Why it pays to be pedantic

Image: Bart Maguire

As all my students will know, if you are foolish enough to pass a mistyped word across my desk in an assignment, I won’t be best pleased. That’s partly my professional habit – as someone paid to write and edit content. But it’s also a commitment to convincing would-be publishers that attention to detail is a key skill, whatever arm of the industry they may end up working within.

An article from the BBC website today shows that attention to detail isn’t just a ‘nice-to-have’ skill, it can also save (or lose – if you haven’t got it) you money. Online entrepreneur Charles Duncombe says an analysis of website figures shows a single spelling mistake can cut online sales in half. By measuring the revenue per visitor to the tightsplease.co.uk website, he found that income was twice as high after an error was corrected. Extrapolating this across the whole of the internet, Duncombe claims “millions of pounds worth of business is probably being lost each week due to simple spelling mistakes”.

Yet even when you can’t track back the financial impact of attention to detail, there’s no doubt it’s important. Here are just a few examples from across publishing:

Little, Brown’s Sphere imprint describes the cornerstones of its publishing as “passion, imagination and attention to detail”.

Canongate won Publisher of the Year at the 2009 British Book Industry Awards thanks to “great professionalism, attention to detail and [the] sheer exuberance of their publishing programme”.

Random House Group asks potential editorial recruits to consider whether they have “excellent attention to detail”.

Pearson Education tells prospective textbook authors that “pre-planning and attention to detail [are] vital to creating a successful book”.

Joel Friedlander (aka The Book Designer) uses a mixture of technical skills and “attention to detail” when designing a page to deliver an enjoyable reading experience.

The late literary agent Rosemary Canter, in an interview with the Writers&Artists, cited “enormous attention to detail” as a key quality of a good agent.

Grantham Book Services attributes 50 years of successful operation to “fostering a reputation for care and attention to detail”.

The pedants among you will by now have picked up on the fact that what I’m really talking about is attention to detail – not pretentious pedantry. As a certain Henry W Fowler said, the term is a relative one: “my pedantry is your scholarship; his reasonable accuracy, her irreducible minimum of education, and someone else’s ignorance.” But, whatever your level of pedantry, there’s no excuse for not employing attention to detail in your work. At least not if you want to secure a job in publishing.

Read more about the skills required to develop your career in publishing.


5 responses to “Why it pays to be pedantic

  1. This is absolutely true. I would add the following though:
    Our company develops error-tolerant search engines for online stores and web sites. Our engines correct spelling mistakes and typos whether they are contained in user queries or in the online content itself. Doing this, we have seen revenues of clients who used non-error-tolerant search before grow exponentially as well. The harmful impact of misspellings is therefore not only about perceptions only. At a time where so much content has made search the main way of travelling across the web misspelling can just keep people away from content, products and services, simply completely away.
    Managing Dir.

  2. Thanks, Dan. Very true – if you misspell your own material, your customers may never find you. I love your affirmation: “simply completely away”.

  3. Pingback: Looking Beyond the Book: reflections on the annual SYP conference | Kingston Publishing: inspiring future publishers·

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