If ever a genie wants to grant me three wishes, I am all set. First, I would wish to always stay at the perfect weight, no matter how much I ate. Next, I would wish for financial security, so that I could quit my day job and never have to take another one. And my third wish would be for Amazon and Smashwords to insist that every indie title be vetted by a competent proofreader before they will publish it.
I admit it: I’m picky. It’s probably because I internalized grammar and spelling rules early. Please don’t hurt me, but I was one of those annoying kids in school who always got good grades on her English papers. I was a spelling whiz, too. One of my college journalism professors gave his classes a test on commonly-misspelled words at the beginning each semester. I had two classes with him, so I had to take the test twice. When I aced the thing for the second time, he wrote on my paper, “People in radio don’t need to know how to spell!” I’m still not sure whether he was trying to recruit me for the student newspaper. (And if he was, then it’s clear that he never saw my grade in photography.)
Anyway, my point is that sometimes these days, reading is almost painful for me. Writers drop so many commas that someone needs to start a home for orphaned subordinate clauses. Writers also use bad grammar or the wrong words – many times without realizing what they’ve done.
Sometimes, the result is really sad. I happened to look at some of the posts on the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Awards discussion boards after the first round of cuts this year. Submissions in the first round are judged not on the book itself, but on the pitch – the advertising copy, if you will, that goes on the back cover of a paperback and in the “book description” of an e-book listing. It’s also sometimes called a blurb. In one of the discussion threads, some of those who didn’t win had posted their pitches for critiques. Should they cut the sentence at the top, they asked? Maybe move paragraphs around? But to me, it was clear what was wrong, and it wasn’t anything that moving the furniture would cure. One poster’s pitch had her main character quitting her job to “attend” to her ill husband; the verb she wanted was “tend.” Another pitch included a sentence whose syntax was so mangled that I couldn’t tell who was doing what with whom – nor, I suspect, could the ABNA judges.
What’s so sad is that these authors didn’t know they were doomed. An e-book is judged not only by its cover, but by its blurb. It’s been said here before, but I guess it needs to be said again: Your blurb must be perfect. It’s your potential readers’ first opportunity to see your writing. If what they see is that you can’t write a couple of paragraphs without a mistake, they will pass you by.
Indie authors already face an uphill battle for respect. Granted, the hill has recently begun to level out, but for goodness’ sake, don’t make things any harder on yourself. Don’t just rely on Word’s spell checker and grammar checker. Look stuff up if you’re not sure. I took a quick poll of my fellow minions and discovered that a number of us consult Grammar Girl when we’re confused.
Grammar Girl sponsors National Grammar Day, which happens to be this coming Monday, March fourth. How about if we all agree to observe the day by checking and double-checking everything we write for errors, and by recruiting competent proofreaders to back us up?
I can’t tell you how happy that would make me. I’d really rather spend my third wish on a hot guy.