"My grammar's good, I don't need an editor" and other silly things writers say
Updated: Jan 8
I am a member of several closed writers’ groups on Facebook. I won’t name them. No one I have encountered so far is setting the world on fire with his or her prose, but occasionally I will pick up a useful tidbit about a job website to avoid or a publisher who is currently accepting manuscripts about a particular subject.
Today I read a post from a man who was angry. His five self-published books are currently available on Amazon. You can read the first four for free. That’s rarely a good sign. Anyway, he was upset because he’d gotten a one-star review from someone. The review said, and I’m paraphrasing slightly, the author could benefit from the use of an editor. His grammar is so bad, this book isn’t worth reading, even for free.
'I didn't do nothin' wrong
The author, in his rant about this review, explained his characters speak with Southern accents, so he used colloquialisms, writing sentences like, “I’m fixin’ to head into town. If you ain’t goin’ with me, just stay here.” He complained that, and again I’m paraphrasing, the reviewer shouldn’t criticize my attempts to capture a Southerner’s way of speaking. These quotes were written this way intentionally.
I agreed with his premise. Colloquialisms are fun in a skillful writer’s hands (think, Twain). So I went to Amazon, found the author and his five books, and easily located the one-star review. I read it, then I started to read the book online. For free. And I’ve got to tell you, the reviewer was right.
This author, and I might be using the word author too freely, has a Facebook page, so I visited it. There I found a long post about the uselessness of spending money (“hundreds, maybe thousands of dollars”) on an editor for a self-published book. It was, to his mind, an unnecessary expenditure.
You don't know what you don't know
You know the saying “You don’t know what you don’t know”? That’s the problem with this poor, misguided fellow. He interpreted the reviewer’s comment to be a criticism of the colloquialisms. But I’m certain that’s not what he meant. Grammatical mistakes occurred often in the prose. He has poor knowledge of punctuation. His paragraphs are long and riddled with passive-voice sentences. In the 20 or so pages I read, the “to be” verbs nearly lulled me to sleep.
And—yes, I’m going to say it—he was guilty of breaking the rule “show, don’t tell.” In one passage, the author talks about a character walking along a dirt road carrying his rifle. He sees a prairie dog “scurrying along the ground” (as opposed to scurrying among the clouds, I guess) and decides to take a shot at it. The next sentence: “He was an excellent shot.” Pretty compelling stuff, right? I guess the reader must assume the bullet found its mark. Or not. Who knows?
I'm an author, dammit.
This writer sees himself as a “published author.” The advent of easy, cheap self-publishing options has given rise to a slew of writing hobbyists who are now “published authors.” I am not a critic of self-publishing. Not at all. I am, however, a critic of folks who call themselves published authors because they can string a few sentences together, create several two-dimensional characters, produce a story with a beginning, middle, and end, and get it on Amazon for all to read.
One of the comments the writer got in this Facebook thread said you need help with your grammar, to which he replied, and I am not paraphrasing this time, I'm not the slightest bit worried about my grammar.
Well sir, shame on you.
Don't settle for "good enough"
The above-mentioned writer is under the impression, according to his post, that typos and occasional grammatical errors are acceptable and should not distract from the overall quality of a book. I couldn’t disagree more. Well, I would say that, wouldn’t I? I am an editor. Be it a blog post, a magazine article, a textbook, or a novel, I do not settle for “pretty good,” “close enough,” or “good enough” when I edit a piece.
And neither should you.
One more observation: I did not post a comment about the writer’s one-star review in the thread, but many in the group did. After a dozen or more folks encouraged
the man to start using an editor because, well, he desperately needs one, he stopped accepting comments. You don’t know what you don’t know.