The $250,000 Typo

The next time clients tell you “No, we don’t need a line item for proofreading” you may want to share this story with them.

New York City transit officials recently printed 80,000 subway maps that listed the wrong minimum cost of a pay-per-ride card. The newly printed maps listed the rate as $4.50; actual rate … $5.00. The city’s transit authority had hiked the price for the card by 50 cents, but the change wasn’t caught. By anyone!

The maps were pulled, corrected, and re-printed. And according to the New York Post, the cost for correcting this typo: $250,000.

I’m guessing a proofreader would have cost the city’s transit authority a lot less!

Proofing Your Own Work? Expect a Few Typos Along the Way

Don’t believe having your work professionally proofread is important? You may change the way you think after reading about one costly error for Macy’s, and the end result.

The upscale chain of stores not only is able to align such stars for its television spots – Taylor Swift, Justin Bieber, Donald Trump, and Sean Combs, to name a few – but thanks to a costly catalog typo, the stars above aligned for a few lucky customers as well.

Costly typo for Macy's

Macy’s costly catalog typo

According to WFAA-TV, the retailer mailed out their catalog to customers advertising a “Super Buy,” and was it ever! A big HUGE thank you to the typo that listed a $1,500 necklace –made of sterling silver and 14-karat gold with diamond accents – for the low, low “Super Buy” price of only … $47.

Macy’s did not fulfill all orders placed for this piece of jewelry, but for the few customers who were lucky enough to take advantage of this mistake, kudos to you!

Look, this isn’t a huge decision to make: a proofreader is vital to clean copy. Have your work proofread, and proofread it again before sending the files to the printer. Then, for good measure, proof the print proof. Because the fact of the matter is, typos happen. All. The. Time. So hire a proofreader to perform this task: don’t expect the copywriter who has looked at his/her own copy a gazillion times, and knows it by heart, to know what the copy should say. Because they will miss something, I can almost guarantee it. No, invest in the services of a proofreader, a fresh set of eyes, to rip through that copy and find every single typo in your copy. And find them they will. Because that’s their job, and oh, how proofreaders love finding copy mistakes!

Unfortunately, this story does NOT have a happy ending: the copywriter who worked on this particular catalog was fired. For not catching her own costly typo.

This would not have happened if a proofreader had been on the project, too. Just sayin’.

Want to Write? Get a Plan

Almost all successful writing begins with a response to an idea, experience, problem, or question. It’s hardly ever random. And your response needs some kind of process, even if it’s a rather loose one, which is what I prefer, otherwise I get so caught up in the process of writing I never actually get pen to paper.

So as a jumping off point, any writing response requires the following process in order to get from A to Z successfully:

  • defining a purpose
  • knowing your audience
  • planning
  • drafting
  • revising
  • editing
  • revising
  • revising some more
  • proofing

You can craft your process based off of this one. It may take some trial and error to see what actually works for you; you’ll find it. And once you do, your writing will flow so much more smoothly for you. What it will never do, however, is go from idea to finished product without a number of steps in between. But wouldn’t that be nice for a change?

Writing IS Hard

Of course it is. If it were easy, everyone would do it, and more importantly, do it well. But, they don’t. Most people hate writing, and most can barely put two sentences, let alone two words, together in a way that makes any sense whatsoever. And that’s where we come in. Writers. And editors. We do the work that others either don’t want to do, or can’t do.

Writers may be crazy, but trust me, there is a clear-cut reason for this. Bear with me. This will all make sense. While we all know that most people would rather gnaw off their own arm than write a single line of copy, these are the very same people who will tear apart and ruthlessly criticize the work that writers do. The work that they hire us to do for them. And while I do believe in the merits of constructive criticism, I take issue with the random rants of those who have no background or experience in editing the English language.

I can’t begin to tell you the number of times I’ve been asked to make something that is grammatically correct incorrect because the “reviewer” has no editorial background whatsoever, and simply believes the copy is wrong. I am then forced to justify it. Pull out a style manual. Site a grammar rule. Provide an example. Explain why the copy is correct. I mean, seriously, I’m a writer. I’ve been writing for more than 20 years. What I am not is an English teacher. But at times, I feel I am more of the latter than the former.

I shouldn’t complain though. I know it’s an occupational hazard given the field I’m currently in. I do not work in the world of publishing anymore, surrounded by professional writers, editors, copy editors, and proofreaders. It’s a different reality now and I either have to just lower my expectations or accept my role as writer and teacher.

Because … Writing. Is. Hard.

Editing on the Fly

It never fails. Because I write, everyone assumes I am a walking encyclopedia of grammar know-how. A spelling bee know-it-all. All day long it’s “allyah, how do you spell this” and “allyah, how do you spell that.” “allyah, should I use a colon here, or would an em-dash be better?” Okay, that’s not actually what they say: 1) I write under a pen name, and 2) they certainly know how to spell “this” and “that.” For God sake, I hope so.

The point is, I don’t have a computer chip in my head. I’m not a flowing font of information. Sometimes, my brain gets tired. There’s a lot of useless information that I carry up there, and I don’t have time to edit on the fly, sifting through all that garbage to find the one thing that someone needs on the spot when there’s an easier solution: look it up. And yes, it sucks because it takes time and effort, but what’s the alternative? Crappy copy? I don’t think so.

So use your resources, online or in print, and rely on your own brain instead of running to your “allyah equivalent.” Trust me, she, or he, will thank you some day.

There’s Nothing Like a 500-Point Type Typo

Some things never get old.

This an excellent example of why you should always proof your work. Granted, the word is technically correct, so I can understand how this mistake might have been made. Read the next paragraph to discover just where this little typo is.

The shuttle’s name is not “Endeavor,” but “Endeavour;” its British spelling reflects the fact that the ship is named after the HM Bark Endeavour, a 10-gun Royal Navy bark commanded by Lieutenant James Cook on his first voyage of discovery to Australia and New Zealand in 1769-1771.

So this is just your basic typo … printed in about 500-point type. Embarrassing, right?

Endeavor vs. Endeavour

Endeavor vs. Endeavour

I think USA Today may have said it best with their headline: “Houston, We Have a Typo.”

There Blog Isn’t Their Anymore – What?

More in the way of the most common mistakes writers make: there versus their.

Not quite sure why this one trips up so many people; I assume it’s due more to a typo than actual error. And like most grammar errors I’ve blogged about earlier in allyah’s INKWELL, this one won’t be caught by spellchecker but by your keen eye. Proof your work. Read it out loud. Check to see if it makes sense.

And now for the grammar lesson:

“There” is used to refer to a place, as in “yo, let’s go there.” “There” is also used as a pronoun, as in “there is always hope.”

“Their” is a plural possessive pronoun, as in “their blog rocks” or “their opinions are right on target.” When using “their” always take the “that’s ours” test. Are you talking about more than one person? Do they possess something? If you can answer yes to both questions, “their” is what you should be using; not “there.”

And that concludes today’s lesson.