Writers, Editors, Self-Publishing, and English Grammar

I’m a stickler for English grammar. I’m almost a down-right jerk about it—“Hey, where’s the period?”—but there’s a reason: I’m an English speaker. It’s my first and only language. I excelled at English in school because I felt that if English was your one and only language, you should know it inside and out. When it came down to grading my peers’ papers, I was always frustrated. Even now as an adult, I’m still frustrated. Whenever I see people write, “your” instead of “you’re” and “there” instead of “their” or “they’re”, I want to ask them, “Do you know English?”

Mind you, these people that I speak of aren’t just the students sitting in my English class. Writers are culprits to this violation as well. However, writers have a way around it: they get editors. Some of them are human dictionaries-encyclopedias-thesauruses with a $300 price tag.

This is a big issue for self-published writers.

Those of us who are self-published can’t afford an editor. It’s like hiring a psychologist to diagnose and treat a book. The irony? Self-published writers need editors the most.

I’ve seen some self-published books where the best compliment I could give them was, “This reads like fan fiction.” (Sadly, some fan fiction have better content and less grammatical errors than published books). It’s like many (self-published) writers simply press the “spell” button and automatically tag it as reader-friendly. Well, it’s not fun for readers. Actually, readers have to trudge through the run-on sentences, ambiguous descriptions, and ill-placed words before they reach the story. Not that I’m saying writers can’t make mistakes, but writers should keep this in mind: readers can’t read your mind. Readers need a clear, visual cue to reach the vision in your head.

Though the money may be a reason to opt out of a professional editor, sometimes money isn’t the only thing keeping an editor from improving a writer’s work. The writer decides not to get an editor because they’re afraid. The fear of being criticized, judged, and all of those insecure little verbs are enough to hold down a writer from finding an editor. Some people can’t take criticism. But in the world of writing, self-published writers need as much criticism as possible. Sometimes, the criticism comes in the form of reviews, and for writers, these are critical to the sale of their work.

Also, an inflated ego could also stand between a polished self-published work and a mediocre piece of fan fiction. Editors change the run-on sentences into shortened, refined sentences; they shovel out the ambiguous descriptions and bury clear imagery; they cut out the useless words and substitute better words. But some writers are afraid again. They think their sentences and their descriptions using their words don’t need to be changed. They’re the writers, so they know how to write their book. In actuality, it has nothing to do with the writing. It’s all about power. “Once the book is in the editor’s hands, it’s not in my power anymore.” That’s not completely true. An editor isn’t the writer; they edit the writer’s book to put it in the best light. It’s not something to be afraid of. It’s just how it is.

Self-published writers should set aside the egos, the fears, and the funds to get an editor, especially if their grammar is below a high school student’s writing level.

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7 Comments

  1. Reblogged this on bijou annie and commented:
    This is so well written and such a great point. I haven’t read much of the self published stuff, but the little bit of it I’ve seen reads like elementary school.

    Reply

    1. Thank you so much! I think that the bad grammar in some self-published books gives a bad name to self-published authors in general. Not all of them are bad, though. 🙂

      Reply

  2. I think you’re setting a really low bar when you call for editing if the writer’s grammar is below high school level. From what I’ve seen of current high schoolers’ writing — and even recent college graduates’ writing — grammar is not a priority in their education or writing.

    Reply

    1. I don’t think that bar is too low. What’s the national reading level of the U.S.? I remember in high school, my peers had trouble with grammar, even in the advanced classes. I suppose if the national English proficiency rate of Americans is less than 5%, the priority for grammar is much lower.

      Thanks for your comment! I looked at your blog, and thought how cool of you to track down grammatical errors in the media! Keep up the good work!

      Reply

  3. Right, but while you are looking at grammar, others will want to tell you that text is never centered unless it is on a invitation,,,,black ink on white background is the easiest to read online … paragraphs longer than 3 sentences are too hard to read on the Internet.

    People scan when they read on a computer because of the light coming back from the screen so there is a way your blog/website needs to be setup to make it easy on your visitors trying to read you. If you Google useit.com/papers/webwriting you will find all of Jakob Nielsen, who set the standard for reading on the Internet.

    Just like you are seeing grammar mistakes, Internet professionals are seeing website mistakes. People often multi-task and it’s all too easy to write ‘your’ when you do mean ‘you’re’ — you know i, but you were distracted, or tired when you wrote it.

    I say all this because I think we need to cut everyone some slack. We all make mistakes and the rules of grammar are going to change as more and more books are read in digital print where too many commas and quotes in a long paragraph distract the eye and make it difficult to stay connected to the page you are reading. Writers now have to think about how the content design looks and this will change the way we write.

    Reply

    1. Thanks for the recommendation on Jakob Nielsen. I’ll be sure to look into it! Ever read Robin P. William’s The Non-Designer’s Design Book? It’s really good too!
      Sure, writers have to be more aesthetically-conscious in this digital age, but aesthetics are more flexible than English grammar. How much has English grammar changed in the last fifty years? Prose has changed, yes, but subjects, verbs, objects, commas, and periods still exist. Even across the globe, in Japan, English grammar has the same or similar rules.
      As much as I want to cut people some slack when it comes down to English grammar, as an English teacher and an avid reader, I can’t. Simple things like “you’re” and “your” are mistakes by ESL students–and even they fix those problems, multitasking or not. Why can’t a native English speaker?

      Reply

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