheartening systematic ones. Misspell my name in a first email? Okay, be careful, but I won’t judge you too harshly. However, using the wrong “there” in more than one context is an unforgivable offense and you lose huge points (and I don’t even intend it to be – it’s a normal response, I think, for writers to have – like a chef retching at the sight of my burnt steak).

        Please… please tell us what you see so we may rest easily again!

    • Ben says:

      Leslye, you were so close. It’s indeed in the citation, but nothing to do with the reference in the text. Read it again carefully. Actually, don’t read it; look at it 🙂

  27. Leslye Wood says:

    Hmmm…I might take that back. Now that I look on pp. 39-40, I see the citation refers to what’s in the box. How about in “infographics whose design budget,” budget should be plural?

  28. Paulina Famiano says:

    I love this article! It shows no matter how much effort you put into something, at the end of the day, everyone is still human! This is something to keep in mind to help people not be so hard on themselves!

  29. Lee Gillette says:

    Ann: I’m a dyed-in-the-wool fan. Something just occurred to me. This is one of those stupid male questions: Has anyone ever found a typo in the dictionary?

    P.S. You’ve got a great spell-checker in your comments box!

  30. Lynn Swords says:

    “we lassoed that errant free-range “k” from the prairie where it roamed a little too wild and free” – hilarious. 🙂

  31. Anja Skrba says:

    Of course typos happen! Regardless of your greatness as a writer, you’re still just a human 🙂
    And I just can’t hold that against you dear Ann 😀

  32. Karinne C says:

    What a gracious response to a terse and slightly rude message. You are a class act Ann!

  33. Lars Wirtén says:

    I´m just about to write a blog post about clearing up your RSS-feed, which I just did – keeping only your blog in the feed. My point is that quality and personality is so much more important than quantity and consistency (if the price of consistency is a flood of “read-it-a-hundred-times-before”-posts). I´ve cleared Copyblogger, CMI, Jeff Bullas, Hubspot, etc, because I don´t even notice them anymore, including your gems that get lost in this stream of generic routine posts. (Or maybe I´m just the wrong audience for them.)
    Thanks for being so interesting and unique, from now on I won´t miss any of you´re (rare) posts. By the way, I didn´t know you were such an oracle as you are on page 38: impressed by your ability to foresee blogposts 87 years in advance 🙂

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  35. Your response is clever as always!

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