Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Why A Demonstration of Strong Grammar and Punctuation is So Important In Submissions

I get it! Not everyone out there understands dangling participles or split infinitives. I get that the argument between passive and active voice can send people into tailspins. But, with that said, submitting a project to editors and agents that demonstrates poor grammar, or misuses of punctuation is a sure sign that you'll be seeing a rejection letter sooner than you want.

When I talk to writers about submissions, I always find myself returning to Hallmark's commercial and slogan, "When you care enough to send the very best." In the business world (and yes, I am including publishing in this group), we expect to see material that is well crafted and is pretty close to being free of those basic errors. Why? Because we often make a judgement or decision based on that initial perception. We will often ignore all of the good that person or company might have to offer if we see errors that should have been fixed before pushing print.

As an agent, when I see errors in query letters, or a synopsis, my next thought becomes, "So, if this smaller document has problems, what will I likely see in the 400 page manuscript this writer wants me to read?"

What are these errors that I find most often? Don't worry, I am not going to get hung up on effective use of fragments, or even run-on's or comma splices if the sentence makes sense. I'm talking about the basics here:
  • Paragraphing
  • Spelling of basic words
  • Business letter or business email formatting
  • Subject-Verb agreement
  • Pronoun confusion
These are issues that I feel are pretty darn basic, and, can more than likely be fixed with actively using your spell and grammar checkers sitting idly on your computers.

I personally struggle when I hear editors and agents say they will over-look these grammar and spelling errors. I cringe when I hear a rejection will not come from typos. Now, maybe they are saying the same thing that I am. They won't reject for this but the odds are they will find issues in the manuscript. Still, sending the message that we will ignore the grammar and the spelling because, "in the end, it is all about whether or not I like the story" doesn't work well with me.

Grammar and spelling are the "rules of the highway" in written and oral communications. I do get that we will sometimes "accidentally" type something wrong in the computer. We may say "tot he" instead of "to the." We might miss the apostrophe "accidentally" and write "its" instead of "it's." I will give people that, the same way that we as readers are willing to ignore the one or two typos we find in a published book. Some accidents do happen!

But, when we have a clear lack of understanding, then I for one, cannot ignore it.

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