Spotting mistakes in your copy

I’m sure everyone finds this task exceptionally difficult. I have often seen errors in books from major publishers, though I have the feeling (which I can’t prove) that this has happened more in recent years than it did in the past.

Some authors use beta-readers – volunteers – to check their work for them, and one at least has documented the process. In her Author 2 Blueprint, Joanna Penn says she believes in using a professional copy-editor. But she also uses beta readers, and explains in some detail how this worked for her with her latest publication, Prophecy. Despite the best efforts of all these people, one of whom was a professional, we find the following 79% of the way into the Kindle edition of her book:
‘It certainly it doesn’t justify . . . .’

In another case, the author had used ‘at least 8’ beta-readers. Despite this, I found the following:
‘the ladder that leaned against at the side of the house’
Since I drew it to her attention this error has been corrected – another advantage of the print on demand system – but how did it escape so many pairs of eyes?

The reason is that the pairs of eyes were attached to brains and line-editing, copy-editing – whatever you care to call it – is exceptionally boring and exceptionally demanding at the same time. You have to force yourself not to read on, but to concentrate on what’s in front of you. What we seem to need is a copy-checking pigeon, a bird who will not lose concentration doing something so tedious. No doubt the late B F Skinner, who used pigeons as guidance systems in the cones of missiles, might have come up with such a solution.

But pigeons have disadvantages, as most of us will know, especially those of us with decking. There is the deck, then there is the poop deck.

A solution more in keeping with the spirit of the age would be a software program which, not susceptible to boredom, would do the checking for us. A single search found seven such programs, though I have no idea how effective they are. (My first search used the wrong terms, and so I discovered that software exists to detect plagiarism. Who’d have thunk it!)

It’s probably safe to say that any copy-checking program will compare what is fed into it against a set of norms or conventions, and will draw the author’s attention to deviations from those norms. So I would guess that the more an author abides by generally accepted conventions of grammar and punctuation, the more useful such a program is likely to be. Maybe some of us have experience of using one of these programs. If so, it would be interesting to know.

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