Let's Talk with Maggie Toussaint

I Can’t See the Forest

March 24, 2022

I’ve been working on rough draft edits for what seems like months but is only a few weeks so far. Somewhere between reads five and ten, the book begins to feel more like individual words than sentences, paragraphs, scenes, and chapters.

In other words, I focus on the trees but that means I can’t see the forest.

Ah, the joys of being an author. We toil in a field of words, hoping for a bountiful harvest.

As a reader, how do you react to poorly edited books? Do you notice repetitions, a missing word, stray or missing punctuation, or even the wrong word used (like out for our)? Oddly I don’t mind these in someone else’s book, but I don’t want them in mine.

Do you notice repeated first words in near proximity? That’s something I check for and hopefully catch. I just read a New York Times bestseller and three sentences in a row began with “He,” and it wasn’t used for effect. Sentence structure is the last thing I check. When repetitions or omissions happen in other authors’ books, it doesn’t usually bug me, unless the repeats are repeated.

This post’s featured book is SPAWNING SUSPICION. Remember that childhood game wherein a person whispers a sentence or so to the person beside them, and they whisper it to the next person and so on until the message goes through the entire group? The last person says the secret message aloud.

In SPAWNING SUSPICION, this tactic is twisted to spread misinformation, on purpose, as a red herring in the culinary cozy mystery.

To be entered in the drawing for SPAWNING SUSPICION, share any editing mistakes that make you stop reading. My winner will be announced on Thursday, March 31. The book is available in digital format and print, with print copies available to those with a US mailing address.

Visit Maggie’s website.

Posted in 6-Maggie Toussaint, Let's Talk, with Maggie Toussaint • Tags: , , |  41 Comments


41 thoughts on “I Can’t See the Forest

  1. Mistakes throw me out of the story for a moment. I don’t like that interruption, but will keep reading. Word usage (accept/except), wrong homonym (road instead of rode), double words (he he said) are some that threw me out in the last book. I do have higher expectations for a much published author or one with a series I love than a new author.

    1. I hear you, Theda. Authors want the story world frame to keep the reader engaged, but anything that takes a reader out of the story risks that they will stop reading. With that said, it’s hard to clean all the mistakes up, and once something is a real word (but the wrong word) its easy to scoot right over it because you see the word you meant to write. Writers are good at self-delusions… Thanks for commenting!

  2. I can live with punctuation errors but wrong or missed words bother me. If it was only one or two I’d keep reading but more than that and I’d stop. I’ve partly read a couple of books with a wrong character name or lack of plot continuity and those were dead stops for me.

    1. Absolutely, Sandy G. I totally get what you are saying. And yet in my current WIP, I’ve changed a character’s last name from Graham to Chatham and vice versa about a dozen times. I really want it to be Graham but I had a beloved relative with the last name Graham so why did I do it in the first place? Now after a dozen or so reads, there aren’t any Grahams in there, but if I have an edit for Ms. Chatham, I write in Graham! There’s a short in my brain! I find myself doing Graham searches daily… Thanks for visiting my post.

  3. If I am reading for pleasure, I can skim by an error or even two, if the story has me intrigued. If it keeps happening, nothing saves the book for me. As a writer, I recognize that errors happen as the eye or brain compensates. That’s why, even in proofs we catch things that more than one person has read and never seen during the writing process.

    1. I agree with everything you said. Once I see multiple words with errors, I start kicking the tires, checking out the story vehicle. Often a book with many individual errors has structural errors as well. Unless I am a beta reader, I usually keep my mouth shut and set the book aside. I have often been amazed in the past by writers who take offense to learning about errors in their work. They see no point in making changes to increase the ease of reading in today’s digital world. As an indie author, I know that can easily be done, though I also know if you had a large print run those need to be sold… That’s why books with big print runs have a plethora (now there’s a two-dollar word!) of readers and editors.

  4. No matter how many times you (or an editor) read the book searching out errors, some are going to slip by. That’s the nature of the beast. Unless the book obviously wasn’t edited at all, I am much more forgiving of these mistakes than factual or procedural errors that could have been avoided by a bit of research.

    1. Very good points, Diane. I have also seen instances where a reader has cited an instance of something different happening (than how it was portrayed in a story) because that’s how it happened in real life for her, and her instance or the story instance is an outlier. And just within the U.S., there are regional and cultural differences that can trip you up fast, or what goes in the South may be a no-no in the Midwest. Regionalisms and dialect add flavor, but they seem to have twice the capacity to trip writers/readers up. That’s why I have such a profound appreciation for Master Writers who make it all seem so easy.

  5. I don’t think I noticed things like that until I became a writer. Which is probably why so many books that have me grinding my teeth get so many rave reviews on reader review sites.

    1. Hey Terry. Like you, I noticed fewer of those kind of things before I became a writer. I don’t know if they weren’t there (I have a feeling truly World-Class Editors may be on the way to becoming extinct along with Excellent Grammarians and Oxford Coma Proponents) or if it was because I often skimmed books until I got to the “good parts.” Harder to notice tiny errors when you’re cruising through pages at warp speed. Back in the early 1990s and before, there was a VAST difference in a self-published book and a professionally edited book. It’s my observation that that gap has been steadily closing as more “indie” authors hire freelance editors to help polish their work. I’m always amazed at the laundry list of items a Very Good Editor finds in something I already thought was pretty darned good. Thanks for stopping in!

  6. I am convinced that there isn’t a book published that doesn’t have at least one error in it, no matter how many eyes have read it before publication–my own books included, unfortunately. Interestingly enough, I find more errors in books by mega-bestselling authors than in others. These books often get a cursory glance from the editor before being passed along. The worst was one book I read years ago by one of my favorite authors. The book opened with it being 10 days before the hero’s birthday. At the end of the chapter, several days had passed, but it was still 10 days until the hero’s birthday. You’d think multiple people at the publishing company would at least have read the first chapter and caught this glaring error.

    1. Gosh, Lois, that’s an error with it’s own flashing neon signs! One of my edits is for timeline, but as I know how things get added and subtracted during editing, I realize how easy it would be for something like a timeline error to creep in. In early days when I was purely a plotter (instead of a hybrid author who wrote to certain story milestones), I would have a column in my plot spreadsheet for day and for setting. That way I had fewer of those mistakes. It seems to be our fate to get 72,000+ words right in a book and perhaps 5-10 words that trip us up.

  7. If it’s a missed word or one included that was very similar, I can live with it. Not when there’s a lot of them in the same book. The same phrase repeated in sentences not far apart turns me off also. If it keeps happening, I stop reading. Also, I was always taught not to include too any coincidences in a book. I know in real life, that could happen, but in a book it’s sloppy writing.

    1. Hi Morgan! I’m with you on pulling the plug at a certain point in an error-laden book. That’s one of the reason I’ve embraced Amazon’s “Look Inside” feature. If it’s a new-to-me author, I get a chance to read the prose and try out a few pages. I’m amazed at how quickly I know if the author and I are a good match! My critique partner is very good at seeing repeated phrases. Usually when I have a mess like that, I need to rework the section as it isn’t written as tightly as it could be. Coincidences are trouble no matter how you look at them. I try to stamp them out in my work, but I see them in TV shows/movies and books. For me the only exceptions are when a coincidence is something my sleuth catches as an outlier and says she/he doesn’t trust coincidences, and then the story unfolds that way. Thanks for coming by!

  8. I like commas after the introductory phrase. Many omit them, and I want to grab a pencil and add.

    1. I hear you, Vicki. I personally like comas because they are clearly places where readers take a breath, where characters need a pause, where tension zings in the air. Well, maybe not so much drama, but comas are necessary, though I read plenty of books now that are full of run-on sentences that surely would’ve been circled in any assignment but now pass for reading gold and leave me much befuddled. And breathless. So good to hear from you!

  9. I didn’t notice as many errors in books until I became a writer. A misspelled word or a missed punctuation isn’t a “toss it in the trash” thing for me. But constant errors are a big distraction to me, even if the story is good. I agree that even the best edited stories can still have a few errors. I edit mine to death, wait awhile and edit them to death again. And I still find things that need changing.

    1. Hi Marilyn, It’s nice to know some readers are forgiving–to a point! I feel the same way actually, though I have more professional pride than I like to admit about being a decent editor. I think it’s truly difficult to edit one’s own book to perfection. I find that the waiting period between edits helps a lot. Now I just need to remember to do it! Haha!

  10. I’m with Diane–unless they are glaring & repetitive, I can skip over minor editing errors.
    The last two books I have read contained factual errors that didn’t quite make me stop reading (they were not integral to the plot, but it did make me question everything the author wrote.)
    I think they were cases of “I don’t know what I don’t know,” and I have had critique partners point out things to me a few times, so I can sympathize, but I do feel it distracts the readers.

    1. Hey Kathleen, thanks for stopping in! I have had to eat my words about “I didn’t know what I didn’t know” more times than I would like to admit during my beginning writer phase. Back in those days, I had a fairly two-dimensional approach to writing as I had no clue how to do more than move characters around on the story chess board. Becoming a three-dimensional writer was a huge leap into the vast unknown for me, equal parts terrifying and exhilarating. Nowadays, I do my best to get a handle on subject material and I know better than to make assumptions. They always bite me in the rear. Even so, mistakes happen, even though I wish they wouldn’t. That’s why I rely on a critique partner and freelance editor to help me see things that I’ve become blinded to while editing.

  11. I agree with most of the comments in that one or two errors is pretty much the norm. I don’t like coming across them, but can accept it. More than that and it becomes a matter of how invested in the story I am. I’m like you, Maggie, I spend a huge amount of time reading and rereading. I also use some fancy computer tricks to find those repetitious phrases or words in close proximity since humans are notoriously bad at finding them!

    1. Hi Terry, I’m interested in hearing more about your fancy computer tricks. I tried using programs like Grammerly for a while but I eventually dropped them because I felt they made my writing stilted with everything perfectly perfect. If you’ve found the Golden Whistle, please let me know!

  12. Fortunately or not, my mother was an English teacher in a time when grammar was about 50% of what was taught. I learned grammar!
    Errors throw me off my stride because of this. It doesn’t usually throw me out of a good story line, just makes me lose the the thread momentarily.

    However, too many mistakes, and I am done.

    Having said that, I know that I often make mistakes, whether in professional writing or in fiction. I use spell check regularly, but it doesn’t catch everything – and it sometimes catches things which are not errors. I don’t usually have someone proofread reports for work, for a variety of reasons, but I prefer to have a spouse or friend proofread other things which I might submit. My wife is actually very good at this, and I appreciate her patience with me.

    1. I come from a similar background of strong grammar, Lois. I still remember how to diagram sentences. If you want to see visually what a run on sentence looks like, try diagramming it! Oh my goodness. But styles change, and for that we don’t have to look any farther than hemlines, pant leg width, and hair style! It shouldn’t surprise us that writing constructs change through time. But if something catches my eye, I find I start looking for it. The more I see it the more I wonder why I’m continuing to read. I’m happy to say it is rare that I get deep into a book with a wealth of errors. Life is short. I try to use it to read books I enjoy reading! You are lucky to have a good proofreader close at hand!

  13. Frankly, what often throws me off in my reading, is not the mistakes. It is when I have checked out a library book and some previous borrower has taken time to pencil in (or worse, pen in) corrections – some of which are just plain wrong.
    As a sometimes proofreader for others, it’s often that we all only see what we expect to see. That’s when the errors fly by.
    I do hate mistakes in history that were not intentionally put in by the author, but missed in research. I’m fine with the author, who often takes the time after the book, to explain why that author chose to change it up.

    1. Hi Jody, I love your perspective. With the pandemic I have been ordering more books instead of checking out library books, but I would also be very annoyed if someone had marked up a book I was reading! Goodness, that is a big ole hot mess. Nobody likes to make mistakes in history unless its an alternative history, and a fine series of those is Charlaine Harris’ Gunnie Rose series. Truly the fewer errors made in anything are for the best. I just hate it when something slips by me, something I should have seen. Can you tell I’ve been editing for weeks now?

  14. I’ll let a few slide, but get too distracted when there are several in every chapter. If it’s a new author, I’ll probably just give up. There are just too many good story tellers out there! If it’s an author I’ve previously enjoyed and there are several typos that I think should have been caught, I might PM them. Yes, I like to get involved! LOL!

    1. As an author, I would appreciate hearing from a sharp-eyed reader. I have heard, once or twice, from someone editing my POV and taking it from First (which is what I almost always use) into Third. That’s a whole ‘nuther conversation! I agree that too many mistakes spoil the pot… Best to ease on to another book to read. Thanks for visiting, Bonnie!

  15. Hi, Maggie, interesting topic, and I’m typing v-e-r-y carefully to avoid typos 😉 I am in the process of having handed in my copy edits and proofing and am still finding typos. It’s nerve wracking because I have some excellent beta readers who didn’t catch. My friend Annette Dashofy put it better than I can. Paraphrasing: If a typo makes it into a book after the laborious effort most conscientious authors go to ensure they don’t appear, that typo is a gremlin and was meant to be there
    Back to proofing and sweating. xo

    1. Donnell, I totally am on the same page with you. Gremlins exist in publishing, and probably elsewhere too! I think authors can’t afford to be perfectionists, but they can come pretty close. Always nice to connect with you!!!

  16. Poorly edited books take me out of the story. I will give an author several chances. I have noticed that new authors’ books tend to have more mistakes and both their writing and the editing of their books improves over time. Cozy mysteries tend to contain more mistakes then general fiction in my experience. There is a very popular cozy mystery author whose content I enjoy but had to give up reading her stories because the numerous mistakes drove me crazy and took me out of the story. Unfortunately, her books contain mistakes of all kinds-of fact, missing words, and grammatical mistakes etc. 2 books in a row had more than 10 mistakes in each book. The final straw for me was when the word “too” was used incorrectly BOTH times in SUCCESSIVE paragraphs. To save my sanity I simply had to stop reading her work. I know that I am pickier than most people when it comes to accepting errors and mistakes in books but I simply couldn’t fathom this sloppiness. I actually felt embarrassed for both the author and the publisher.

    1. I feel your frustration, Sue. I have had editors who took out the comma before “too,” as well as other commas I deemed necessary, to enhance the flow of the story and to keep the reader from pausing. If neither authors nor their editors and publishers see basic book errors, they are unlikely to follow previously accepted practices. Since I returned to live in my hometown nearly 20 years ago, I’ve found that the traits I remember about classmates from elementary school are still relevant all these years later. Someone who was sloppy with everything in grade school more often than not has a much different take on adult life that someone who was meticulous, careful, and punctual back in the day. Luckily for readers, there are plenty of authors, publishers, and editors who care about language and punctuation usage!

  17. No specific type of error will make me stop reading a book, but a poorly edited book with lots of errors is sometimes tossed. For some reason I notice far more errors in e-books than in physical ones, always wonder how that happens. It can be hard to catch all the typos in my own work, since I know what it’s supposed to say it’s easy to gloss over an error, much easier to find them in other people’s work! I think this is why self published books have so many more errors, no outside editor to catch the errors. I have been known to write corrections in library books at times 😉.

    1. Hi Judith, Good to see you here. I have seen errors in ebooks and print, though it is my observation, as someone stated prior, that newer authors have more errors. As a hybrid author, I find it daunting to be responsible for every step in the process. I’ll create my cover, do the formatting, and uploading, and then there are more decisions of course about keywords and BISAC categories (hope I got those initials right), and then all the book related stuff that a publisher can upload. I do it at Amazon and then go over to my other vendor to upload to all the rest of the world. Not all ebooks become print books, and with a print book I always order an ARC to proofread before it goes to the public. There’s something about seeing my words on a book page that makes me want to find all the errors. Of course I try to do that, but some slip through. I’m even seeing a scant handful of errors in big name author’s books. When it’s someone else’s work I try to balance out how many words they got right with the few errors I spot. Different strokes for different folks!

  18. I agree with the general standard of passing over one or two errors but stopping when the number rises. Writers are now expected to do everything after writing the book–editing, proofing , even setting (if it’s self-pubbed), jobs that were once done by professionals dedicated to their own area of skill. There are bound to be errors when so much is left to one person instead of three or four. The amazing part is that we do as well as we do overall.

    1. Susan, we share the same reader-mindset. I reach a point when I’m reading a mistake-laden book that I no longer trust the author to tell the story and I feel like I’m wasting my time. I know that my books written in the last few years are smoother and stronger in voice. Sometimes I go back and read something from those early days (or even more recently), and I typically have one or two reactions. The worst one is “did I really publish this?” and the best one is “Wow, this is good.” But we should like our books. I write for myself first and readers in general second, though my critique partner might also claim first place!

  19. I get annoyed by plot holes, or threads that are started but never followed. I’ll also roll my eyes at those “too stupid to live” moments my editor used to target in my work. But especially if certain questions are left unresolved, or the heroine overlooks some obvious points, I am unhappy with the book and less likely to pick up the next one.

    1. I hear you, Nancy. One of the edits I do in my work is to go back and resolve dangling story threads. It’s easy to overlook something during the first draft, but somewhere along about the fifth draft, the story should hang together. One thing I’ll mention from my Dreamwalker Mystery series is the story thread of what happened to Baxley’s husband. I didn’t solve that until book four because that was such an integral question of the series. I got a few emails about that from fans, but for the most part folks were happy with that series.

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