Wednesday, December 2, 2015

What Gooder Grammar Says About You As A Writer

I read a ton of submissions this last weekend and I was shocked at the number of "authors" with amazingly poor grammar. In all honesty, when I see query letters with mistakes like those I saw, I have to ask myself "What will the author's story look like?" I don't care if you have been out of school for a while, good grammar is important! This is not just for writers, but for anyone out there.

In a 2012 article in Forbes Magazine, Susan Adams pointed out:

When you speak, you project your level of intelligence and thoughtfulness. You also demonstrate how organized you are, in your thoughts and in your intentions. If you can get your sentences straight before you say them, you’re promising that you’re more likely to master tasks at work.

We talk a lot in writing about the principle of "show and don't tell." For writers, this is drilled into their heads as they craft their stories. But, for some reason, when it comes to those submission packets, I see and hear from far too many authors who seem to believe "it really doesn't matter." I am sorry to say this, but it does matter. Your use of correct grammar and punctuation "shows" the reader you have an understanding of what it takes to be a writer.

I know I have said this before on this blog, but I have two quotes I love to return to. The first is the Head and Shoulders commercial that states "You never get a second chance to make a first impression." The second is Hallmark that states "When you care enough to send the very best." Because we are living in a digital age, that email you send out IS your first impression. What does this say about you? And, when you do send something out with that poor grammar, this shows us "how much you care."

Maybe these issues are due to the editors and agents out there who claim they "don't really read those cover letters." I am always shocked when I hear this coming from people who are professionals in an industry revolving around the written word.  If they truthfully aren't reading those letters, then they are missing out on one of the easiest tools to get through that stack of submissions.

When I look at those cover letters, I get a sense of who this author is as a person. I can see the professionalism. I can see the dedication to the craft of writing. Does this mean the story is going to work? Not always, but, it does tell me if the story and the project is not going to work.

I would also warn the authors out there that a reliance on technology to insure the grammar is correct is probably the worst mistake you can make. The computers cannot read. The computers also are not checking for everything. Finally, the computers only suggest there may be an issue, not that there is really an issue. It is up to you to check that grammar mistake and not just "hope for the best."

If you think I am making a big deal out of this, think about the times when you have read a novel and found errors. Readers are always ranting about books with errors. Now, if you are one of those people who are complaining, think now about what you are sending out.

For those of you who are still puzzled about the grammar issues, I personally recommend the Diana Hacker and Nancy Sommers' text A WRITER'S REFERENCE. While this is a book that has an emphasis on academic writing, the grammar information is priceless.

I do recommend, if you are honestly thinking about writing as a career, take the time to learn that grammar! There are no excuses, especially in this industry.

1 comment:

  1. I totally agree.

    And as a writing teacher and avid reader, I also know that if the grammar is poor from the beginning, the book will be poorly written in other ways, too.

    My analogy is that grammar is one of the skills for writing like dribbling is a skill for basketball. If you can't dribble, you have no business on the court with the professionals.