Resurrect Old Frank!

I know what you’re thinking. Who’s Frank? But instead of telling you right off the bat, let me ask you a question. How many “typos” did you read through in the last book you bought? Did you stare at the price tag on the book jacket (or the receipt you got on your digital account) and wish there was a way to get your money back on a defective product?

Old Frank would have never let those mistakes reach the printed page–or a digital page, had there been a digital reader in his day. He did his dirty work off dirty paper. Frank was a venerable proofreader, the pride of Moore Business Forms and the bane of my typesetting day. With his sparse conversation and implacable will, he could have been the lead in the Melville story, Bartleby the Scrivener.

Frank occupied a tiny office one floor down from my typesetting machine. The omnipresent clanking from the printing presses stopped right outside his door, as if his enervative stare could even stop sound waves in their path. I would visit Frank several times a day because every page I produced had to pass his inspection. And inspect he did with his little rheumy eyes, his bright desk lamps, his magnifying glass. Nothing got past Frank.

One time, the boss gave me a multi-page job laid out on blueprint sized paper. When the boss unfolded it and spread the pages to show me, I nearly quit on the spot. Half the copy was covered in coffee stains and most pages were covered with a patchwork of cut-outs haphazardly taped together. The specs were scrawled in what looked like the Aramaic alphabet. When I protested, and I did so vociferously even at the cost of being fired, the boss told me to ask Frank for help.

What followed was a brainstorming session with Frank. He never wavered from his certitude that the coffee stain on the lower left of page four was actually a product name, or the seam between two shreds of tape meant that the margin was one inch wide. And so it went. And went again for days. Until the job passed muster.

The moral of the story is Frank cared about what left his desk to be published. And I cared too, even if I complained. We wanted to get it right, whether it was an insurance form, a booklet of product specifications, or the tiny label on a bottle of medicine. Think about what a typo might do on some of those things.

In a book, even if it’s not a textbook or a scholarly nonfiction book, errors should matter. After writers expend so much time and pour their life out on to the pages, shouldn’t the end product read as perfect as possible? There’s no lemon law for books. After all, a hardcover only costs about thirty bucks, so if the publisher doesn’t do quality control, who does it hurt?

What do you think? Do writers care anymore? Do publishers?

Mickey is the author of the Kendra Desola mystery series including Deadly Traffic and School of Lies, published by Second Wind LLC. Visit her website for more information.

~ by mickeyhoffman on January 7, 2012.

7 Responses to “Resurrect Old Frank!”

  1. I care! I’ve never heard anyone else complain about this, but it seems to be a growing problem in the publishing industry. I can’t even recall the last book I read that didn’t have a single typo in it. Some authors even get away without fact-checking, apparently, and no one bats an eye. “Good enough” now seems the standard for anything. How sad.

  2. AMEN! Great article, Mickey.

  3. Some of us care, but most don’t. Just think about it — with texting creating a new language and spell check/grammar check negating a need for knowing spelling and grammar rules, I have a hunch a lot of readers don’t even know there are typos in the books. Also, self-publishing is lowering standards. I know this isn’t a popular opinion, but it’s the truth. The prevailing attitude is that if the author is pleased with the book, that’s all that counts, certainly not how many typos there are.

  4. It is not only a question of misspellings. I just read a book with strings of pure gibberish embedded in the text, random letters that didn’t even form words.

  5. Great post, Mickey. I grew up at a time when spelling, punctuation and grammar were drummed into us from an early age, and I’m so glad about that now. I’m also a perfectionist, and go through my manuscripts with a fine toothcomb, checking every spelling and punctuation mark. Sadly, so many authors today (dare I say especially the younger ones?) seem to have had no grounding in the basics, and there are times when I wonder if anyone has actually checked the final proofs before a book goes to print.

  6. I am the author of the children’s book Fern Valley – A Collection of Short Stories and I have an almost obsessive passion for perfection. I even hate it if I accidentally make and error in my texting on Face Book. I am forever sending little correction notes. I have reviewed many books for other authors as favors, but one time I had to actually refuse to do a review for a woman who had asked me. I couldn’t even make it past the first chapter there were so many mistakes. How does a book get past editing like that? I take great pride in my work, and I would hope others would do the same.

  7. I care. It’s so easy to get distracted by typos–crazy images suddenly coming to mind that have nothing to do with the story. I’m sure most books end up with a few typos, but occasional distractions are like a need for coffee, frequent ones more like undesirable disco lights.

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