Should You Rely on Spell-Checker to Edit Your Book?

Feeling Frustrated

Feeling frustrated by spell-checker’s missed errors

 “Dew knot trussed yore spell chequer two fined awl yore mistakes.”  —Brendan Hills  (with thanks to alert reader Eva P Scott for supplying this perfect example)

If you’re like me, you depend upon your word-processing software’s spell-checker to pinpoint errors when you’re composing.

Let’s be honest here: even if you did once know how to spell thousands of words, your digital editing buddy has taken over the heavy lifting. Unless you’ve turned yours off (and why would you??).

When you’re racing your fingers across the keyboard, ideas spouting forth like lava, spell-check is an amazing time-saver and a godsend.

So, why do so many experts like Guy Kawasaki insist that you must pay a competent editor to go through your manuscript before you publish it?

Good question!

Doesn’t good software make expensive editors obsolete? You might think so.

However, judging by the sheer number of errors I’m seeing in ebooks I’ve bought from Amazon, we’d all be better off to err on the side of caution and pay up!

One of the funniest mistakes I’ve seen this past year was from an author who described the device that’s glued to the inside of your windshield as a “review mirror.” Seriously?

“But I can’t afford it!” you scream.

But can you afford not to hire an editor? Think about this for a minute. In a recent post, author Peg Brantley (Red Tide, The Missings) quoted some stunning statistics:

Somewhere in the neighborhood of 1,000,000 books are published each year in the U.S. alone. That’s more than 83,000 a month. 2,700 a day. 114 books a minute. Every minute.

Now, where would you rather be among those million new books this year? Top 10% or bottom 10%? Here’s how to guarantee the latter: publish a book filled with mistakes like the ones in the original contest post.

If you want to sell books, lots of them, yours will need to be nearly error-free.

“I can do it myself,” you insist.

Can you really? Can you, your husband, or your best writing buddy catch at least 99% of the mistakes in your manuscript?

History and personal experience say, “not likely.”

The trouble centers around a lack of objectivity. You know what you wrote. Your spouse loves you, and your friend doesn’t want to hurt your feelings. They’re not editors, so you can’t depend on them to be thorough and professional.

So what’s a writer to do?

You could settle for less. I’m not trying to rain on your parade here. I’m trying to be honest, the way a paid editor would level with you.

Even if your story is fantastic, but it’s filled with mistakes — only your friends will buy it.

If you have optimistic goals about sales of your book and want to keep those objectives in sight, you will have to publish the best possible product that you can produce. Don’t distract readers with errors. They’ll never come back.

And they won’t even bother to leave you reviews. Or even review mirrors.

Trust me, the future success of your book depends on word of mouth and great reviews.

Otherwise, you simply don’t have enough friends.

Where do you want your book to be in the year 2014? If you’d like to see it hit one of Amazon’s best-seller lists, then bite the bullet and hire a professional editor.

Please don’t wait for poor reviews and dismal sales figures to prove my point for you.

Invest in your future and expect success for your book.

[Editor’s note: The original post contained no less than five dozen intentional errors, whose places are now held above with red corrections.

Every one was of the type missed by spell-checking software: homophones, misused contractions, verb-tense mistakes, dropped letters, swapped letters, added letters, similar words (like district and distract), words combined and resplit (“are cent” vs “a recent”), improper capitalization, and more.

We had a fine and lively May Contest as over THREE DOZEN contestants battled to uncover every error.]

»Photo credit:  Zach Klein

questionWhat are some of the most jarring errors you’ve uncovered in your own revisions and reading? (No names, please!) Add your examples in the Comments section, just below.


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  1. Absolutely not. Are you joking, perchance? Even editors don’t correct all of the mistakes. Spell-checker doesn’t stand a chance checking and correcting a whole book.

    • That’s for sure, Raymond!

      Even with help, I had a devil of a time trying to be certain there were no remaining errors in this post–which is only the length of a minor chapter. (And, yes, I had Editorial assistance!)

      Then, even when you have your novel “perfect,” there are a whole slew of new problems introduced during file conversion. ‘Tis worthy of a major headache or two, isn’t it? 🙂

  2. Please see my initial judging announcement in Comments to the “Errors Revealed” post.

    Winners to be chosen, next.

  3. I reviewed a professionally-edited and published book for a major publishing house for my previous blog. The last two chapters were full of errors. It looked like either the editing had not been completed on the original version, or the book’s last two chapters had been rewritten and not edited after the re-write. That point was made in my review.


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