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I’m No Grammarian, but…

Anyone who reads this blog knows that I’m no grammarian. I make major errors all the time and was often criticized by English teachers about my inability to grasp things like sentence diagramming, commas, or a semi-colon. Just typing the word semi-colon makes my fingers shake. For that reason you’ll never see me judge a book strictly on a few typos or wear a t-shirt that says, “I am silently correcting your grammar.”

That being said, I can recognize when a writer’s work is in real need of an editor and I can be disappointed that it’s crossed my desk before spending time with that editor. At this point I think I’m repeating myself when I stress how hard it is to get published and how it’s just as hard to stay published. This isn’t an easy business and trying the easy way out isn’t going to help you achieve your long-term career goals.

Anytime I get a manuscript that was clearly missing an editor, or even just a final read through, I’m given an impression of what you’re like to work with as an author and what all of your work will be like when I get it. And it’s not good.

Recently I read a submission that had obvious mistakes. Many of them. On the first page. Mistakes like, “she would be surprised to learn that he run,” or (supposed) complete sentences like,  “The smell of the earth, newly bloomed flowers and crisp Spring air.”

These types of errors don’t read like slip-ups to me. They read like laziness, like someone who wanted an opinion before she really had to work on her book.

Whether it’s your first book or your 100th book, what you turn in needs to represent you as a writer. Turning in something sloppy, makes editors and agents think of you as sloppy. It’s like wearing workout clothes to a job interview that’s not in a gym.

 

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6 comments

  1. I may have misunderstood but are you suggesting we should hire a professional editor before submitting to agents? I’ve heard of this as a possibility to consider before but I didn’t realize it had become an expectation.

    1. I think you only need to hire a professional editor if you know you’re a mess. A few errors will not make a difference, but a query letter riddled with them, for example, will. I think, for the most part, a good beta reader or two will be all you need.

  2. I went to school in England in the ’80s, the way we were taught written English is almost laughable.
    I’m going to have to look up what sentence diagramming is, it’s another new one for me.
    I was taught that a comma is for a breath and a full-stop (what we call a period) for pause in each paragraph.
    It’s why I have already done an editing course and I own a few books about correct about different parts of sentence structure.
    I am going to try and get away with not paying an editor, bit that depend how much support I can from my chapter.

  3. In creative writing, my students start the semester by going old-school with Elements of Style. For each rule, we discuss the possibility of breaking it, and what that would mean about our writing. Breaking the “apostrophe to show possession” rule? Absolutely doesn’t make sense. Connotes idiocy (or immaturity as a writer, or laziness). Can we effectively use fragments or run-ons in our writing? Yes. When? It depends. For my students, they must convince me that every choice they make creates the best version of that story (or poem, or whatever). Now, in regular English classes, all Standard rules apply. Unless, by chance, your writing has VOICE.
    My sophomores are reading Night right now, and Wiesel uses fragments in every chapter. Sometimes, one-line paragraphs. Is that writing grammatically correct? Meh, not really. Then why did Wiesel write it like that? Because Wiesel determined that as the best way to tell his story. And it works. It is beautiful, and it works.

  4. eek, I really shouldn’t reply to anything at gone midnight. I reread that twice last night and it actually made sense, to my pain med fogged brain. But, it does show why editing, even self-editing is so important.

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