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Errors found in books

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ABailey

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Every time I find a mistake in a book, it reminds me how important it is to fact-check. I'm currently reading A Year Down Yonder, which won the Newberry Award. It takes place in 1937 and Grandma drives an old Massey-Ferguson tractor into a tree. For some inane reason, I know that Massey-Ferguson didn't exist in 1937. They didn't merge with Ferguson until the 1950s. Yes, it does bother me that I know this.  :ha

I thought they had people to catch this stuff. This was not a first time author.

I remember another book I read that was taking place in the late 1800s in Mississippi and the character was out cutting kudzu. For those not in the know, kudzu is that vine that covers acres and acres in the south and grows up to a foot and a half a day. But, it was not introduced to this country until the 1930s (to fight erosion.) That wasn't a first time author, either.

I wonder how many people have pointed these errors out to the authors over the years. Now THAT would stink. Not only making a mistake, but hearing about it from now on. :gaah

AMcEvers 
#1 - September 22, 2009, 05:04 PM

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Errors like this tend to bug me, too -- but I got a LOT more understanding about them after writing my own historical. It is harder than it looks to get every detail right, particularly when there are regional differences or conflicting experts or bad translations or blah blah blah, and I really feel for authors who get flak from readers about one tiny detail while the other ten million details in the book that are correct -- not to mention the story itself! -- are passed over. I've certainly heard anecdotes of other authors whose reviewers spent most of a review fixated on one anachronism, without really giving the story any attention at all. That seems imbalanced, to say the least.

My copyeditors have paid more attention to raising questions for fact-checking than I expected, but they are, after all, mostly copyeditors. They are not fact checkers, and I don't think there are fiction publishers who even have someone in that role. Heck, the editors barely have time for the big-picture editing. Which is why it's so important for us to do the absolute best research we can.

What actually bugs me more is grammatical and comma errors. Recently read a huge bestseller that made me wonder if the copyeditor passed sixth grade (and reviewers noticed, too.) That's what they're getting paid for, after all, and publishing house copyeditors should be sort of the bottom line. Whoever worked on this particular book -- editor as well as copyeditor -- should be publicly beaten with commas.
#2 - September 22, 2009, 08:00 PM
« Last Edit: September 22, 2009, 08:04 PM by Joni »
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It doesn't really bother me, not unless I think it's sloppy work. For that reason DAIRY QUEEN drove me nuts. It wasn't like they called a certain type of milking equipment by the wrong name or something, but that the entire premise of their day farm was totally off. I mean, they  mlked 30 cows and they all had names! It was obvious the author hadn't visited a real working dairy farm. But little things like what you mention, just a small factual error, don't bother me.

Becuase the thing is, you can meticulously research every element of your book, but there will still be things you may not even KNOW to research. I wrote a time travel. I knew no matter how much effort I put into being correct, SOMETHING would be wrong.

~ Says Mandy, who five minutes ago read a review that says Victoria, the name of one of the 1815 characters, was not a name in use at that point in time. OOOPS.
#3 - September 22, 2009, 08:07 PM
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The only house I know of that has an official fact checker would be the publishers of the American Girl books. I have heard they catch *weather* mistakes in their historicals--so if you say there was a freak snow in California...there better have been one.  :yup

eab
#4 - September 22, 2009, 08:21 PM

wandergirl

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Unless it's a glaring oversight, I'm inclined to be forgiving. I agree that it's up to the writer to do the best he/she can, although there are almost always going to be small mistakes, usually surrounding details we never thought twice about. It probably didn't even occur to Mandy of the Fabulous Last Name's copy-editor to consider second-guessing her use of Victoria.

Fortunately, the vast vast vast majority of readers don't notice small errors. Unfortunately, the ones who do can be pretty vocal nowadays.

~Kirsten (Hubbard)
#5 - September 22, 2009, 08:25 PM

ecb

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Every time I find a mistake in a book, it reminds me how important it is to fact-check. I'm currently reading A Year Down Yonder, which won the Newberry Award.

You mean like the fact that it's the Newbery Medal?  ;)  Yes, it's ENORMOUSLY important to check your facts, and do your best to get as many details right as is humanly possible (or be very deliberate about the things you change)... but we all do make mistakes.
#6 - September 22, 2009, 08:39 PM

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Those kinds of errors bug me too. The worst one I've ever seen was in the movie Barnyard, whose creators apparently didn't do even minimal fact-checking. The main character, a bull named Otis, has no horns, but he's got a big old udder.  :oops
#7 - September 22, 2009, 09:02 PM

Having readers can help with this problem. If someone sets a book somewhere with the goal of the setting being accurate--it would be good to have a native (state or city or country) read it to look for these types of errors.

I read a manuscript for an author--to check for setting (and dialect) mistakes. I'd lived in that city and country for a couple years--that is why she asked me.

Also--if the book is reprinted, errors can be corrected. I recently pointed out an error in a book to the editor of the book (as a side point to other issues we were talking about; it is something that only someone who has my lifestyle would be aware of), and she wanted more details, so it can be corrected in future editions.
#8 - September 23, 2009, 01:33 AM
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ABailey

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You mean like the fact that it's the Newbery Medal?  ;)  Yes, it's ENORMOUSLY important to check your facts, and do your best to get as many details right as is humanly possible (or be very deliberate about the things you change)... but we all do make mistakes.


Hey, I'm just glad I didn't say Newbury.  :oops

And I just figured out that I'm reading the second book first. :::sigh:::
#9 - September 23, 2009, 06:50 AM

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Sometimes facts are so subtle it's almost impossible to catch them on your own, too. For instance, my Homespun Sarah book ended with the line:  Brand new clothes.  One of the critters in my fantastic (then) online crit group pointed out that I couldn't use that phrase, because in the 1700's, when this book took place, there was no such thing as a "brand name" of clothing! Everything was hand-made. Duh. The phrase is so "ingrained" in my head that I never even considered that.

I screamed. I cried. I moaned. I sobbed. That was such a PERFECT finishing line for my book. It FIT. It was the ideal ending. It rhymed. The rhythm was perfect. Noooooooooooooo!

Once my fit was over, I looked at the story with a jaded eye. I could NOT, in all consciousness put that line into the story when I was aware it was not historically correct, even though it would most likely have made it past every editor and copy editor. So... the book now ends with the line, "All new clothes."  It's not as perfect to me, but it's more satisfactory because it is historically correct in every way. Accuracy is what really counts. I spend years researching each of my little 250 to 350 word historical fiction books to make sure they are as accurate to history as I can possibly make them. It's vitally important to me because I know that young children BELIEVE what they read in books and often those beliefs will last all their lives. If they see it in print, it's FACT. I don't ever want to be the one that taught them incorrect facts. Not if I can help it.

#10 - September 23, 2009, 09:48 AM
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It takes place in 1937 and Grandma drives an old Massey-Ferguson tractor into a tree. For some inane reason, I know that Massey-Ferguson didn't exist in 1937. They didn't merge with Ferguson until the 1950s.


I remember another book I read that was taking place in the late 1800s in Mississippi and the character was out cutting kudzu. For those not in the know, kudzu is that vine that covers acres and acres in the south and grows up to a foot and a half a day. But, it was not introduced to this country until the 1930s (to fight erosion.) That wasn't a first time author, either.

I wonder how many people have pointed these errors out to the authors over the years. Now THAT would stink. Not only making a mistake, but hearing about it from now on. :gaah

AMcEvers 

I would point these fact out to authors and have, just haven't to these two authors.  I have pointed out facts to a lot of authors of adult fiction.  They are actually appreciative of these things.

They drive me bonkers also, which is why I am having trouble progressing in my newest draft, yes, draft of a book.  I cannot find the right information I need and to continue writing it without the information would be a waste of time to me.  What I need are current information and it is a bit harder to come by, I need to do some e-mailing, telephone calls, etc.

But errors in historical facts. aarrgghhhhhhh!  Those are the easiest thing for people to look up or ask someone about.  I would through a book across the room is someone said one of the cars was a brand new 1965 Studebaker (Studebaker closed in 1964), or if they introduced a Ford pickup truck before 1923, etc.

I used to watch the television show Little House on the Prairie so I could yell out that something was an anachronism.  The biggest one they had on the show was the telephone, a telephone out in the middle of no where?  I think not.  There were lots of other ones, but the telephone used to send me into rants and rages.  Where were the telephone wires going to? And who else would have had a telephone at that time?  I might have believed a telegram machine - if they were near a railroad, but they weren't.  Television and movies are the worst (especially when it comes to hair cuts and women's hair styles! Clothing, etc)

Books with these types of mistakes always make my skin crawl.  Poor research on everyone's part. If you are going to write a historical or period book, please learn about the period and make sure that the items you put in your book existed at that time or were readily available. 

Now if a freight wagon would deliver to your area, and you have a Sear's, Roebuck and Company Catalogue (one of the best ways to see if you could get those brand new clothes!), then by all means use the items in the catalogue.  But please no telephones if there is no where to connect the lines too.  It would have made a lot more since in Little House on the Priarie if everyone in Walnut Grove had phones and they did not call outside of the town.  Which would have been the way most early phone companies started, in someone's house and connecting everyone in town who wanted to subscribe to the phone company.  No long distance unless you were asking the town operator, to connect to another town operator, et. al.

Now grammar and punctuation bother me, but I always figure these are little oversights.  Not enough proofreading on someone's part. 

But misinformation.  :gaah 
#11 - September 23, 2009, 01:39 PM
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Those kinds of errors bug me too. The worst one I've ever seen was in the movie Barnyard, whose creators apparently didn't do even minimal fact-checking. The main character, a bull named Otis, has no horns, but he's got a big old udder.  :oops

Hee, see, I read this and am already wondering why you mention he doesn't have horns. Becuase you can dehorn cows at a month or two old. Our bulls never had horns.

Though, yeah, that udder, LOL I never noticed!
#12 - September 23, 2009, 08:45 PM
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Captain Ink

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I don't mind the odd historical error in books. Makes me feel smug if I pick it up. Too many & I would wonder at the effort involved in the writing, but the style would more likely put me off.
#13 - September 24, 2009, 07:38 AM

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