If you’re a reactionary grammar fanatic, so picky about proper grammar that you fall squarely in the realm of anal-retentiveness, and you want to make damn sure everyone knows it, you might be a Grammar Nazi.
As if Indie authors aren’t already facing an uphill battle in pursuit of parity with their traditionally-published peers, increasingly I have noticed a disturbing, and perhaps even sinister new trend. More and more frequently I am finding grammar zealots within the ranks of mid-level book reviewers as well as among some of those who operate book promotional services.
It’s perfectly okay to be passionate about proper English grammar and usage, but once you start to discriminate against a specific class of writers by denying access to services those writers need to attain success in the publishing market, you’ve really taken things too far. That is exactly what I see occurring on a more and more frequent basis. Here are just a few examples of what I’m speaking about.
Below I’ve offered a quote from the author of an article I read today, written by a woman who identifies herself as an avid fiction reader and reviewer. The article chastens Indie authors who do not hire professional editors because she finds their books are riddled with grammatical errors.
“This means flawless editing.”
Here is part of what she had to say. “Look, I might have only been in the book review business for a short time, but I’m a life-long reader. That means nearly three decades of voracious devouring of any (preferably fiction) work I could get my hands on. So, maybe growing up on professionally published novels put out by big publishing houses, has spoiled me. A lot of reviewers are in the same boat. And in addition to being a reviewer, I’m an indie author. I’ve made connections with other indie authors. I know how hard it is to get an agent, let alone a publisher, so I think it’s great that the current technology and climate allow for self-publication. So what’s the problem? The problem, to be blunt, is your editing. Or lack thereof, actually.”
She goes on to say, “In spite of services like Nook Press and CreateSpace that allow ANYONE to publish a book, the gold standard is still traditionally—aka professionally—published work. As an indie author, if we want to have any hope of competing, we must produce work that at a minimum meets those standards. This means flawless editing and formatting.”
Next, I offer three examples that come from comments readers posted to the article referenced above, posted by three others identifying as avid readers and book reviewers.
- “Like you, I am a life-long reader (going on 58 years now), and I too, am an author. I read a lot of indie books because, frankly, I can get them for free or for a discounted price. My biggest red flag when deciding which indie book to read is the blurb. If I find one typo, missed word, or misspelled word in the blurb, I skip it. My feeling is that if there are mistakes in a 250 word blurb, what is the manuscript going to look like?”
- “I absolutely agree and have turned down a number of review requests for this exact reason. It’s so sad, because who knows how many of them were actually great stories!”
- “As a reviewer, I draw some hard lines on typos: If it can be caught by running the spell check, it is unacceptable no matter how long/short the work. As I said, i love that self-publication is a thing, but it by no means gives one license to cut corners and be lazy. There will always be substandard novels put out, but if, as a community, we can encourage higher standards, we should.”
Not to be petty here, but the comments above were reproduced here verbatim. If you look at all the critical examples above, trust me, you will find minor grammatical errors. Don’t trust me? Fine. Trust Grammarly. The program verified the errors I found reading the comments.
As the final exhibit, I submit into evidence as proof of the ominous trend I’ve observed, something I just came across two weeks ago while submitting my 99 cent March Madness book deal to some book promotion sites. On the book submission page at one of the sites, there was blank for entering the URL of the “professional editor” who edited the book.
Completing the blank was technically optional, but directly beneath was a notice that stated failure to list a professional editor made if very unlikely that the submitted book would be featured or promoted by the site. WTF? Indie authors are already under the gun regarding a minimum number of reviews and “professional” looking book covers by many of the most well-known book promoters. Now we can’t even PAY FOR THE PRIVILEGE of having a book promoted unless we show incontrovertible proof that we paid for professional editing?
Despite how the author of the article I mentioned clearly indulged in the pro-traditionally published stereotypical view that most if not all Indie published books are fraught with typos and grammatical faux pas, I don’t disagree with her overarching premise. Indie authors should strive to produce the best and most professional product they possibly can before publishing it. On the flip side, just about any book whether Indie-published or traditionally published could always be better. And if people didn’t strive for better then we wouldn’t have amazing books in the first place. But to suggest that every book must be flawless is just plain unrealistic.
I allow that professional editing is the ideal, but paying for professional editing is expensive. It may not be right or even financially feasible for many Indie authors. Denying reviews or promotional services to authors who simply can’t afford to have their book professionally edited establishes the same kind of publishing barriers and gatekeepers that the Indie publishing movement has been trying to do away with.
Just when independent authors and publishers are starting to prove that success doesn’t hinge on getting a book deal from a traditional publisher, it seems there are those who want to drag us back to the good old days when publishing houses decided who could become a published author. And that’s where the sinister aspect of this new trend comes to fore. Could it be that many of these book blog reviewers, so tough on grammar, are also freelance editors looking for editing work and a payday? Or perhaps they are working in concert with the big publishing houses in an attempt to make it harder to attain success as a self-publisher.
There is no argument from me that no one should publish a book that has not been carefully proofread and at least polished using one of the many excellent grammar checking software programs available to authors today. There isn’t any excuse for publishing a book filled with typos, or truly egregious grammar errors like incorrect word choices (who vs. whom, too vs. to, affect vs. effect, etc.). My point is simply this. Even smart, educated, and imaginative people, make and miss occasional errors in grammar or spelling.
We all make mistakes. However, a blanket statement like flawless editing is a requirement for anyone publishing a book or we won’t review or promote your book if it hasn’t been professionally edited is nothing short of discrimination and indefensibly wrong. It’s also wrong to nitpick the writing of another over minor grammatical errors that are errors purely in a technical sense, using perfection as the standard when perfection is so rarely achieved even with books published by traditional publishers.
Personally, I never mastered the formal rules of grammar. I was exposed to them beginning with seventh grade English, but I just didn’t get it. While I excelled in lots of other studies like science and history, English grammar just didn’t make sense to me. I learned to write by reading obsessively from an early age, but when it came time to learn the rules of grammar, I failed utterly. If you show me an incorrect sentence today, I can usually fix it, but if you need to know the technical reason why it was incorrect in the first place, I’m the wrong person to ask.
Having said that, you might find it amusing to learn that in the most recent writing update that Grammarly sends me on a weekly basis, showed that I wrote more words than 98% of other Grammarly users did last week and was 97% more grammatically accurate than other Grammarly users. Ninety-seven percent is not “flawless,” but I can live with that. Especially when I have a software program that can help me with the other 3%.
As you probably noticed, I didn’t provide the sources of the quotes used as examples in this post. But the quotes are real, not fabricated. I do believe in including references and giving credit where credit is due. But in this case, I’m simply making a case for something I’ve observed that I believe should stop immediately. It isn’t my intent to belittle or embarrass anyone by engaging in a personal attack. So, by intention, I’ve refrained from providing the article name and have not identified the sources of the quotations used.
I congratulate all the Indie authors out there with the talent to tell compelling stories and the courage to self-publish their own books. I encourage Indie authors to publish the very best and most professional books they possibly can. No one can be expected to do more, and should never wish to do less. But I also say this. Ignore the Grammar Nazis out there who demand perfection, those who simply can’t resist the urge to show us all how much smarter they are than the rest of us when it comes to grammar.
Instead of reading a lot of self-published books because they are free or have a discounted price, maybe the grammar fanatics should pony up the going $14.99 average price for the eBooks from traditional publishers. That way they can avoid suffering the angst they seem to when encountering the occasional typo or squinting modifier.
Becoming a published author truly is within the reach of anyone today. I think that is a good thing. I’ve read some damn good self-published books over the years that weren’t flawless edited, but the stories written in them were amazing. In comparison, I have yet to read a great book this year from any traditionally published author and I’ve read quite a few. Yes, most of those books were perfectly edited, but in many cases a complete bore to read. I’ll take a great book that tells a compelling and entertaining story that has a few grammatical errors and typos any day.