Sometimes it’s those specific words, and sometimes it’s words to that effect. Going to send a manuscript to an agent, or submit a short story to a competition, or show it to anyone at all? “Make sure it’s publication ready.”
When people say that, most of them mean that your work should be free of typos and misspellings, though some will toss a few other items into the mix. If you’re an indie author, people will heap dire warnings upon your head about it. “If a reader finds a typo, they’ll know you’re not a professional and they’ll immediately throw your book onto a fire and dance naked around it, chanting curses against you!” (Or something like that.)
I take every typo as a personal failure. I was raised by a grammar fiend. I’ve been writing since I was wee. I write and edit at work. Unreasonably, I tend to feel that this should somehow make me exempt from stupid mistakes. (Spoiler: It doesn’t.) Typos are the bane of my existence, and when I find one, I feel horrible. I feel like I had one chance to save the world, and I blew it. Catastrophe. Calamity. Alarums and excursions. It’s bad, mmkay?
Here’s the reality: “No typos” is the ideal. We should all strive for that. But guess what? Typos happen all the damned time. To everyone.
I reread a couple of books by two different bestselling authors recently. We’re talking unicorns — authors who could publish their grocery lists and make a million bucks. The kind who have many movies made and remade from their material. Authors whose names you know whether you’ve read their books or not. Guess what I found? Typos. In both. More than one, even. These are books issued by huge publishing houses. They have professional editors whose entire purpose is eliminating these kinds of errors… and yet.
It’s possible that both authors lost a few readers as a result, but they’re still bestselling authors. Neither of their careers have tanked. Of course, they also have a lot more capital to spend, don’t they? Readers might be more forgiving in their cases, whereas an unknown indie author might be judged a bit more harshly. I’m not saying that it’s ok to publish a book that’s riddled with errors — you’re not doing yourself any favors, there — but I think that having a healthy perspective is necessary. Typos happen. Chances are, no matter how hard you try, something is liable to get past you, your early readers, your advance readers, and your mother.
This is definitely a case of “do what I say, not what I do,” because I haven’t managed to quit feeling like an abject failure every time I stumble across a typo. I’m working on it, though. The nice thing about being an indie author in the digital age is that you can often fix the stupid things yourself at a moment’s notice. I can’t fix the paperbacks that have already been purchased, but I can fix the problem in the eBooks and for any future paperback sales. Try doing that when your publisher has already shipped a boatload of copies to bookstores. I’m sure they won’t mind recalling them and fixing the error and reprinting them and shipping them back out again…