Correcting Author Mistakes

A few days ago I was trolling the interwebs looking for any tidbits about Rachel Gibson’s next book. (Yes, I know her last book only came out 2 months ago, but I’m impatient. Sue me.) So anyway, I visited her blog and happened upon a post where she defends herself, in general terms, against reader criticism of so-called mistakes she’s made in her hockey romances. Apparently she’s received a number of reader letters/emails regarding the subject.

Now, throughout the years I’ve read comments by readers in two camps: those who love her books because she gets the sport “right,” and those who’ve sworn off her books because she gets it “wrong.” I myself am in neither camp because although I love reading hockey romances, I haven’t the first clue about the sport itself. But her article got me wondering about how often readers write to an author to correct a real or perceived mistake.

Personally, I can recall a few instances where I complained on a reader blog or message board about some error or another an author made, and I remember at least one review I wrote where I criticized the author for a mistake. But I’ve never actually taken the time to write to an author directly with a complaint. Perhaps it’s because I’ve just never encountered a mistake I felt was so egregious to be worth the effort.

Or maybe I’m just lazy.

Either way, I’m curious about how many readers are out there who actually do write to an author, so I’ve come up with a simple yes/no poll for everyone. And if you wouldn’t mind sharing, I’d love to hear your comments about why you do or don’t.

– Katie Mack

Have you ever contacted an author about a mistake?

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24 Responses to “Correcting Author Mistakes”

  1. Teresa says:

    I read an arc of a Nora Roberts Novel where the hero asks a suspect if he remembers where he was in 1988, stating “the year San Francisco won the Super Bowl”. As a devout Redskin fan and Season Ticket holder, that year the Redksins won the Superbowl. I wrote the publisher and Nora stating the above. When the book was published, one of the first things I did was see if the mistake had been corrected (it was). It was the only time I ever wrote an author about a mistake. Some posters on her message board wanted to know why I was making such a big deal over something so trivial? They weren’t into the NFL, but as a Redskin fan, it was a big deal to me. The hero also stated a movie that won the Academy Award. I didn’t check to see if it won (I do believe it was nominated). It wasn’t important to me, but the Super Bowl winners were.

    I had also read another arc where the name of a medication was misspelled. As a nurse, I picked up on this, but my feeling was “its an arc, it’ll be corrected when the book is published”. I never checked the published book. But I figured as a nurse it was something that others wouldn’t pick up on.

    My point is, it depends on how passionate the reader is about things. I don’t know much about hockey, so if I read her hockey romance, I wouldn’t know whether or not this author was in error.

  2. Scorpio M. says:

    Unless it is an egregious mistake, readers should just let it go. I read that blog entry by Rachel and while I am no hockey guru I found her explanation plausible.

  3. Jane AAR says:

    I don’t. Mostly because I assume someone else has, and you really don’t need more than one correction. I also, lie Scorpio, generally don’t care, unless it’s something major. I had a dream the other night in which I read a book to review that had the characters talking about the Titanic sinking. In the early 1800s. I told hte author about it, and she got super huffy and insisted that the ship sank in 1812.

    In that case, yes, I would contact the author/publisher. But thankfully, errors of that magnitude don’t come up that often. :)

  4. Kati says:

    No. I’ve never written an author to correct a mistake, except for books where I’m beta-reading for the author. In which case, they’re looking for that sort of feedback.

    My profession happens to be one that is featured occasionally in contemporary romance (I’m an event planner), and it does aggravate if the author gets it wrong. Although, I must say that I’ve been really pleased with Nora Roberts’ Bride Quartet, she gets MUCH more right than wrong. And frankly if it’s done well, I’m always that much more fascinated by the book. But I don’t believe I could ever muster the energy to send an email to an author correcting them for something they got wrong about my profession.

    In my opinion, it’s a lot like readers who get completely bent out of shape by historical inaccuracies. They just don’t phase me — unless the book is poorly written to begin with. Otherwise, I tend to go with the flow, and very often have little understanding of why a reader would get completely up in arms about something that’s not accurate, unless it’s completely egregious, which many of the kerfuffles I’ve seen all I’ve thought is “really? huh.” But, that’s just me. I completely respect the reader’s right to dislike a book because of something they know is completely inaccurate. It’s just not something I’d bother writing the author to correct.

  5. Elysa says:

    Nope. Generally, factual or historical innacuracy doesn’t bother me much because part of the fun for me is looking up said facts to double check them – if authors are always spot on, I would feel no sense of accomplishment in my own learning process.

    Besides, the errors that bother me the most are grammar and spelling. Those kind of errors throw me out of a story faster than anything else. However, this often cannot be laid at the feet of the author, but rather the copy editor.

    Author’s are responsible for style and story, both of which are very subjective. Which means if I don’t like it, I just don’t read it.

  6. xina says:

    No, I’ve never written an author concerning what I thought was a mistake. Just recently I read a book where the author named an actor in a certain movie, but that particular actor didn’t star in that movie. I wondered at the time how in the world that mistake wasn’t caught. I’ve caught several mistakes in a few romances that were set in my city…Minneapolis. One of the authors is actually from here, so there was no excuse for that. I brushed it all off though, and finished all the books, but those mistakes stick in mind almost more than the story. And that’s not a good thing.

  7. Susan/DC says:

    I’ve never contacted an author because by the time I get the book, it’s already been published and there doesn’t seem to be a point. However, if I got a book pre-publication (i.e., if I were a beta reader like Kati), I would notify the author because there is still time to make a correction. I assume authors care enough about their work to want to get it right and want to avoid e-mails from annoyed readers later.

    That said, I would only correct facts, not style or grammar. Like Elysa, I’m very picky about grammar but know that most people don’t care. It’s why I read a chapter in the bookstore, because if the author is careless about such things I won’t buy the book. I’ve read a number of excerpts on author websites that left me flabbergasted at the clumsy style or easily caught (even if not by spellcheck) errors. I don’t expect everyone to know that you use who, not that, when referring to a person, as in the book title “The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat”. I do expect a writer to know the difference between “alter” and “altar” and expect a publisher to pay someone to catch that error should it occur. Unfortunately, many publishers today, especially e-pubs, don’t seem to use copy editors any more.

  8. Patricia says:

    I agree with prior comments and I am tempted to correct a mistake only if it touches an area about which I have a high degree of interest. Lots of romance writers get the rules concerning titles wrong, and I find it annoying but brush it off. The one time that I contacted an author (Kelley Armstrong) was when I was really bothered by the way she had one of her major characters, Lucas Cortez, who is a lawyer, practicing law all over the United States. I thought that, since she is Canadian, she might not be aware that in the U.S. law licenses are local by state and there are fairly strict laws in states about practicing law without a license from that state. I emailed her about the “mistake” and she responsed pretty quickly, and I ended up having an email exchange with her in which I explained what could and could not be done and answered questions. She told me what she would do in the future when she had that character taking on a case in a different jurisdiction and she did it.

  9. KristieJ says:

    Fascinating!! As someone practically raised on hockey, I’ve always given her excellent kudo’s for knowing the game. And to think that some readers say she doesn’t – well I dare say she knows it better than the readers who complain!!

    Growing up in a house filled with testosterone and learning to love sports, I do get quite irked at what I consider major errors where it wouldn’t take any time for the author to do even the slightest bit of homework. I mean I’ve seen readers come down hard on historical authors for the slightest of infractions but at least where ever I look, contemporary sports romance authors are give almost a free pass when they get it wrong.
    For exapmple, I quite enjoyed Dierdre Martin’s first hockey book and was all settled in, figuratively speaking, to enjoy a new sports romance author. But then she had a star player in her first book become the HEAD coach of an NHL team the very next year. There’s no way that would ever happen. It took Wayne Gretzky years before he became a coach and he was the best player ever and there are still players being groomed for coaching in minor leagues. No way would a player jump that fast that quick. After that I couldn’t read any more by her.

    But the worst offender is Jill Shalvis. I read Slow Heat and I liked the story – I really did. And I can totally see why a lot of readers enjoyed it. The story was fun, the hero/hero were interesting. But she made some MAJOR, MAJOR errors that totally drew me out of the book and frankly, annoyed me that she hadn’t done even the simplest of research into a game I love. As a result, I downgraded the book quite a bit – and it hurt to do that.

    But I’ve never considered contacting an author to point out their errors. First off, the book is already in print so what could they do?? And in the case of Slow Heat and Double Play, there were plenty of readers who loved them (and again I see why) so for me to complain would be like sour grapes or nitpicking or whining or something – the exact word escapes me – to contact an author to bitch at them. The rare time I do contact an author is when they’ve done something that’s really pleased me or affected me in a positive way. Why concentrate on the negative??

  10. Danielle D says:

    I just got done reading a book were the heroine lives in Chicago — instead of calling Michigan Avenue the Magnificant Mile she called it the Miracle Mile which is in Los Angeles. I have to admit that it took me right out ofthe book.

    No, I didn’t write the author!

    • Leslie Kelly says:

      Danielle D: I just got done reading a book were the heroine lives in Chicago — instead of calling Michigan Avenue the Magnificant Mile she called it the Miracle Mile which is in Los Angeles. I have to admit that it took me right out ofthe book.No, I didn’t write the author!

      Was it mine? Cause I did that once…felt like a total idiot once I actually got the book in print and read it. I did know better, just had a complete brain fart!

  11. Pat H says:

    I’ve worked in public libraries off and on since I was in high school in the mid-1960s and am always amazed and amused by the people who borrow books and then leave everything from marginalia and corrections to long “reviews” in the books they return (many with comments in pen).

    I’ve always wondered if they share these comments with the authors.

    (As for myself, I’ve never contacted an author after publication with corrections.)

  12. LeeB. says:

    I contacted an author earlier this year about the fact that the heroine in her book flew into a southern Italian city and two pages later she was driving to her hotel from a northern Italian city. The author did reply and said a copy editor should have caught the mistake.

    I also remember emailing an author a few years ago about an error and offering to proofread her future books for free. Didn’t hear back from her. ; )

  13. Blythe says:

    I’ve never done it. But I always feel free to point out mistakes in my reviews, and I have had authors contact me afterwards.

    Obviously, you only point out the mistakes you notice. Hockey mistakes would sail right by me. Mixing up dates in a Revolutionary War story or calling Lower Downtown Denver “LoDo” 100 years ahead of time, not so much.

  14. Leigh says:

    I read a book by an author that hadn’t had a release in a while. I was glad that she had a new book out, and really enjoyed it and told her so, but also told her that they eye color of the heroine changed from green to brown in the book. . .

    That is the only book that I can remember that I commented on about a mistake. . .

  15. Jane O says:

    I figure by the time I’m reading it, the book is in print and it’s too late for corrections, but I do remember being irritated when an author attributed Leonardo’s Mona Lisa to Michaelangelo, especially since the painting was referred to several times in the book. Somebody should have caught that.

  16. Chartreuse says:

    In historicals set in Britain it’s jarring to see a peer or the heir apparent to an earl, marquess, or duke, called Lord Firstname Lastname by someone who should know better. I like to let experienced authors know they’ve blown it, because if they pay attention, it makes their next efforts more readable.

  17. JulieLeto says:

    I know the poll says that 93% of people responding to the poll do not write the author, but somebody is, that’s for sure. I’ve gotten a few notes myself.

    Mistakes happen. Sometimes, the “mistake” is not a mistake at all. I’ve had people write to me to tell me something was wrong, when in fact, it wasn’t. I had a reviewer take down the score on a baseball book I was involved in (an anthology) because we had a pro team possibly moving to Las Vegas–this reviewer insisted this was impossible because of all these laws. (I can’t remember the details…it was a while ago.)

    This was not something we researched, to be honest. I believed the reviewer. (Book was out, nothing I could do.) But guess what? I live in Tampa and the Rays might move if they don’t get a new stadium and guess where they might go? Las Vegas.

    So who is right?

    Before I was published, I had a historical romance author grade down a contest entry I’d submitted because of “historical inaccuracy.” I’d spent months doing research–I knew what I’d written was correct. So again, who is right?

    And does it really matter?

    To me, all that matters is if I enjoyed a book. The characters and the story are much more important than the minutiae. I’ve never written to an author, probably because I know how hard it is to get all the facts right and because chances are, I could be wrong about what I think is wrong. However, I will confess that if a book has too many questionable facts, I do put it down.

  18. Interesting comment, Julie. I do competition judging from time to time and I try very hard NOT to grade down because of historical inaccuracy. In fact most comps ask you not to grade down for that reason, but to concentrate on the writing. So I strike a compromise – I point out what I believe to be a mistake, but with the caveat that I might be wrong, and also that a lot of people won’t care one way or the other. I make it a stronger comment if the error touches on the premise of the story – marriages dissolved in a heartbeat, illegitimate daughters inheriting dukedoms, that sort of stuff. I also make it clear that I am not marking down, just including the comment for the writer’s use. And let’s face it, I might be wrong. It’s been known to happen. Although I admit, I’d have to grade down if I found a camera popping up in Regency England – or anywhere else in that time frame.

    Elizabeth

  19. Leslie Kelly says:

    I have had a few notes like this over the years and, with only one exception, had no problem receiving them. I’m human–I make mistakes. And, probably like a lot of authors, I work on a book so long that at a certain point, the words begin to glaze in front of my eyes and my mind fills in stuff that I think is there…but really isn’t.

    The only time I got annoyed was when a reader sent me a really NASTY email saying how stupid and lazy I was for getting the name of a movie wrong. I’d mentioned Philadelphia Story instead of High Society…same story, one was the musical with Bing Crosby, one the non-musical with Cary Grant. Anyway, I gritted my teeth and wrote back to thank her, only to get an instant-reply that my email was blocked from writing to her! Which told me she just wanted the chance to ream me out.

  20. Ellen AAR says:

    I’ve done it a time or two, usually when the author makes a mistake about a Catholic topic. One of the biggest ones (and everyone seems to make this) is calling someone who is trying to be a nun, but who has not yet taken her final vows, a novitiate. She’s a novice. The novitiate is the name of the place where the novices live.

    And getting titles wrong really, really bothers me as well.

  21. JoAnne says:

    While I’m not a hockey fan, I do spend a lot of time in rinks as a figure skater, instructor and competition official. I’ve read Gibson’s hockey stories and don’t remember anything egregiously wrong with them (mostly I thought the characters were a bit on the cardboard side).

    But it irks me to no end when authors throw in skating details so wrong that it’s obvious the closest they’ve ever come to a rink is watching Disney on Ice. The tell-tale to me is when the plot involves a competitive skater at the National or World Championships and the scores are announced as “perfect 10s”. Figure skating – at least on the Olympic end of it has never used 10 as a scoring base. The older system had 6.0 as the top mark (and it was “marks” and not “score.”) About abou six years ago the scoring system was changed to a “Code of Points” system where the highest total points wins and scores (Yes, “scores”) at the world and national levels are in the 100s. The only event sthat used “10″ as a mark were some made-for-tv professional competitions that had celebrity judges and featured skaters no longer competiting at the Olympic level; they were more shows than competitions since everybody got paid just to show up and very often the audience got to vote along with the panel.

    The only time I wrote to an author though was when one had her Regency heroine lacing up white figure skates for a turn around the pond. White skates didn’t exist until the early 20th century when Sonja Henie introduced them to shocase her tiny feet. Back in Regency days, skates were just blades that strapped on to regular shoes. I don’t remember the exact response but it was basically, “Oh, no one toher than a figure skating historian would know that so who cares.” I’ve never read another of that author’s work.

  22. Kathy says:

    I have to admit that I pointed out an error to an author who — while her writing was somewhat enjoyable — was not a very nice person on various message boards (knew more than anyone else, was always correct because she was so smart, etc.). In her first book there were descriptions of horses, carriages, and the tack needed to attach the former to the latter. The descriptions were somewhat inaccurate but didn’t bother me that much (I am a “horse person”). But part of the action involved a situation whereby the horse and the carriage became unattached while in motion — and the hero is reaching down from the carriage to grab a piece of tack in an attempt to regain control; only problem was the pieces described wouldn’t have had any impact on the control issue and would have most likely caused the hero to be pulled from the carriage and then run over. I wrote a note explaining how the items described wouldn’t have worked — and also indicated the correct items. The response? How dare I presume to offer criticism… the author knew all and knew that she was correct. Oh well – I tried but because of that response I’ve never read another one of her books.

  23. Jean Wan says:

    I’ve actually never noticed any glaring factual errors except in two books, which (I’m pretty sure) mistook some facts about classical music, but I couldn’t be bothered in pointing them out beyond this space (and for one book, in a review). Some errors are too blanketing to even bother about – taking historical liberties with dress, speech, some legal matters, etc. – and if the author has taken the time to point out that they have taken liberties, then there’s no point.

    My main pet peeve is the misuse of French. Some errors are minor; some are major, as if the author didn’t even bother to look up the basics beyond “oui” and “non”. But I’ve never felt the need to inform the authors/publishers personally. My two cents: There are multilingual readers who can tell the difference. Just saying.