Friday, June 22, 2018

Error-riddled but clueless: To "help" or not - by Leah St. James #grammar #amwriting

Dear fellow grammar nerds:

I know you’re out there. You’re the readers who take note when the wrong to/two/too (or there/their/they’re, roll/role, past/passed...) is used. The first time you might roll your eyes, but you’ll keep reading. Twice in the same page and you might cringe and send a silent message to the author to spend more time proofing. But more than that, if you’re like me, you’ll stop reading.

That happened to me the other day while I was reading an author’s promo blog. (It wasn’t any of our authors!) When I came to the first misused word (an error so bad, I actually laughed, until I was hit with a wave of sympathy), I almost started an email to let the author know there was a bad (really, really bad) error in the blurb. The second stopping point came courtesy of a misplaced modifier (a body part was doing something it shouldn’t be doing). But when the point of view started hopping from head to head so quickly, mine started spinning, I X’d out of the site.

This was all within a couple paragraphs. What do you think the odds are that I’ll purchase that book? Yep. Zero.

We all make typos or grammatical errors from time to time. There could be a few in this blog post, even though I’ve read and re-read to look for them. I’m so embarrassed to discover my own, or when someone else points them out, but I think something bigger is going on. I think there has been a slippage of general grammar knowledge over the past few years. Auto-correct features that seem to have been trained by the untrained masses don’t help.

 

Thanks to Bizarro cartoonists for the timely quip!

 Or maybe it’s not that writers today know less, but that more are publishing poorly edited content. It used to be that published texts—books, articles, etc.—were vetted by editors, probably several layers of them, before reaching the reader. Today, those layers have largely disappeared. Many self-published authors go cheap on editing because, let’s face it, most of us don’t make a lot of money in this business. 

Today it takes an instant to post a piece that could be filled with typos and those cringe-worthy errors. And the more they appear in public, the more those errors are ingrained into the collective lack-of-knowledge base. Maybe that’s how language changes over time—too many people making the same errors over and over until the error becomes the accepted form!

So what, if anything, should the grammar nerd do when stumbling upon those error-filled pieces? (I’m not talking about a single instance. I’m talking about those so bad, we can’t keep reading.) Do we just wince behind our screens and post something benign in the comments? Or do we send a private message to the author so he/she can make corrections? 


Maybe something like: Dear (name of author), I noticed you posted what was probably a draft of your blurb on your blog. I spotted several errors. I hate when that happens to me!”
 

I tell myself that I would want to know if that were my post....maybe. I think that for most of us, any unsolicited “corrective” contact, no matter how well intended, would come across as condescending, resulting in either embarrassment/humiliation or anger, or both. It could generate more bad will than any benefit to the greater grammatical good is worth!

As for the example I mentioned at the beginning, I don’t know the author, so I chose to wince behind my screen and post a benign comment. But those awful errors keep lurking in the back of my mind, and I wonder if I should have tried to contact her.

What do fellow authors and readers think? Let sleeping errors lie, or offer a hoping-to-help hand?
.................


Leah writes stories of mystery and romance, good and evil and the power of love. She is a true grammar nerd who sometimes finds herself mentally diagramming complex sentences. Learn more about her work at her website. Or visit her on Facebook where she posts occasional tidbits about writing and life. (For more Bizarro, go here.)

18 comments:

Kimberly Raymer said...

I would want to know. However, someone new to writing and who is self publishing their own book - well I would let the mistakes ride. Despite what people think nowadays, not everyone can write a coherent and entertaining novel. I started a new self published author’s book the other day and did not make it through the first chapter. It was choppy with excruciating descriptions that disrupted the narrative. Do I tell the enthusiastic new author this? No. Granted, grammar was not the issue here, but uneven narrative is as off-putting as grammar errors are to an avid reader. Lately I’ve notice overused phrases, such as “she blew out a heavy breath of air.” This phrase was in every other chapter of most of her latest novels. Do I tell her through a review? No. Unless someone wants or asks my opinion, I’ll keep it to myself. Me?? If there is something you can tell me that will make me a better writer - please let me know!! I’ll be the first one to admit I am unable to proofread my own work.

Jannine Gallant said...

If it was an author I know well, I'd PM her. If it was someone I didn't know, I'd keep my mouth shut. Most people don't want to hear it. Friends, however, know your intentions are good. Grammar errors make me crazy, too, although misplaced modifiers and I have a love/hate relationship. LOL Also, my spelling sucks, so I do count on auto correct to highlight what I miss! Thought provoking post, Leah!

Rolynn Anderson said...

I'd want to know, as well. And a blurb is SO IMPORTANT! I read a blurb by JL that had some formatting problems in it-and told her...I know she would have done the same for me. If we consider critique a form of caring, then we should say something. Not in a review...not a public format...it would have to be a private communication...and only after I'd reached out to her to ASK if she wants feedback.

When I was a high school English teacher, one of my brightest students was a horrible speller...he spelled words the way they sounded to him. You can imagine how many words he got wrong! He wanted to work in advertising...and I said he'd never succeed unless he learned how to spell. His goal was so important that when I told him to look up and memorize every word he spelled incorrectly...he took on the task. By the time he graduated, he wrote excellent text. But there are other ways...finding a good editor or some gnat's eyebrow proofreaders among friends...and it doesn't always take money...bartering, etc.

Again, I'd say ask the person if she welcomes feedback first...if she says yes, be kind, but be honest. (And think hard about when to offer feedback...if a person asks for help, that's going to take a lot of your precious time!)

Vonnie Davis said...

Leah, I agree with everything you've said. I am a grammar Nazi for other people's writing, yet can't see the same errors in mine. Editors have taught me a lot. Heck, they've bruised my ego many times.

It's as if many readers don't seem to care or notice or just plain don't know any better. Take Fifty Shades, for example. I never got to the famed "red room" in book one because the grammar was so bad and the female character so childish (TSTL) that I stopped at the end of chapter three. The darn thing became a best seller and was made into a movie! People loved that poorly written series.

That's why when my editor at one of the Big Four told me I needed to dummy down my writing, I had to step back and evaluate if I wanted to keep writing for them or stick to my style. Language changes. Rules change. In Ken Burns documentaries on the Civil War and WW II, many letters the servicemen wrote home were read. They used words we consider highbrow now and flowery language no man would use today. Yet they were beautiful. I shudder to think how our language will devolve. I mean, soon we'll be speaking in caveman grunts.

Andrea Downing said...

Ah, a woman after my own heart. I find it difficult to keep my mouth shut about grammar mistakes so would try to say in a delicate manner...somehow. But we're not perfect. I remember one novella of mine that had been past numerous eyes and just before pub I discovered it still had a 6 instead of 'six'--a no-no, as you know.

Mandy Moore said...

You would not believe the spelling on the "dating sites"....I can't tell you how many times men tell you they enjoy "dinning out". Seriously.

Alison Henderson said...

You've chosen a topic dear to my heart, Leah. It's probably a curse, but every small error in another writer's work jumps out and smacks me in the face. I wish that were true with my own writing, but we all know how that works. I have one friend, published by a highly reputable press, who sends me her ARCs to proof, even after they've been fully edited and copy edited, and I always find 8-10 errors. I'm a little embarrassed, but she's extremely grateful. As to your question, I would tell a friend about an error she could fix, but I would never tell a stranger. There's a lot of awful writing out there. I just abandon it and move on.

Leah St. James said...

Thanks for stopping by, Kim! Some of what's being published is just awful, and some is brilliant. That's why I rely on blurbs and excerpts before buying.

Diane Burton said...

Looks like I'm in the right group of grammar queens. I HATE seeing grammar, spelling, usage mistakes, esp. in something that the author should have caught. I want to know when I do. As Vonnie said, I can see errors in other works and miss them in my own. If I didn't know the author, I'd keep my mouth shut, too. Great post, Leah.

Leah St. James said...

Good points, Jannine. When friends point out my grammar errors, I know their intentions are good, and I appreciate it. Generally I do keep my mouth shut!

Rolynn, What got me the most was that the errors were in her promo material (blurb and excerpt)! I actually went to the book page on Amazon to see if they'd been corrected (thankfully they had), or I might have said something.

Leah St. James said...

Vonnie, that's one of the saddest commentaries I've heard, telling a writer to "dumb down" her writing. I'm so glad you didn't listen. I think so many of us learn by reading (spelling aside, because English spellings can be so contrary). I remember using the word "lexicon" in my first book, and a number of readers mentioned to me they didn't know what it meant and looked it up. I don't mean we should be on the level of an academic paper (geez, no!), but using a mix of adult vocabulary and sentence structure is interesting to me. I hope it is to readers as well, but I wonder.

Leah St. James said...

Horrors, Andi! I'm glad you caught that errant "6"! :-) I work for a news organization now that uses AP style, and numbers are treated differently. (For example, I believe you always use the numeral for an age: She was 6 years old.) But I'm so used to the other style, I always have to check first when at work. (You don't know what you don't know!)

Leah St. James said...

Alison and Diane - It's really hard to catch our own errors because we're half reading with our mind (what should be there), not our eyes (what is there). I've made some doozies. It's so helpful to have knowledgeable, eagle-eyed friends who can help us out.

Alicia Dean said...

Good post, ha, I'm a bit of a grammar nerd too, although like Vonnie said, I don't always catch my own. I agree with those who said if you know the author, tell them about the errors. If you don't know them, let some other sucker be the one to point it out. :D

Leah St. James said...

Mandy, Social media is another cesspool of bad grammar, spelling...you name it! I think it's partially to blame because it spreads the "fake" grammar! :-)

Brenda Whiteside said...

If it's a blog, I want to know. If it's social media I want to know. If it's a finished published book...don't because I would only feel awful. LOL I'd do that for others too. And have.

Margo Hoornstra said...

Those kinds of errors stop me reading or watching every time too. The worst so far is a local school district ad that uses peak/peek in error. Unforgivable.

Leah St. James said...

Ally, I like your "sucker" characterization! :-)

Brenda, I agree on the published book. Once a book is in print, I'll read with half an eye closed so I won't find any typos!

Margo, agreed. It's pretty bad when school administrations (inadvertently, I'm sure) reinforce the dwindling knowledge. Someone didn't proofread that ad, or not very carefully!