Are You a Bad Influence?

I’ve been doing lots of reading lately. I’ll read almost anything. I’m not picky about genres. I read self-published, traditionally published, and books published by small presses. If you write it, I’ll read it.

When I first began writing, I had a hard time reading for pleasure. My writer’s eye kept scanning the pages as I compared my own writing with that of other authors. My editor’s eye kept tripping over repetitive words, weird sentence structure, and grammatical errors. It’s only been recently that I’ve been able to turn off my author-vision and read a story for pure pleasure. Yet, there are things that still trip me up. I recently read a book by a traditionally published author that had such poor e-book formatting and so many punctuation errors that several members of our book club discussed it at our meeting. In self-published books, errors seem to be a bit more prevalent, particularly in cases where the author has been unable to afford to hire a professional editor.

I’m able to overlook a few errors. I understand that some errors slip through the cracks. The author can’t catch everything. Trust me. I can self-edit my book fifteen times and still miss errors. For the most part, a few errors do not ruin my enjoyment. Many authors would argue with me. Some authors believe it’s the story that counts. They would argue most readers don’t notice grammar and punctuation.

As an author, do you want to take a chance? Do you want to send your poorly edited book out into the world and hope readers don’t notice? Maybe the next person who reads your book doesn’t really care about grammatical nonsense and just enjoys your story because it’s a darned good story. But, maybe the next reader won’t read past the first chapter because those errors are too distracting. As Kate Jack, author and blogger extraordinaire, has pointed out numerous times, though some authors claim the story is king and little things like grammar don’t matter, writers are obligated to learn the craft. While the story is important, so is the delivery. 

Still not convinced grammar and spelling are important? Well, read on…

I have four kids ranging in age from twelve to twenty-three. I try to avoid telling their personal stories, but today, I need to use one of my children in order to make a point. My twelve-year-old is a horrible speller. Why? Because his school doesn’t administer spelling tests.

Back in the dark ages when I was a kid, we took spelling tests until we were in high school. I mean, they drilled those words into our heads. On Monday, we had to write each spelling word five times. On Tuesday, we had to define each word. On Wednesday, we had to use each word in a sentence. On Thursday, we had to study for our spelling test on Friday. As a consequence, I’m a damned good speller.

Nowadays, people rely on spell check. So, why have many schools discontinued the use of traditional spelling tests? As more than one teacher explained to me, kids learn vocabulary, sentence structure, grammar, and spelling by example. Kids learn by reading.

As a child, I always had a book in my hand. I loved to read. While I almost failed Language Arts in the sixth grade because I couldn’t diagram a sentence, I was able to read and comprehend Gone With the Wind in the seventh grade. My eyes glazed over when the teachers droned on about sentence structure, but I was still one of the best writers in my class. Why? Because I learned by example. Reading enhanced my understanding of proper sentence structure. Reading made me a rock-star of a speller. My vocabulary was advanced because I read all the time. And though I’m sure I learned a thing or two by sitting for hours in Language Arts and Spelling Classes, reading helped all those lessons stick.

If teachers are relying on reading to help kids learn to spell, what happens when those same kids pick up a book riddled with misspellings? If kids are expected to learn by example, shouldn’t authors try to set a good example? Readers of all ages deserve well-written books; children need well-written books in order to learn. As an author, I wan’t to be a good influence on any young readers who happen to pick up my YA novels. As a mother, I can only hope my children are selecting books that are well edited and well written. I want the lessons I teach them, or the classes they take in school to be reinforced by good examples in their chosen reading material.

I might even go as far as to say this: Poorly written books and sloppy authors have a bad influence on our children. Not just children, but all readers.

For writers out there who might not have mastered all the tools of your craft, I would say, “congratulations.” If you’re able to admit you still need to grow as a writer and are willing to challenge yourself, you have what it takes to be an author. It’s only those who refuse to grow and learn and change who will never, ever make it. As writers, we are always evolving. As an author, I have lots to learn. I can learn from other authors. I can learn by example–by reading masterfully written books that make me sigh in amazement at the author’s talent. Reading amazing books gives me something to strive for.

So, for all you writers out there–what are you? A bad influence? Or a good influence? Have you mastered your craft, or are you still sharpening your tools? And to all those readers–how many errors are too many? Are you willing to look past glaring errors to get to the heart of the story?

 


10 thoughts on “Are You a Bad Influence?

  1. Well said, Tricia. It’s high time this issue was tackled, as I’ve tried to do on a number of occasions. As I understand it, readers can return e books they don’t like, when purchased from Amazon. I suspect the main reason for doing this, is not just they possibly don’t like the stories, or badly formed plots, but because they’re unreadable due to the errors you’ve pointed out. Yes, the story is king, but it also HAS to be readable!

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    1. You’ve said it before, Kate. You’ve said it in a million different ways. If the reader can’t understand your story because of its poor delivery, how can they enjoy it? There is no shame in being a new writer still learning your craft–but there is no excuse to refuse to learn what you need to know to be the best you can be. Thanks, Kate, for all you do for aspiring authors. I hope all my readers hop over to follow your blog.

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  2. Like you, I’m more than willing to excuse a few errors because, as you wisely pointed out, you can edit several times and still miss a few errors. I think that applies, even when you’ve hired a professional editor. But there’s also a point where errors become distracting, and I’m noticing that more and more, even in traditionally published books. In fact, I’ve seen some traditionally published books with more glaring errors than some self- and independently published books. Granted, I generally read on my Kindle app so it could be just a conversion issue. Either way, it’s something that should be addressed, discussed and shared because authors ARE an example, and all readers (child, adult and in between) deserve our very, very best.

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  3. Excellent point, well made. Sadly, I think I’m still a bad influence but I am striving to change that. I hire editors, I send my books out to eagle eyed beta readers and I proof read them backwards. It’s hard though and I can see why some authors have a more louche approach but it takes me so long to write a book that I really have to ensure it’s the best possible all round quality.

    Cheers

    MTM

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  4. It’s irritating to me the more I “learn” because I get frustrated that things I get dinged for are prevalent in NYT best sellers. I learned mostly by example because I had really poor English teachers. Now things that are acceptable to the big six publishers are not to the smaller presses. I understand the need for proper grammar and I get pissed when a grammar rule I didn’t know about costs me a reader because my “editor” didn’t catch it and teach me. Then again I’m losing my reading for pleasure button too because when I see the error I can feel the wrap of my editors ruler.

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    1. For those of us who entrusted our books to publishers (traditional or small press), we’re in a tough situation. If our books hit the press with errors, it reflects on us as authors. Most authors make a good faith effort to self-edit before submitting to the publisher. When the editor does a sloppy job, we’re left with egg on our faces.

      Yep, I’ve seen more and more errors in NYT best-sellers. I can understand a couple of errors slipping through, but a book I recently read had hundreds of punctuation errors and slopping formatting. And this was a book published by a division of Macmillan. I felt sorry for the author that her publisher didn’t do a better job. They owed her more than that.

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  5. I absolutely cannot stand typos in a published book. With self-publishing I’m a bit more forgiving, but only to a certain extent. With traditional publishing … I’m sorry, but if you can’t afford to hire two or three people to comb through the book for errors, then … bah!!! In my own book, I edited the heck out of that thing. If someone ever finds a typo in it, I will be appalled with myself. And then I will release a new edition of the book with the typo fixed!

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  6. Brilliant post, Tricia! Couldn’t agree more. It is SO important that the author takes the time and effort to make their story as perfect as possible, and that means structure as well as content. We wouldn’t buy any product if we thought it was poor quality. The author must respect the reader and the story and do them both justice by honing their craft and getting their work polished until it shines.

    I must say, now that I have found an excellent eagle-eyed editor it takes a lot of the stress away. Yes of course I will edit and edit and edit until my eyes bulge, but at the end of the day, if you have a professional who knows their craft and can be objective, which an author can never be, then that’s what you need. As many times as I had edited my first book (well over 100!), I was still amazed at what my editor found, things my first publisher’s had completely missed. Yes, books whether they are traditionally published, POD indie published or self-published are never immune to mistakes, but by gods don’t we owe the reader the best possible quality read we can? Nothing less will do! 😀

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  7. Like you my school had us to do spelling tests all the way up to about seventh grade. I hated those spelling tests and if a word was misspelled in the test, we were to write the word in a sentence ten times each for each word. Meaning, we had to use the word in a sentence and then copy it ten times for each word that was misspelled. As for doing away with a lot of the things we had to do growing up in school are, tragically, dying away to never been seen again. So as a writer/author, I believe it is a must that we try to do our best with, not only the stories we write, the editing, grammar, etc. We have to do our best because, yes, a poorly edited book will turn of readers. Even if it is a good story plot and trust me I have read some that was extremely horrible and I had to put the book down and think, what in the world was this person thinking before publishing it. If it’s just a few hear and there, then I’ll over look it because like you said ‘We can’t catch every mistake, no matter how many times we look over our work.”

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  8. Guilty as charged! I make up grammar and punctuation as I go along. I recently begged an English refresh course off one of my colleagues in desperation. I’m an unknown blogger, mostly read by family and friends, but it’s nice to think that if I’m ever inspired to write more, that I’ll have the necessary tools to do so.

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