Many moons ago, I worked as an admin for a small religious publisher. Part of my job was to proofread articles for Sunday school papers. I came across an article that had a problem with one of its facts. The author was writing about the number of chromosomes each parent contributes to a baby and the author had the number wrong. As a former biology major, I spotted it right away, and took the article to my boss to see what he wanted to do.
I’ll never forget his advice:”Checks your facts, Christine. If you’re right, I’m going to send this back to the author because our readers will spot it right away, and then they won’t want to read our articles anymore.”
I checked, the number of chromosomes each parent contributes is 23 not whatever number the author had quoted (it’s been literally years, so I no longer remember.) My boss returned the article with a note.
That particular fact was not at all important to the article. I believe it was quoted to illustrate a point but that didn’t matter. The author lost the sale and probably any further sales with that publishing house. I remember thinking it was a pity.
But my boss was right. Facts are important even when you’re writing fiction. People will spot your errors, or they will check, and then there may be no way to gain their trust again.
I was reminded of that point this weekend, as I was reading a mystery novel by a well known author. The sleuth talked about a corpse’s post-mortem bruising which was pretty extensive. Although such a thing can occur if the victim suffers trauma immediately after death, most bruising occurs before death, because when you’re dead, blood stops pumping (and pools causing lividity.) The corpse she was talking about had become a corpse through a drug overdose and she was speculating that someone had discovered the already dead victim and moved her, causing the bruising.
It seemed unlikely. Almost as unlikely as the idea that I will read this author again.
It reinforced what I know though. If I’m in the middle of something, and don’t want to stop writing to check, then I highlight the darn fact I need to check, so I’ll spot it when I edit. I don’t want to lose any freakin’ sales.