Have you ever been reading a book, perhaps a classic novel or a recently published book, and come across a typo? WTF? It’s annoying isn’t it? You just paid $18 to $30 for the book and the publisher clearly skimped on proofreaders (or should we say “poofreaders”?). Dedicated readers and book lovers have a few options. You can hurl the book across the room, sending it crashing into the wall. As it falls to the floor in a crumpled mess you curse the author and the publisher using an appropriate Shakespearean curse like “Thou paper-faced rampallians who have conceived of such wretched, weasel-like typos! Get thee to the blasted inferno of Hell!” Sure it feels good, but the sense of satisfaction is fleeting. The typo is still in there, taunting you, haunting you…
Another option is to photograph the page and email the jpeg file to the publisher along with a note pointing out the error. There is a deeper sense of satisfaction with this option because now, at least, you have the hope that it will be corrected in a future printing. And when you confirm that a later edition is corrected, you can take credit for it.
But there is a third option: you can visit the kindred souls at Book Errata (bookerrata.com) that keep a comprehensive list of books and their errors that really annoy readers and bibliophiles. Incidentally, errata (the plural of erratum, derived from the Latin word errare meaning “to err”) is defined as an error that occurs in printing or writing. In publishing an errata is a list of corrected errors that is appended to a book, either as an additional page or as an individual page that is slipped in (known as an errata slip). An erratum is also known as a typo, short for typographical error. The Book Errata community maintains the fascinating Corrigenda List, a list of every book that has been published with typos. Corrigenda, as you may have surmised is another Latin loanword: corrigendum (singular form) is derived from corrigere meaning “bring to order,” defined as something to be corrected, typically a typo in a printed book. When you click on the name of the book in the Corrigenda list, you can view every single typo listed by page number. Books are rated as: “single error, slightly sloppy, sloppy, very sloppy, and horrendous.” The best aspect of Book Errata is that book publishers actually pay attention to this website. Many books that are listed now have the rating of “no errors” because they have been corrected based on the eagle-eyed readers’ feedback.
Let’s take a closer look at a classic novel that is rated “very sloppy.” What’s truly surprising is that the novel is a classic that has been around for 400 years (in fact, since it was first published in 1620, 2020 is its 400th anniversary). The novel? Don Quixote by Miguel De Cervantes, specifically the edition published by Ecco in 2003 (translated by Edith Grossman). Here are some of the egregious typos:
Page 163, 170: “Accompanying them were two men on horseback and two on foot; the ones on horseback had flintlocks, and those on foot carried javelins and swords [versus] …for this was the man holding the flintlock…and those on horseback put their hands on their swords, and those on foot grasped their javelins” Correction: consistency
Page 172, 195: “…took the basin from his head and struck him three or four blows with it on his shoulders and smashed it an equal number of times on the ground until he had shattered it. [versus] I have the basin in the bag, all dented… they see it as only a barber’s basin, they do not attempt to obtain it, as was evident when that man tried to shatter it, then left it on the ground…” Correction: consistency
Page 281: “…even though he has no knowledge of [ ] wife’s adultery…” Correction: his wife’s
Page 824: “His large, dappled horse appeared to be a Frisian…” Correction: Friesian
Page 830: May may Barabbas go with you…” Correction: May appears twice
For crying out loud! Isn’t 400 years enough time to get a freaking proofreader to get this classic novel published correctly? Are we tilting at windmills, here?!
So why are there so many typos, especially in recently published books? The truth is, there are fewer proofreaders today in the digital world than in the good ole days when authors typed their manuscripts (with typewriters — remember those?). In short, books are published faster, skipping many steps in the traditional publishing process (manuscript, galley proofs, revised proofs, blue lines, etc.) As Virginia Heffernan explains in an article for The New York Times: “For readers who find humanity in orthographic quirks, these are great times. Book publishers used to struggle mightily to conceal an author’s errors; publishers existed to hide those mistakes, some might say. But lately the vigilance of even the great houses has flagged, and typos are everywhere…. Editors I spoke to confirmed my guesses. Before digital technology unsettled both the economics and the routines of book publishing, they explained, most publishers employed battalions of full-time copy editors and proofreaders to filter out an author’s mistakes. Now, they are gone.”
We should note that dedicated book collectors actually look for and want printing errors in the books they collect because they often establish the first edition and first printing of a book. Paradoxically, the more errors the first edition contains, the more valuable the book. Take, for example, Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, that includes eight egregious printing mistakes. The value of a first edition? As of this writing, there is one for sale on AbeBooks for $190,538!
So if you find a typo in a book, be an Errata Superhero: head over to the Corrections and Omissions page and type in the title, author, publisher, publication date, page number, error and submit the form. The website also includes the contact information for all the major book publishers and their many imprints in case you are really annoyed and want to give the publisher a piece of your mind. Either way, you can take great satisfaction of joining the ranks of the Book Errata warriors, dedicated to obliterating annoying typos from the pages of notable books. Onward!
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7 thoughts on “What To Do When You Find a Typo in a Book”
… there are less proofreaders…
… there are fewer proofreaders …
Hi John: Thanks for catching that. Cheers. Alex
You have a typo in YOUR article. The word “book” should be plural. 🤓
But there is a third option: you can visit the kindred souls at Book Errata (bookerrata.com) that keep a comprehensive list of book and their errors that really annoy readers and bibliophiles.
Thanks for catching the ironic typo. Post has been update. Cheers. Alex
Excellent, and yes, I always notice typos and always wonder who was supposed to have proofread that page.
On that note… your formulation of ” ‘ole ” surprised me a bit. I would have expected ” ol’ ,” but I probably just need enlightenment.
All your points about proof-reading are, generally, well-made. About Cervantes however, just two things: Edith Grossman, the translator, is very well-respected; and Cervantes’s reputation among the Spanish is as a very careless writer who did make lots of errors entirely of his own. I am not sure of the cases you quote, but it could be that they were of his own doing!
Isabella: Thank you for visiting Bookshelf and your note. The egregious typos are not reflective of the lack of Grossman’s level of scholarship or achievement, they are a reflection of the publisher’s failure to proofread the final book proofs. When an author translates a work, misspellings are corrected for the target language (unless they are part of dialogue or intended effect, eg, Joyce’s stream of consciousness). One of literature’s most famous editors was Maxwell Perkins who describes the many famous authors he worked with who were terrible spellers. His job was to correct all the misspellings. But sometimes, the publisher made mistakes on his corrections. It is a process…