How can this be?

Synopsis crisis 1Submissions to agents require that you send a sample of your novel.  Typically this is described as sample chapters (usually three) or 10,000 words.  Often you’re told to conclude your sample at a sensible end point, rather than get too hung up on precise word-count.

My novel, Singled Out, is divided into eight days (a one week holiday, see?).  Each day is divided into between 8 and 12 individual segments, each segment written from the point of view (POV) of one of three main characters.  I realise a day in this construction is too long to count as a chapter, but the individual segments are also too short.  Day One is around 12,000 words and to my mind marks a sensible end point – so that’s what I’ve been sending as my sample.  I figure if I’ve failed to excite an agent, it will be well before that 12,000 word mark and they’ll simply not read to the end.  If I’ve excited them, a few extra words are unlikely to put them off.  Hopefully.

However… one of the agents I’m currently keen to tempt with Singled Out specifies three chapters as the sample length, but then goes on to make the point that this limit should be strictly adhered to.  So yesterday, I was reviewing my sample document, to create a shorter version for this particular submission.

And on the first page – the very first page – I found a typo.

I know why this is.  This particular section has been in the past tense, then in the present tense, then in the past tense again (and perhaps even back and forth another couple of times – I forget). Somewhere in the transition from ‘He chose’ through ‘He chooses’ and back to ‘He chose’ again, I left a verb in the wrong tense.

I could have wept.

It seemed prudent, after approximately 20 minutes of swearing, cursing, throwing stuff around, stomping, stamping and kicking the cat (I lie – I don’t have one), to use the opportunity to review the whole sample segment, just in case anything else had slipped through in those first 10,000 words.  So I read it very, very slowly.  I found a few dozen more words I could do without, which was a plus.

But then I found another typo.

The error was not in a word, but in its absence – it was a missing word.  I’d probably read right through that invisible word two or three dozen times, failing and failing again, to notice its nonexistence.

Just in case you’re wondering how I’m dealing with this catastrophe of care and diligence, here it is. Yesterday evening I prowled my kitchen for comfort food. There wasn’t much, because I’m being very good lately; vegetables don’t even nearly qualify.  I managed to find three Rich Tea biscuits (stale), which I covered in butter and the dregs from a bottle of salted caramel sauce (Christmas leftover).  Thence to a restive night – I gave in to the TV and a repeat of The Jeremy Kyle Show at 5:15am. Today finds me curled up on the armchair in the corner of my office, rocking from side to side, cuddling a cushion and snivelling into a Kleenex.  It’s too early for alcohol, but I fear this may feature as the day advances.

By the way – there’s a lesson.  Now I understand what people mean when they say the final level of edit should actually be to read your novel backwards, word, by word, by word.

16 thoughts on “How can this be?

  1. Have you tried changing the font size to say 14-16 pt, then changing the font to something you don’t like (but one that is still legible), then printing for your proof-reading copy? I know it sounds a bit silly, but I’ve found it very useful and I know a lot of other writers do as well. It makes you read slowly, deliberately and keeps your brain from filling in gaps or rushing past things out of habit. It allow helps you focus on the words, rather than the story.

    1. Hi Wayne! Great advice – and thanks for sharing it. It’s about jolting your brain out of autopilot, I guess. One thing I haven’t ever done is print out the whole manuscript – and I know I should probably do this, although I’m loath to create so much ‘waste’ paper. I’ve always worked on keyboard/screen, but I realise how mesmerising this can be sometimes.

  2. I confess to having done the same thing. The first time I sent my novel to an agent I later discovered a typo. How could I miss it after proof reading it so many times?

    I don’t think screen reading can replace printing the whole thing out (unfortunately). At least the paper can be recycled.

    Reading aloud can help. I also find reading in a whisper helps avoid getting distracted by listening to myself yet still slows me down sufficiently to notice things I wouldn’t have otherwise noticed.

    Wayne’s suggestion is interesting – I might try that when my novel is sufficiently polished to start sending it out again.

    The fact that you were able to cull some more words raises the issue of when is a novel ‘finished’ and when to stop editing – something I ask myself as I approach my eighth draft.

    1. Isn’t it frustrating! I happily read out loud to myself all the time, mainly because I like to feel that the words are readable out loud. Strange but true – it does highlight where words jar against one another, or where sentences stumble. As for culling more words, I was quite heartened that there weren’t that many – maybe a couple of dozen in a 10,000 word segment. But I suspect a professional editor would find more. When to stop… when to stop… I wouldn’t have looked at this piece again were it not for the need to send a shorter sample. Perhaps there’s a lesson there.

  3. I so know how you feel.I wrote a post on my own blog about my first post, when I misspelled the blog topic’s name and one time in the past when I was on the verge of submitting a brief to the Supreme Court of the United States, and the cover said, “The Honorable Thurgoof Marshall” – Goof ! not Thurgood. And yes, it is common place for important work for us to read the text backwards. Usually one person reads it and the other follows along.

    But I do, so, know how you’re feeling.

    1. Oh, I like that… Thurgoof! 🙂 It’s really hard, isn’t it, to move beyond seeing what we expect to be there, not what actually IS there. We weren’t the first, and we won’t be the last!

  4. I feel for you; it is very unpleasant when a mistake slips through! But I very much doubt if the other agents will even notice the two errors. After all you have sent them a pre-to-publisher text which (if I calculate correctly!) is 99.98% spot on 🙂

    1. That’s a great way to look at it – thank you! It beats the way I was looking at it, which was… ‘cripes, how many MORE darned errors must there be…?’. Enough with the self-flagellation, Julie.

  5. “And on the first page – the very first page – I found a typo.” My heart sank for you when I read this. I once entered a short story contest and later found a typo in my first paragraph. Similarly, it was related to last minute edits. I wanted to cry. I hated myself. But I finally did get over it. There’s some saying floating around out there: I do my best editing after I hit the send button. Sadly, this applies to me when it comes to emails, blog posts, and now short story contests 🙂

    I think Trifocal is right. I don’t think an agent will get that caught up in the fact that there were two errors in your submission. And at least you found it. It could have gone through a whole new round of submissions without the error being fixed.

    1. It seems I’m not alone, and from that at least, I will gain some comfort. It would have to be a pretty blinkered agent that rejects a submission, always assuming it has some merit of course, on the basis of two typos, wouldn’t it? Far more likely the rejections stem from more fundamental components of my labours. So it’s onward and upward. 🙂

  6. That is the worst. I haven’t submitted anything for an agent yet, but I remember finding a typo on a submission for a writing contest. waste of time and stamp. Good luck with your future submissions.

    1. It’s one of those cliched ‘blood drains from your cheeks’ moments, isn’t it? Still, I’ll live. I feel exonerated now for my slow-and-steady approach to agent submissions. Very few have witnessed my shame. Ha!

  7. I can’t believe I missed this post! I feel your pain. If it makes you feel better, I had a typo on the first page of my ebook (he lead, not he led) and in the original acknowledgment I had a grammatical error in the sentence I where I thanked my line-editor (he hadn’t obviously edited this part, but he had missed the typo on page one so it was karma). At least I had the chance to change it quickly. I just hope ether aren’t any others as the print book will be ready soon!*

    * I’m not too worried, as I tend to find one or two typos in every book I read, professionally published and the classics too!

    1. Probably my fault for putting out two posts in one day! I think however hard one looks, however diligent the edit, there will always be naughty little typos and grammaticals leaking through. It was just so frustrating to find one of the first page… and now it seems you know of what I speak. I haven’t had anyone professionally line-editing for me, although my 2 of my 3 beta-readers spotted things I’d missed, for which I was grateful. Let’s hope not too many more!

  8. If I had a dollar for every time I screwed up I could take all of you on a cruise. It used to really rip my arse but now older and more forgiving I just roll with it. I write mostly for me, and indeed for anyone else who wants to suffer my work. Most of my family does not read what I write except my wife and one of my granddaughters. That’s okay as they have busy lives and different interests. But I make mistakes by the batch, not only in my writing, but life itself. Glad no one else does that. Enjoy your love of the art and stop the worry as it pays no dividends.

    1. I know what you mean. Life is a learning experience, and mistakes of all kinds are inevitable. But when you’re trying to impress people with your writing, and, perhaps for want of one more read-through, you might have caught that little blighter… then the frustration creeps in. Incidentally, I know a few people read my blog now, but I doubt it’s anywhere near the 1,000 or so who have ‘followed’ it. I’m so glad you do!

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