Tuesday, January 18, 2005


So last week a short story I wrote, Patron of the Akki, showed up on the Magic: The Gathering site. Immediately, Grubb Street got fan mail (which is way cool). Unfortunately, one of the first emails took me to task for numerous typos in the final version, and provided a zipped file of said errors (which is much less way cool).

Some of these typos were minor, but some were real wincers – use of “next” instead of “neck”, or “about” instead of “above”. Stuff that (might) make it past a grammar checker but would be caught in a moment by a casual reader. Stuff that makes the author look bad.

Fortunately, I happen to work within walking distance of the Magic: The Gathering team, and contacted them about the goofs. Red faces abounded, and none were redder than mine. Let me make this clear: Every typo in that first publication was in the original manuscript I delivered. It wasn’t like subliterate gnomes took over the process somewhere and put the more egregious errors into place. The gnome was at the keyboard in the first place.

Now while the net is eternal, it is also mutable, so within the day of having the discussion about the typos, a cleaner copy appeared at the site. Yet in making the fix, I thought of a few standard excuses writers use to cover their embarrassment. I had to reject them all as being disingenuous.

Blame the Editor is a wonderful excuse when you allow yourself be exposed to be a blathering idiot in print. Either they changed too much, or did not change enough. I’m not good with this one – the author has a base-line responsibility to turn over serviceable copy in the first place. An author should never assume that the editor will “fix things”.

Blame the Deadline also sounds good as an excuse. This particular opportunity brewed up out of nowhere in late November, with a first draft, review, revision and final draft all complete by Christmas. Indeed, it was the tight turnaround that I found attractive in the project. The length of the story meshed perfectly with the amount of time and what I had to say. A longer deadline would probably not served this story one whit.

Its Only the Internet is a new, modern excuse – this is a floodplain of a media, with new silt being laid down every week. Within two days the link to Patron was off the main page for another Magic article, and a week later a new story has shown up. Yet what is said on the Net does matter, and this way of thinking contributes to the second-class attitude that most wired-in writers complain about. Material that purports itself to be professional should be as professional in pixels as it is in ink.

So what am I left with? As I said at the start, Blame the Author. That’s where the ultimate responsibility lies, and after all, it is his name on the front. He takes the kudos and the brickbats.

So how did such teeth-grinding errors appear in the first place? Human nature – one of the hardest things to do as a writer is to read what you have written on the page as opposed to what you THINK you have written on the page. Often a second (or tenth) set of eyes will reveal obvious mistakes. Grubb Street is a semi-private journal, and is often is laced with typographic and grammatical errors just for that reason – it’s one guy writing. It is a rawer feed, often filled with static. Sometimes I am reading through old entries and see a teeth-grinder, and, the net being editable, can fix it.

But for the stuff going elsewhere, I am definitely going with a second (or tenth) set of eyes, to avoid the more obvious typos wherever possible.

More latre,