Words and Transoms

Transom over a doorI have nothing against Kim Harrison. She’s a successful author who balances a myriad of internal emotional states in a chaotic (to say the least) universe of her creation. It has the same there’s-no-time, I’ll-kick-my-way-out-of-this, gee-magic-comes-to-me just-as-I-need-it. I just bought the first three books of her series, and Friday’s payday, so that’s where the money’s going — for the rest of the published volumes in the series.

That said, I’m disappointed in something I’m seeing more and more in e-books, at a rate I hadn’t seen in print copies: vocabulary mistakes. There’s somewhere between 125,000 and 150,000 distinct words in the English language [1]. That means that there’s more choice to use the right nuanced word. It also makes it easier for a “valid” word to be the wrong word choice. And these errors can change the meaning of a sentence and, even with mental correction, jars a user out of the story.

The first time I read “slacked” in Kim’s novel “Every Which Way But Dead.”, I tried to correlate “loosening the pressure” with the scene. Given the high-tension story line, some loosening was most welcome. But no, the word was supposed to be “slaked,” as in relieved of thirst. (Blood, in this case.)

Once is a typo. But there were at least three instances. And I found myself anticipating the wrong word’s next appearance on the page.

Sorry, Kim, for picking on you for this. It’s not just you, rest assured. Even e-book versions of existing books I find containing both typos (weird, right?) as well as incorrect or just plain wrong word splitting. Sure, reader software might be to blame, but e-book converting software does mangle texts by inserting font changes in inexplicable places[2]. Ang again, publishers need to have skin in the game to ensure that they understand the technology they’ve adopted, at least to the extent they can do QA on their own work.

Perhaps what bugs me more is that this is the kind of mistake that a paperless editing process can create. I make no assumptions about Kim’s process, but I know that a close visual read by someone knowledgeable in English would catch these. More than that, I know that editors producing 20,000 trade paperbacks were a lot more persnickety about typos fifteen years ago than they are now. Part of it is the wonderfully listened-to urge to give readers what they want. Another is to get the book out there to hit in time for this -Con or another.

As a paying reader, however, I find this slipping in details irritating. It smacks, clearly unintended, of an author losing control over her or his work. Or, as was said in the “olden days,” ‘tossing it over the transom.’