This topic was suggested by Jon Gawne.
There’s a prevalent theory among some folks that typos—those tiny mistakes you make while typing your genius fictions or your skillful cover letters and queries—are dealbreakers, in the sense that any self-respecting agent or publisher will immediately direct your work to the trash if they note a single instance. The general idea being that a level of superhuman competence is required if you want to be a writer.
This is not true. I know it’s not true because I am one of the least competent people in the world, and my work tends to be riddled with mistakes and typos.
The Riddler (See What I Did There)
The first novel I technically sold (though there was no money and it never actually published, but contracts were signed) was sent out lacking a half dozen pages, and yet still managed to gain someone’s interest. Even today, when I am a Titan of the literary world, my agent mocks me on a regular basis for the typos in my manuscripts, letters, emails, and social media. And yet it hasn’t slowed me down a bit, because there are these wonderful people called Copy Editors. And yes, you need one.
What it boils down to is simple: You as the writer don’t need to be perfect. You need to have a manuscript and communications that don’t look like a drunk illiterate wrote them—but they don’t have to be perfect. Using “its” when you mean “it’s” once in a 500-page manuscript isn’t going to disqualify you. Heck, having dozens of typos won’t disqualify you, as long as they’re clearly oversights and not representative of a writer whose language skills are theoretical at best.
Will you possibly run into an editor, agent, or other literary personage who will reject you for a typo? Sure, and fuck ‛em. While everyone has a right to run their shop along any standards they wish—and while I will stipulate that there’s a difference between the occasional typo and a manuscript that’s obviously not worth reading because of the lack of care or understanding involved in its writing—if you’re going to reject my work because of a misplaced comma, or a misspelled word, or that time I passed out while revising and didn’t notice I’d pasted in 6,000 words of a non-fiction article I was working on, then I probably don’t want to work with you anyway. Because I will have typos, and make mistakes, and accidentally send you a version of the story that’s 3 years old.
I want partners. Publishing a novel or a short story isn’t like accepting a minimum-wage job or something, it’s a collaboration. Part of that is copy-editing and proofreading to clean up my rough edges, and I want to work with people who have a sense of humor—and perspective.