Wednesday, January 7, 2009

But they have a copy editor?

Grammar is one of the most important tools any writer can have in their writer's toolbox. Actually, I should say a knowledge of good grammar. Remember, it is the grammar, the knowledge of spelling, punctuation, sentence construction and the like that controls what and how we read your stories. In the end, it doesn't matter how well developed your story is, if the grammar is detracting from the story, you will not make a sale.

Now, I should say that many agents, and even editors might night have a 100% grasp on all elements of grammar. In other words, they might miss those dangling participles, but they do have enough knowledge to see if a writer is missing the point. I for one can also tell if the only knowledge of grammar is that which comes from the use of a grammar and spell checker.

Let me say, that there is nothing wrong with either of these computer tools. Both have their benefits, if (A) the writer knows how to use each properly; and (B) if the writer has set the computer properly to cause both of the checkers to work correctly.

"What is that you say, they don't work correctly?" That's right. You have to understand how each works, and actually set each to do what you want them to do. This is especially true with the grammar checker. For most computers, the grammar checker isn't checking for all of the items that could potentially create problems. The default setting is pretty basic.

Along the same lines, the grammar checkers only state if there is a potential problem. It is your job to check and see if that is really the case. When writing fiction, this can be a serious problem considering your characters may speak in fragments or broken grammar. Still if the narratives and the other major elements of your story have problems, this is a sign to the editor and agent that you might not be fully ready for publishing.

I should also add that when I see poor grammar, or a lack of structural knowledge from a writer in the query letter or the packaging of the material sent to me, I have pretty much already decided that I won't sign that person. First impressions mean a lot and the issue with grammar and spelling is a huge red flag.

Sure, the publishers have copy editors but they are not there to fix the mistakes that you as a writer should have known and understood.

So, what is the best solution? If you are a writer that finds grammar and spelling to be difficult, it is time to start learning. This may include taking classes at the local college. I know that many of the community colleges offer basic grammar classes. Audit the class. Take it for a credit/no credit option. If course work is not your "cup of tea" then find a resource that would help. Personally, the best source I have found is A Writer's Reference by Diana Hacker. It is published by Bedford/St. Martins and I haven't found a question that can not be answered by this book. I know many look at this and say it doesn't deal with fiction, but I have to break it to you, there isn't much of a difference. I'm not talking about creating the story, I am talking about the basic rules of grammar that do not vary from one genre to the next.

I'll also throw this offer in. If you are a writing chapter and interested in a full day grammar workshop, I could put something together for you. Just let me know.

Now, go out their and get gooder with your speling.


  1. Thanks for this information. I have such issues with comma placement! Spelling is not a problem, but commas are the devil.

  2. i agree they have copy editor for sure.

  3. "The Hong Kong Connection" is a legal thriller about a gutsy female attorney who takes on high ranking International officials. It's a taut, rollercoaster of a ride from New York to Palm Beach to Washington D.C. to Hong Kong. The plot is expertly woven, the characters persuasive, and the dialogue snappy and spot on.

  4. Another great post. Many of us have noticed the falling quality of women's romances. I feel editors don't much care as long as the whole deal is endlessly padded with repetitious and SO boring sexual encounters. Who could keep up this pace? After a few chapters I am ready to lie on the floor for the rest of the day. These people must be on uppers. Give me a few well-written encounters that actually seem to belong in the story, and that is quite enough.(As usual. I refer one to Shana Abe's encounters which read nicely as part of the whole, so well-done) It's easy to tell when a writer is trying to fill up the white apace that gets in the way of the last page. Enough already.
    And thanks for the detailed reply on SP. I do think it is a good way to work out problems in the story line, and commit to finishing a work. Only $99 to publish on line, and you don't have to mention it to an agent. yes? As long as it is not being sold? It could be the reserve book.