JUST THIS WEEKEND, I was reading a book by a New York Times bestselling novelist ... one that I am fairly certain the author self-published. I was in the first chapter, just getting into the story, when I hit this sentence: "Symbols clanged."
At first the sentence intrigued me; I thought it was an unusual image. Then I re-thought that, wondering how a symbol, a visual element, could clang. I re-read the sentence in context, and then it finally hit me. What the author had meant to write was, "Cymbals clanged."
It was an understandable mistake. The two words sound alike ... sort of. And between the two, only two letters are different.
But those two letters were enough to remove me from the story, dissolve suspension-of-disbelief, make me realizing I was reading something someone had written, and get me wondering why he hadn't used a better copyeditor (if he'd used one at all ... in the same novel, I later found "baby's" used as a plural).
Copyeditors get a bad rap. We think of them as wan, cantankerous individuals who never see the sun, and live to pounce on novelists who write "who" instead of "whom" and end their sentences with prepositions. But they also serve the very useful purpose of helping the writer to keep readers in the storyworld, to help those readers forget they are reading, and encourage them to surrender the disbelief that stands between audience and the story. To that end, even if your next reader is an audience of one—an editor or an agent—it's worth your time and money to hire a copyeditor if you can afford one, or to ask several careful readers to beta-read your manuscript for you if you cannot.
It's important, because you want to keep your readers lulled within the storyworld, undisturbed by typos, wordos or other errors.
And symbols cannot clang.