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  • Writer's pictureMark Meier


Updated: Sep 21, 2019

One of the things I’ve noticed recently in publishing is the expanded acceptance of mistakes and the loosening of standards in general. Is it because more and more writers are self-publishing?

Misplaced modifier. Sometimes the way a sentence is put together makes it sound like a scarf sped away from an intersection instead of the cab driver.

Misuse of adverbs. “I feel badly when people get hurt.”

Not using the adverb form. “I feel bad when people get hurt bad.”

Then there are the words that get dropped, misspelled words that create other words, sentence fragments, and a whole slew of other errors. They’re creeping into the books that get published - even by bigger publishers.

I’m thinking that talented storytellers are giving up on the larger publishing houses. They’re good enough to sell piles of books, and instead of the paltry 7% royalty rates the publishers pay, they get 35% (or more) of the cover price.

But don’t they sell fewer copies? Yes. But when a big publisher sells triple the number, it still doesn’t make up for getting five times the “royalty” rate.

Let’s use some round numbers to make it simple.

If I get a book publisher to sign me, and they sell a thousand copies of a book for ten bucks, a 7% royalty rate gets me seventy cents per copy. Multiply that by a thousand copies, and I earn $700.

If I do it myself, I might only sell 300 copies. But that same book gets me $3.50 per copy, which means I earn $1,050.00.

So, in order to sign authors, the bigger publishing houses have to give them a better deal. And that means they have to cut costs. Since people cost more than anything else in producing a book, that means fewer people are looking over the manuscripts before they hit the book stands. That’s why I think the errors are proliferating.

A side effect of cost-cutting is also the move toward only a single space between sentences. Again, using simple numbers, let’s say a page in a book has thirty places where they could use a single space between sentences. Multiply that by a hundred pages, and you have 3,000 fewer spaces.

That means 1,500 characters if the font is a floating width type instead of fixed width. If your average word contains five characters, then that’s 300 words of space. I recall hearing the average page contains 250 words.

That means every copy printed will take two extra pages. Those two pages take extra time to print. Sure, it might not be much, but if a big publishing house churns out 5,000 copies of “Crimes in Wonderland”, it adds up. So does the shipping cost.

Pardon me for using a lot of math in this post. There’s a lot of minutia, though, that has major effects on publishing. Print On Demand has given an outlet for so many talented writers, but it’s not without drawbacks.

Back to my original point of errors, though.

I’ve decided I need to work harder at my storytelling rather than the minutia of comma placement. After all, it’s the story that sells. Without selling books my stories don’t get told.

That’s what my goal is - to tell as many stories to as many people as I can. Making money from it is a benefit, but I really like telling stories more than earning money.

EDIT to answer to the comment by Margaret Skea:

I'm not opposed to sentence fragments when they serve a purpose. I've heard, "You have to know the rules to know when to break them." Dialog is a great place to use sentence fragments.

However, when the narrative is in a distant third person and a convoluted wording in that narrative is.

Is what? That's the kind of thing I was writing about in my original post. Perhaps I described it inartfully.

Complete sentences aren't always required, but the thought should be complete.

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Margaret Skea
Margaret Skea

Interesting post - I hate to read blatant errors and in my own books, both the self-published ones and those that are jointly published by a mainstream publisher, enormous effort is made to ensure errors don't slip through. But despite all the efforts occasionally they do. One such, in my third Scottish book, was a serious typo (hilarious in a way, but serious). Analysing how it had happened - two words of completely different meaning but made up of almost identical consonant strings - bslsk / blsk made it understandable, but no less serious. The ebook was fine - I contacted the publisher and they quickly re-uploaded a fixed version. The print is another matter. There is an entire firs…

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