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’.

For the Love of the Oxford Comma

Okay, so I know this is a point of contention for many a writer and editor: you are either for or against the Oxford, or serial, comma. I make no bones about it: I am definitely an Oxford comma girl. Can’t help myself. It just makes sense to use it. And, to further make the point, I cut my teeth in an industry as an editor where the Oxford comma was king. Please see the Chicago Manual of Style if you need proof.

And to illustrate the difference, double click on the awesome infographic below, also available on OnlineSchools.com:

oxford-comma

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.

Eminem: What His Writing Can Teach You About Yours

That’s write, I said it. Eminem can teach you a lot about writing simply by listening to the tight lyrics he writes. It can be said that Eminem is a complicated artist, one who provokes pages of arguments – positive and negative – and his overall impact on our culture is for better or worse. But as a writer, few can touch what he’s managed to accomplish.

So pay attention: here’s what you can learn.

Read and Write Everything

Eminem started writing as a child, sanding the rough edges of his craft, knowing without doubt that the only thing that would get him out of the trailer park and into a better life was disciplined effort and endless practice.

He familiarized himself with the greats until storytelling was as natural to him as breathing is to everyone else. He may have started by imitating the pioneers, but he soon blended their legacy into his own style creating something that was like nothing else.

Edit Ruthlessly

Eminem’s best tracks harbor some of the tightest writing ever written. One has to wonder just how long he spends on each song, considering how securely each syllable is cemented in place.

Not only can he craft a compelling argument in prose, he can also rhyme words that shouldn’t rhyme, and pack more poetry into a verse than should be technically possible. Only fastidious editing can pull the written word so taut.

Write What you Know

One of the things that makes Eminem so powerful, so polarizing, is that his message is delivered without any filter whatsoever. Listening to his music is like tuning into a live therapy session. That’s why it’s easy to believe that he is writing directly from his heart and his unique set of experiences.

Start Strong, Finish Stronger

The best of Eminem’s songs achieve something rare in commercially produced music – they realize a powerful climax prior to their conclusion. Many of his songs are written as arguments, and it’s usually in his third verse when he drives his point home, often with a lyrical sledgehammer.

Be Concise and Use Powerful Sentences

Eminem pares his arguments down to the bone. His intuitive sense of flow allows him to seamlessly drift from the measured cadence of ordinary speech to an unrivaled intensity of verse, but it is always the power of his writing that enables him to drive his point home with such precision.

My advice: go out and listen to what he has to say. You will definitely learn something about the craft of writing.

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.