Romance, Historical, Contemporary, Paranormal, Young Adult, Book reviews, industry news, and commentary from a reader's point of view

It’s Not All About Taste

So here’s the thing: I think we’ve oversold the virtues of subjectivity.

When I first entered the online Romance community, I faced a steep learning curve when it came to calling out what I felt was poor writing and sub-par editing. Frustrated at being chided for “sounding like an English teacher” or being “too picky,” and worried about insulting other readers, over time I learned to couch my criticism in terms like “not to my taste” or “not everyone experiences a book the same way,” and other phrases that emphasized the subjectivity of reader response to a book. And, of course, reader responses are subjective, which is what makes diversity among book offerings so essential.

But I think we’ve gone too far in not acknowledging and embracing the fact that while tastes are subjective, some elements of writing and publication are not. We hit that wall, in fact, in increasingly frequent discussions like the one that erupted in the wake of Jane’s review of R.L. Mathewson’s Playing for Keeps. Jane notes numerous punctuation and grammatical errors, noting that “good editing can push a book from a good read into a great read.” I want to push this even further to say that competent writing, grammar, and punctuation should be recognized as an objective standard against which every professionally published work should be measured.

This may seem like a fairly obvious statement, but it’s one I think Romance readers have struggled with, in part because of the external prejudice against Romance as “bad” and “inferior.” Evaluating the quality of writing is often associated with literary fiction, which in turn is associated with snobbery and pretentiousness, complicating objective critiques of Romance fiction. Rather than embracing the value of objective and subjective standards of quality as equivalent, we have privileged subjectivity as a better, more egalitarian measure of excellence.

However, in the midst of the self-publishing rush and the apparent decrease in copyediting among professional publishers, from digital start-ups to Big Six giants, I think it’s time to reclaim the value of objectivity and distinguish objective measures of writing competence from subjective measures of reading enjoyment. No matter how unique and great a story or an author’s voice is, solid punctuation and grammar will not diminish that; on the other hand, if the technical details of writing are poorly presented, it can kill the other elements of a book. And honestly, when someone offers a book for commercial sale, why should it not meet basic standards of professional presentation? What is wrong with expecting that?

I am not going to argue that our extreme reliance on subjectivity has resulted in the decline in editing, but I absolutely believe that if we continue to overlook these errors, we will see more and more of them in professionally published work, and that what up-and-coming readers and writers will learn from will be increasingly sub-standard examples. Not everything is subjective, and I think we’re doing ourselves and our favored genres a disservice by continuing to minimize the importance of solid composition skills and sound editing.

Notice that I did not say perfect writing, because there is no such thing. Not only are errors inevitable, regardless of how many people screen a text, but there will always be points of legitimate disagreement over certain stylistic differences. That line can be difficult to discern, too, especially when an author’s voice or storytelling register as very strong to some readers. Julie Anne Long’s books are case in point for some of us here at Dear Author, as our reviews have reflected (and prompted extensive discussions).  And of course, discussions about The Book That Shall Not Be Named have circled around the question of “bad writing” as some kind of moral issue, which has exacerbated the distinctions, as well.

This whole idea of shaming readers for their taste is not new, even within the Romance community, where there is already a high sensitivity to feeling criticized for what we enjoy reading. However, while some criticism of 50 Shades does seem like reader shaming, not all of it is, and the defensiveness seems to be hitting a level where it’s impossible to say anything critical about the book without being accused of reader shaming, and I think that’s pushing us further in the wrong direction. Of course we should not be shaming other readers for their choices. By the same token, calling out a book for poor writing and/or editing is not an indictment against readers who love it. However, I think our collective resistance to objective standards of critique has made them seem judgmental and pejorative.

Which is one reason I think 50 Shades is a perfect example of why we need to distinguish objective from subjective standards of critique: it’s a derivative story that shifts almost unchanged from amateur to professional status and hits precisely the right nerve for millions of readers.

We all know what it feels like when a book hits the right nerve: something just feels so right about the book that regardless of its problems, weaknesses, mistakes, and faults, you lovelovelove it. We all have these books, and in some cases, we don’t even want to acknowledge the flaws, because our love is so all-powerful it can actually transform them into virtues. In fact, these books transcend the very concept of flawed. In the meantime, others ignorantly and callously call out our beloveds for bad writing, bad editing, stale plot, and clichéd characters.

So who’s right?


Those familiar with Harlequin Presents, fan fiction, and erotic Romance will recognize most of the elements that comprise 50, which may be why the book seems such a revelation for mainstream readers who have discovered it. But even many Romance readers adore the book, calling it “fresh” and different. Yett for every reader who sees the book as fresh, another reader finds it stale. And let’s face it: both of those responses are absolutely true, because the book itself has limited significance outside of its relationship with readers. Objectively speaking, there is little new about 50, but the way so many readers experience it is. Enjoyment is all about the experience of the book, and those who do not feel the magic will just not see it the way its fans do, and vice versa. This is where subjective responses, and the importance of respecting subjectivity, are critical. Enjoyment is always a subjective standard, even though it can depend in part on objective elements. Some readers, for example, just cannot enjoy a book that has numerous spelling, grammar, and punctuation errors. Others can look past these objective elements and have pure subjective appreciation of the same book. Both responses are subjective, but one depends more on objective criteria.

The battle over 50’s popularity reflects in part a broader difficulty in distinguishing objective and subjective standards of quality and valuing them equally and non-judgmentally. Pointing out the errors in a novel is not tantamount to calling its fans stupid, although many seem to feel it is (while shaming readers for caring about those things often goes unchallenged). Ignoring errors and other issues of accuracy only seems to have resulted in a perception that readers are okay with diminished editing. We need to hit a happy medium in which both objective and subjective measures of evaluation have equal weight and validity.

How do we do that? I’m not sure. But here’s what I’m going to offer to get the conversation here going:

  • Objective standards of evaluation include grammar, punctuation, correct word use, sentence structure, correct details (e.g. world building elements, dates, names, professions, historical details, etc.), copyediting, formatting
  • Subjective standards of evaluation include character types, tropes, devices, plot type, voice, character arcs, subgenre choice, enjoyment of writing style
  • Standards that include objective and subjective elements include stylistic choices that affect clarity and accuracy; more nuanced elements of historical setting, e.g. representing attitudes of a certain time period; logical progression of character and plot development; coherence and accuracy in world building

I know we talk a lot in the Romance community about not caring what the mainstream thinks of the genre. However, I don’t see this as an issue of respect from the outside, so much as self-respect – if we respect books, we should feel free to expect the best out of them. As the current state of copyediting suggests, we’re going to get what we’re willing to stand for and pay for, and we all deserve more for our money and our time.

isn't sure if she's an average Romance reader, or even an average reader, but a reader she is, enjoying everything from literary fiction to philosophy to history to poetry. Historical Romance was her first love within the genre, but she's fickle and easily seduced by the promise of a good read. She approaches every book with the same hope: that she will be filled from the inside out with something awesome that she didnʼt know, didnʼt think about, or didnʼt feel until that moment. And she's always looking for the next mind-blowing read, so feel free to share any suggestions!


  1. KT Grant
    Aug 21, 2012 @ 04:29:57

    For some reason I really enjoyed Playing for Keeps although some of my issues with it were the actions of the characters and the overall loopiness of the plot, not the editing issues or errors. I think readers can forgive a lot from an author such as grammatical and misspellings or lack of editing if they are investing in the story. A perfect example is Kristen Ashley. People love her books like they’ree chocolate but the woman needs an editor, STAT. I read Knight and the editing issues were glaring for me.

    I’ve also read RL’s other works, and while the sequel to Playing for Keeps is also a fun read, but with a jerk hero, her other works fail big time for me because again the characters and the ridiculous nature of the plot.

    Perhaps readers don’t care about editing so much as long as the story grabs them and keeps them interested? When you’re lost in the moment and enjoying what you read, you don’t care about the writing errors?

  2. Andrea
    Aug 21, 2012 @ 04:38:55

    Reader response is a complicated thing, and I do sometimes find it useful to see reviews broken down into spelling/punctuation, style, character, plot and…je ne sais quoi.

    Sometimes the je ne sais quoi trumps every other factor.

    It’s rare to see that type of review, though.

  3. Kaetrin
    Aug 21, 2012 @ 04:42:42

    competent writing, grammar, and punctuation should be recognized as an objective standard against which every professionally published work should be measured.


    I can't completely enjoy a book rife with grammatical, punctuation and spelling errors – they throw me out of the story so I can’t get lost in it. I really don’t think good spelling, punctuation and grammar is too much to expect.

  4. Ellen
    Aug 21, 2012 @ 04:59:08

    I, too, enjoyed Ms. Mathewson’s NFH series and I will probably buy the third if/when completed. I loved the first one and managed to overlook the errors that usually make me crazy; enjoyed/tolerated the second. Then I read the first EMS book and decided I was done with that series and probably Ms. Mathewson, although I had downloaded her entire backlog. The je nais sais quoi wore off.

    But I don’t want that experience that again. I will not read an Ashley book because “I know better” and I don’t want to get into another internal “do I want to encourage this type of professionalism” debate again.

    I am always late to the party, I have a TBR pile larger than Stone Mountain, so I will just start waiting for reviews I trust on matters of punctuation, editing, consistency of story, as priggish as that sounds. When I hear “cracktasic,” I will walk away.

  5. Ellie
    Aug 21, 2012 @ 04:59:13

    It’s a slippery slope, and we can’t start sliding down it. If I’m paying for a book, heck even if it’s free and I’m investing my time in it, it shouldn’t be too much to expect that it is the best it can be. It should be EXACTLY what we expect.

    I find myself lately drawn back to print books and am neglecting my Kindle entirely. I prefer purchasing print over e-books, and while permanency is one reason, the other is quality. If I bought a print book and it was riddled with errors, I would be furious. So why is it okay in an e-book, for any reason? And what reason could there be, besides laziness?

  6. Aleksandr Voinov
    Aug 21, 2012 @ 05:12:09

    I’m one of the people who can’t enjoy a book if the basic standards of “good writing” aren’t met. Of course, my problem is that, as an author, I see these issues with a different eye. Once you read fiction like an author (or worse, like an editor/writing coach – I’m both), it’s on a level that has little to do with how Reader Sally reads a book.

    If you’re a bricklayer, you look at a wall and notice it’s not even or perfectly straight (and maybe that you could have done a better job), whereas somebody just using that wall is happy with it. So that level of critical education can be a problem – I can’t read anything (fiction, menus in my Chinese takeaway) without my Inner Red Pen. It’s very much my filter, but I’m also aware that few other people feel a missing comma like biting on tin foil.

    However, I also see people leaving a genre or getting extremely critical of it because editing standards are falling and they are basically not happy paying money for a rushed, badly-made product. In a niche like m/m romance, bad editing is a major problem (that’s the genre I know most about). And I completely agree with the point that certain production standards need to be maintained for both respect and self-respect: in terms of craft on the side of the author, in terms of editing on the side of the publisher.

    Other genres managed that too. There are millions of craft books out there for the other genres that are sneered at. Fantasy writers do MFAs, Stephen King wrote on writercraft. Why should romance be seen as “cheap and nasty product” written by people who don’t know the difference between “showing” and “telling” and don’t know an internal plot arch if it attacked their cat in the garden? I think good craft and editing would benefit everybody – and it very often makes for a better read. How often have I read a wildly successful book and thought, “Damn, this would have been so much better if it had been properly edited.”

  7. It’s Not All About Taste | Sobre livros |
    Aug 21, 2012 @ 05:47:37

    […]   […]

  8. It’s Not All About Taste | Outras leituras |
    Aug 21, 2012 @ 06:03:22

    […] And honestly, when someone offers a book for commercial sale, why should it not meet basic standards of professional presentation? What is wrong with expecting that?  […]

  9. Romance Slut
    Aug 21, 2012 @ 06:59:37

    Poor grammar, spelling, punctuation etc. definitely reduces my enjoyment of a book, and it doesn’t matter if it’s romance, non-fiction or one of my young daughter’s books. To me, it shows that the author/publisher doesn’t care much about the basic quality of their work beyond the creative, and it can make me feel short-changed that I’ve bought a book which is sloppily written. When I write a review, I do very often state if there are errors or historical/setting errors, as well as state if it appears the author has gone to a great deal of trouble to get such details right, since it shows pride in their work. Accuracy is different from creativity, but they both contribute to enjoyment, and your ability to get lost in the world of a book.

    I also need to confess. I’m not a stickler for accuracy and correct use of language, but it seems my awareness of it makes me enough of a minority that I am routinely asked to correct the grammar of my colleagues at work in technical/business reports, which I find interesting. I guess people generally care more about it than may appear at first glance.

  10. Sasha
    Aug 21, 2012 @ 07:08:07

    Excellent post. Like many, the biggest problem I have is that I am immediately taken out of the story when faced with obvious errors. It drives me nuts that most of the time the errors would be caught by a simple running of Spell Check.

    Heck, most of us make us of Spell Check routinely. Why on earth would an “author” put something out there without doing the same?

  11. Jayne
    Aug 21, 2012 @ 07:17:28

    Authors often call their books their “babies.” So authors/parents, would you let your son go to school looking like his hair hadn’t been washed or combed in a month? Or send your daughter to a party wearing a smelly dress covered with dried food stains? Why would you not want your literary “babies” to look as good as your real children?

  12. Nicole
    Aug 21, 2012 @ 07:19:43

    I absolutely believe that poor grammar, lack of punctuation, incorrect word choice and so on are fair game for reviewers to criticise. I can’t fully enjoy any book, no matter how spellbinding the story, if basic writing standards are not met. Sadly, these days very few books, print or digital, would escape my red pen if I were still an English teacher. Does nobody know how to use a semicolon anymore?

    As a former teacher, I know that most teenagers today lack the knowledge to recognise the errors I see everywhere, so their enjoyment of whatever they read will not be diminished by irritation with poor proofreading or editing. However the frightening result of this is that facility with the English language is one area in which humanity is regressing. There’s nothing that can be done about blog posters or free fan fiction writers or even newsreaders who commit the most appalling and depressing language howlers, but published authors expecting readers to pay for their product should have nowhere to hide.

  13. Maili
    Aug 21, 2012 @ 07:52:07


    When I hear “cracktasic,” I will walk away.

    I do this as well. When the world-building or character consistency of a new book series is rather incoherent, readers tend to say: “But it’s so cracktasic that I can’t help loving it!” It’s got to the point where I came to view ‘cracktasic’ as a helpful warning flag.

    I have absolutely no problem with readers loving cracktastic stories (I love many ‘so bad that it’s good’ films, for goodness sake), but I do have a problem with those who encourage authors’ bad habits to continue. “So what if his name is still spelt Aiden and Aidan so randomly and that the author rarely keeps her world-building consistent? MOR LUV!”

    Another thing that annoys me: those who accept certain fundamental issues in writing as part of the Romance genre. You know, “Why be serious? It’s only Romance, after all.” No, the Romance genre deserves better.

  14. Ren
    Aug 21, 2012 @ 07:54:25

    @Nicole: “Does nobody know how to use a semicolon anymore?”

    I do, I do! I have an internal style guide right here, however, that forbids the use of one.

  15. aleksandr voinov
    Aug 21, 2012 @ 07:57:29


    Yep. The excuse “it’s only romance, why should I do my historical research” has been used with great conviction and a fair amount of aggression – even in cases where reading the *Wikipedia* article on the topic (time investment = 10-15 minutes) would have been enough to prevent the mistake.

  16. Jane
    Aug 21, 2012 @ 08:06:06

    Obviously I am guilty as any reader of perpetuating the bad editing/bad proofing problems in publishing. I regularly delve into the self published masses looking for new reads. I mentioned to another reader, not so humorously, that I think my standards have declined since I started reading more self published work. And let’s be honest here, while there is the occasional stinker from publishing houses (whether it be trad or digital first) it seems far more a rarity to get a self published book that is well edited.

    One reason I am such a proponent of Tammara Webber’s books were because they were so well done – from cover to cover – her books are a professional endeavor and I would not hesitate to pay more for her books because of that.

    With Ashley and Mathewson, I enjoy those books but I can’t recommend them without a dozen PS and caveats. I have another self published book that I read that was on the NYTimes list and it too was replete with errors throughout, and really obvious ones.

    After the Mathewson review, I did wonder if I was doing DA readers a disservice by reviewing these self published books that were so ineptly put together. I don’t know whether it is a sign of laziness on behalf of an author. Surely Mathewson can afford to hire an editor even without raising her books. To make it on the NYT list, as she did, she had to sell several thousand copies of her works. Some of these self published authors are making 50K a month so it’s not like editing is out of reach for them.

    Yet, I don’t want to abandon the self published pool altogether. It’s a conundrum.

  17. Angela James
    Aug 21, 2012 @ 08:06:25

    I agree with the heart of your piece, so not to throw a spanner in your works but…objective standards of things like grammar and punctuation just aren’t as objective as we might hope. Anyone who’s ever belonged to an editor or copy editor’s list serv or forum knows the debates that can arise over something that seems like it should be objective, such as an apostrophe, but can be in fact quite subjective.

    I can’t tell you the number of reviews or emails I’ve received, as an editor, telling me that the editing was shabby, where their examples are, in fact, not examples of shabby editing, but grammar and punctuation choices they disagree with, even though I’ve followed Chicago Manual of Style, but they learned it differently in school 40 years ago, so I’ve got it all wrong.

    All that to say, I agree wholeheartedly that I don’t want to see authors or publishers do away with good editing, good grammar and good punctuation, but I can’t agree that all of that is necessarily an objective standard, either, because I’ve seen that it’s most emphatically not, for many people. But, still, counter to my own statement, I also do believe (and agree with you, Robin) that there’s an intuitive line between “not edited to xyz standards” and “barely having had a figurative red pen waved in the direction of the book” and I would hope that we can hold all authors selling books & asking for reader dollars to a higher standard than just a wave of the red pen.

  18. Lori
    Aug 21, 2012 @ 08:27:11

    I just imagine if this blog were called Dear Chef, nobody would suggest that the reviewer overlook the under cooked pork because the plate was put together so prettily. Or Dear Craftsman we might not find it okay to overlook the awesome rocking chair that just happens to miss a seat.

    I hate to see the whole self-pub category be lumped together since there are many people out there who are using editors and crit groups and whatever resources they have or can afford. But those who aren’t don’t deserve a free pass because they might have a certain amount of talent.

    If you’re asking people to pay money for your product, you have no excuse for not putting out the best product available. And Jane, I love that you’re reading self-pubbed books but they deserve to be held to the same standards as any other. When you say in a review that the book has spelling/gramatical issues, I know not to buy it since that is a book killer for me. I can’t read a book riddled with mistakes, I can’t enjoy it when I’m rewriting it in my head.

  19. Jane Davitt
    Aug 21, 2012 @ 08:42:45

    Typos happen. Four people can read an ms and four people can miss a mangled word. You know what it’s supposed to look like and your mind obligingly corrects it without bothering to tell you.

    I’ll forgive a typo or two.

    If the writer uses ‘discrete’ when they mean ‘discreet’ or ‘you’re’ for ‘your’, warning bells start to ring.

    Consistent punctuation errors in dialogue that prove not only does the author not know how to punctuate a simple conversation but neither do her editor, proofer, or line reader have me stepping back from the book mentally, distancing myself from it.

    Correct grammar/spelling — they’re one of the cornerstones upon which a book is built. They are important.

    They are not an optional extra, icing on the cake, a bonus if they’re there, something for which a book should be praised for having.

    They should be the one thing you’re sure you’ll find when you open a book. The plot might lose its way, the characters bore or appall — but correct grammar and spelling should be a given.

  20. Kati
    Aug 21, 2012 @ 08:42:59

    @Jane: Oh Jane, welcome to my rowboat, grab a lifejacket, make yourself at home.

    I also read a lot of self-pub. Heck, I’m on the record as being completely bewitched by Kristen Ashley and her many, many writing ticks. I’ll be honest, I’m the opposite of Maili. If I hear someone say “cracktastic”, I’m more likely to buy the damn book. And then gnash my teeth and wail about the weird writing. It’s sad, but it’s also true.

  21. Lynnd
    Aug 21, 2012 @ 08:48:29

    For me cracktastic = crap and I will not waste my money or my time on crap if I can help it. Language and consistent world-building are important. Several years ago I read an e-book by a New York published author that continually referred to Eton College as “Eaton”. As a Canadian, Eaton has a very different meaning for me – it was one of our original and beloved departement stores which went out of business about 15 or so years ago. Every time I read Eaton in that book that’s what I thought of and it pulled me out of the story with thoughts of the department store, it’s demise and Roch Carrier’s “The Hockey Sweater.” Luckily, I didn’t notice any other glaring errors in that book and I was still able to enjoy it quite a bit, but in my internal grading system, the book went from a “A-” read to a B read. I don’t know Whether that error was a result of poor conversion to “e” form or poor editting but it still mattered to me (so much that I still remember it),

    However, if I am continually pulled out of the story by numerous instances of incorrect spelling and grammar, incorrect use of words or inconsistent world-building, I’m going to be very annoyed. If I have read glowing reviews of the book that don’t mention any of these problems, then I’m not only going be annoyed with the author and publisher, I am also going to be annoyed with the reviewer for failing to mention these issues.

    To me, an author/publisher who puts out a shoddily editted book does not care about his/her work so why should I waste my time and money on it.

  22. Dabney
    Aug 21, 2012 @ 08:50:27

    @Sasha: It makes me crazy especially given not only the ubiquitousness of SpellCheck but of grammar/punctuation programs. I run everything I write through both WordPress’s review and through Word’s review. They don’t catch everything, but, jeez, why not at least make the effort?

    @Nicole: I’m routinely startled by emails and Facebook postings from well-educated friends who confuse your and you’re, it’s and its, etc… I often wonder if it’s laziness or if, exposed to so much poor writing, they have forgotten the correct usage.

  23. Meoskop
    Aug 21, 2012 @ 08:56:36

    Yes to everything. The lack of proper editing makes it impossible for me to enjoy a book. There was a period in the 90’s where Signet Regency let their editing slip and it was all I could do not to red pen the book and mail it back. I don’t mind one or two errors – that’s human. But a book that would get a C or D as an english paper isn’t worth my money or time.

    That said, I will defend the cracktastic read. Charlaine Harris writes and absolute mess of a book from a continuity standpoint, her characters generally serve the plot as opposed to themselves, and I cannot stop reading Sookie books. But there needs to be an open confession that yes, this is a flawed product. I used to love Twinkies, I never claimed they were food.

  24. Amanda DeWees
    Aug 21, 2012 @ 08:57:17

    Thank you for this post! I’m both a writer and an editor–and, naturally, a lifelong reader–and I lose all respect for a work if the editing is shoddy. Often I can’t continue reading it. Slipshod grammar and punctuation are painful and infuriating to me, in part because they are so unnecessary. Good editors are out there–and probably in need of work, as more and more traditional publishers cut back those services.

  25. CourtneyLee
    Aug 21, 2012 @ 09:06:40

    @Aleksandr Voinov: What he said. I’ve always thought I must have been an editor in a previous life because I tend to read books critically that way. Perhaps it’s simply a result of lots of college-level literature and composition courses in two languages combined with consuming lots of professionally edited fiction at the same time, but poor grammar, etc, absolutely pulls me out of the story and makes it impossible to separate my feelings about the plot, character development, worldbuilding, etc., from the objective writing standards. I agree that wanting proper conventions to be followed, as can be found in the Chicago Manual of Style or the Manual of the Modern Language Association, is not too much to ask and is indeed quite reasonable. Taking pride in one’s craft and professionalism are good things.

    And specifically referencing The Book That Shall Not Be Named, I have ceased talking to people about it unless they feel the same way I do about it. Most of the people around me who like it bristle at any criticism of it and take it as shaming them for liking it. Drives me nuts.

    I’m no stranger to liking books that some people despise–there are a few books/series in the romance genre that I love that others can’t stand because of subjective criteria, foremost among them being JR Ward’s Black Dagger Brotherhood series. But I think part of being a thoughtful, invested reader is being aware of what things are subjective and why someone might not like them and, most importantly, recognizing that just because you like it doesn’t mean their criticisms aren’t valid.

    When it comes to objective standards, though, like accuracy, internal consistency, grammar, punctuation, etc., I do take exception to being told that my standards are too high or I’m being judgemental or I need to be more sensitive to the author’s hard work and not come down too harshly because writing a book is hard. If you tell me that JR Ward’s habit of using brand names and gangsta-speak is a total turn-off for you, my response would be, “eh, different strokes for different folks.” But if you tell me that I should let basic, universal writing conventions fall by the wayside in the name of subjectivity? No. Just no.

  26. MrsJoseph
    Aug 21, 2012 @ 09:07:25

    Jane, please never stop letting us know about the spelling/editing errors. It drives me batty (and a lot of people I know). In fact, a group of us just buddy read that hoax book – and we factored in spelling and grammar errors.

    Some Self-pubs are really starting to ruin it for the rest of them. I used to feel very comfortable about picking out a new unknown author. Now I don’t want to even look in that direction unless I have a recommendation from someone I trust (and I’ve done my research to make sure the author isn’t batshit crazy or likely to send his/her rabid fans in my direction).

    And I hate to toot my own horn (ha!) but I’m a damn good fan to have. I’m the person who will buy your entire backlist in print and ebook. I’m the person who spends about $1000 a year on books. So, if I don’t read your book…it’s not me who lost out.

  27. Tamara Hogan
    Aug 21, 2012 @ 09:20:10


    I love that you’re reading self-pubbed books but they deserve to be held to the same standards as any other. When you say in a review that the book has spelling/gramatical issues, I know not to buy it since that is a book killer for me. I can’t read a book riddled with mistakes, I can’t enjoy it when I’m rewriting it in my head.


  28. Tina
    Aug 21, 2012 @ 09:26:49

    @Angela James: Oh, I agree with this a lot.

    On the one hand I don’t think anyone would disagree that they would like a polished, professional grammatically correct book. But for many readers they may not necessarily know what “grammatically correct” is. Sure, most people know how to spell and know if a homophone or homonym are used correctly in the context of a sentence and understand that verb disagreements just sound wrong.

    But then you get into things like tense shift, word usage (can a reader tell if a word is being used incorrectly if she doesn’t exactly know the definition of the word herself?), and punctuation issues with those lesser known punctuation marks such as the colon, the semi-colon and the ellipse.

    I think on the whole the rules of grammar are can be viewed objectively — there are actual rules, so they really should be followed. But I think grammar can also be somewhat subjective. Every reader has a line in the sand of what makes a book illegible from a grammar standpoint. Some people who work closely with language may have a higher bar of intolerance than those who don’t. Some people may notice even the smallest grammatical errors where some people simply may not even notice the biggest ones.

    I think a reviewer on a site like DA who does an analysis of the product should definitely point these things out. You are doing a service and you have a wide readership who fall all along the spectrum.

    I think an author/editor/publisher has the absolute responsibility to put out the best product they can. In the business of writing this includes knowing how to use the right words and punctuation and spelling. And no, do not rely on spell check because ‘To’ is spelled correctly but not when you want to use the word ‘Too’

    At the end of the day, though, a reader only has the responsibility to what she likes and will tolerate. If she is willing to pay money for a product that is less than perfect that is her choice. I do not think any reader should be made to feel that her choice is wrong or that she is undereducated or somehow lacking in common sense because she doesn’t recognize certain grammatical conventions. Sometimes I think discussions on this subject can veer alarmingly toward that and have a bit of a judgmental overtone. Which is probably why some people get really defensive.

  29. Emily
    Aug 21, 2012 @ 09:35:25

    I whole-heartedly agree with MrsJoseph and a few others – Jane, please, please, please never stop mentioning the spelling/editing errors. I wish more people would do it. How a book is written is just as important as the plot and nothing pulls me out of a story faster or makes me madder than consistent ignorance of basic language rules. I’m one of those people who didn’t read 50 because I read a sample and got disgusted on the second page. And now I tend to stay away from self-pubs unless they come highly recommended because I don’t want to waste my time or my money. It’s not unreasonable to expect a professional to be a professional. If my brand spanking new sweater has a hole in it, you better believe I’m returning it and I absolutely do not hesitate to return books that are shoddily produced.

    And I’ll be honest – returning a book, heck, not finishing a book is a new thing for me. I can count on one hand the number of books I didn’t finish before I really dug in with my Kindle. Now it seems to occur on a monthly basis.

    I don’t know, I guess I just feel like if the author can’t take the time to write a good book, why should I take the time to read it and hand over my hard-earned money?

  30. JacquiC
    Aug 21, 2012 @ 09:57:36

    I think this is a great post. I struggle with trying to teach my kids about proper English, and I struggle with teaching junior lawyers at work the need to write correctly and effectively. And there is absolutely nothing like a book in which the writing is correct, effective and evocative at the same time. Sure, there are debates about correct grammar or use of punctuation. But I think the technical aspects of writing should always be fair game for criticism.

    As for the subjective aspects, I also love reading about a reviewer’s subjective reaction to the book, as long as the reaction does not involve shaming anyone who reacts differently.

    The issue I’m struggling with is that I’ve always seen myself as a purist about language and editing, until I encountered Kristen Ashley. I feel as if I should not buy her books as a matter of principle because she so desperately needs an editor, both in terms of grammar and correct English, but also in terms of length. I SHOULD refuse to pay money to buy the books because buying them seems to implicitly reinforce the idea that these issues don’t matter and that authors can get away with not paying for a proper editor. But for some reason, I find myself buying the next one in order to suck down more of her brand of plot craziness. I cannot explain this, or really even excuse it. But there it is.

    Perhaps the right answer here is to do what Jane says — read the books, and recommend them with strong caveats about the editorial deficiencies. Maybe the earned royalties, together with the caveats, will encourage authors to spend money on editing with a view to selling even more books in future. Maybe that is naive, though. I don’t know.

  31. Lynnd
    Aug 21, 2012 @ 09:59:47

    @Jane: Please keep on reviewing self-published authors. As long as you keep being honest about the quality of the writing, I do not think that you are contributing to the problem. I would never have found authors like Tammara Webber and Susan Ee without your reviews.

  32. DS
    Aug 21, 2012 @ 10:10:47

    Yesterday a friend came in and waved a paperback book at me. She was fuming. “This is the worst book I have ever read– ever” She went on to say it was full of errors– things spelled wrong, words used wrong, names changed in the middle of the story, stuff happening that would have been impossible because the contradicted other factual events in the plot. It was a book by Carlene Thompson, a romantic suspense writer, and it was published by St. Martin’s Press. I doubt if Ms Thompson is going to get another chance with my friend.

    The book was Share No Secrets and was published in 2005. When I looked at the Amazon reviews out of 17 reviews (all but two 4 and 5 stars) only two mentioned the errors.

  33. Sirius
    Aug 21, 2012 @ 10:17:07

    While in general I agree, I wonder whether even professionals (critics, English professors) can often agree about some standards of grammar and usage and whether it is indeed that objective (some of them I mean). Humongous disclaimer as ESL reader who writes reviews, I often tend to miss typos and mistakes (not always of course), so what I am about to say has nothing to do with my standards, because you can bet that if I am reading book in Russian full of grammar mistakes I am going to get very annoyed, so of course objectively I agree that same should be done with English books. But here is what I am trying to say – some time ago I reviewed self published book, which I loved and did not see many typos in there. At the same time couple of English native speakers read it (both deal with language for a living). They both thought that grammar and usage was overall very good, at the same time one pointed humongous overruse of commas and another did not think so. Wouldn’t this show that some grammatical standards are also subjective, depending on who reads the book?

    Heh, and I always think about “Ulisses” – of course it is considered unique, but a lot of people sing praises to it, no? I do think that my opinion should be disregarded since I have read it as a challenge to myself to prove that I can and I am sure as a second language person missed plenty of nuances, but most certainly at least some English native speakers agree with me that it is one of the most boring and confusing books English literature ever produced and that man disregarded so many norms of English language. Doesn’t it show that good writing can be considered very subjective as well?

    Of course I am not talking about the books full of misspelled words and juvenile sentence structure – I guess there is no doubt in my mind that those standards are objective at least.

  34. dick
    Aug 21, 2012 @ 11:08:06

    I taught grammar courses for more than 30 years, (my children and grandchildren say I still do), and I will contend with any who think that the “rules” are not objective. They are. However, I also think there is more than grammar in good writing. Sometimes, sentence fragments simply work better. Sometimes, an unnecessary comma makes a sentence read better. In short, sometimes, the “rules” have to be ignored. And misspellings are not, in my opinion, even a part of grammar which has to do primarily with the relationships of words and punctuation that makes those relationships as clear as possible and that can be accomplished without a single correctly spelled word. Nor is confusion of homophones a grammatical problem as much as it is a problem of not seeing that form doesn’t equate with function.
    But, all that being said, hell yes a reviewer and readers alike should tromp on a badly editted book.

  35. Sirius
    Aug 21, 2012 @ 11:16:53

    @dick: Probably that’s exactly it and the source of my confusion – “sometimes there is more than a grammar to a good writing”. But who decides when the rules could and should be ignored? Isn’t this in itself subjective determination? As a reader the book may hit all the right buttons with me, but it may be full of mistakes I either had not noticed (in that situation my opinion should be ignored) or noticed, but choose to ignore, because I loved plot and characters, but does this mean that it is a good writing? Sometimes people say that “he/she is not a good writer, but a good storyteller”. I find this critique in itself making very little sense to me. If the writer makes me care about story and characters, to me that means good writing. But again, what if it is full of grammar and stylistical mistakes? I am asking because I am curious and by and large do not disagree with your post at all

  36. Kelly
    Aug 21, 2012 @ 11:25:12

    I love the analogies of a chef disguising undercooked food or someone sending the babies off to school with unwashed hair.

    The analogy that comes to mind for me is Project Runway. Every week, there’s at least one designer who flails around yammering about their “vision” and “staying true to themselves,” and then sends out a Hot Mess that looks like a day camp craft project held together with staples and glue dots. The designer might get away with it for a week or maybe two, but if the end product is consistently poorly made – auf weidersehen, baby, with a truckload of snark from Michael and Nina as a parting gift.

    Every profession has a learning curve. That’s why businesses have internships and training programs and mentors. I can understand an enthusiastic rookie writer sending out a rushed and error-prone book. But if every book has the same problems, I’m going to lose patience and respect. And when it keeps happening with authors who show up on the NYT bestsellers list, I’m thoroughly disgusted because it’s just lazy and unprofessional. NO EXCUSES. The resources are there. RECOGNIZE YOUR LIMITATIONS AND DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT. Have some professional pride, FFS.

    I can also understand how a reader who isn’t bothered by grammar and punctuation errors might feel Inner Red Pen (LOVE that) reviewers like me are being “judgmental” and “implying a lack of education” if they enjoy the book. But I really don’t see that as a valid argument against pointing out errors and inconsistencies. How is it different from pointing out issues with world-building or pacing or point of view? If Robin/Janet points out a glaring plot hole that I overlooked, would I be justified in whining that she’s judging me for my lack of reading comprehension? NO. Should she feel compelled to avoid the issue because it might be a sensitive topic for me? Absolutely not.

    It’s great that readers are passionate about their favorite authors. But other readers like me are passionate about the craft of writing, and we should never have to apologize for that.

  37. Sirius
    Aug 21, 2012 @ 11:29:53

    @Kelly: With this I absolutely agree, I do think that reviewer should point out grammar mistakes if they see them and never feel apologetic about it. I am only wondering whether all of such mistakes are really objective determination (and I agree that many are), but of course it is a valid critique. If I loved the book anyway, I will disregard your review, if I would be bothered by those mistakes too, I will find it helpful, but of course you (generic you) should not be ignoring what you think is a mistake IMO.

  38. Anon
    Aug 21, 2012 @ 11:48:48


    And when it keeps happening with authors who show up on the NYT bestsellers list, I’m thoroughly disgusted because it’s just lazy and unprofessional.

    It may be lazy and unprofessional, but when it’s happening with authors who consistently hit the NYT list w/ their books, it’s not just the authors’ fault. The reason why their books hit the NYT list is because people keep buying them, recommending them to their friends, etc.

    Since the authors are being handsomely rewarded for their effort, why should they change anything? Obviously they’re doing everything right, and hundreds of thousands of readers agree.

  39. Jane
    Aug 21, 2012 @ 11:57:58

    @Anon – yes, readers are part of the problem. I have to cop to being part of the problem. It is not that I don’t want better edited books because I do. Part of readers contributing to this problem is that you don’t necessarily know that the books are poorly edited going on. I didn’t use the excerpt feature because at $.99 I’d rather buy than get just the excerpt. There isn’t much of any incentive to change if the author is making hundreds of thousands of dollars off her poorly edited work but perhaps the first step is pointing it out. There is some measure of embarrassment that stems from an author being pointed to as a terrible example of actual writing. We saw it happen with Mathewson to the point that fangirls felt the need to come to the blog and berate us.

  40. Moriah Jovan
    Aug 21, 2012 @ 12:00:31


    Since the authors are being handsomely rewarded for their effort, why should they change anything? Obviously they’re doing everything right, and hundreds of thousands of readers agree.

    Sadly, I cannot disagree with that. It has been my overriding concern since, well, Twilight. A helluva lot more people don’t care than do.

  41. Anon
    Aug 21, 2012 @ 12:21:05

    @Jane: I agree, Jane, and I’m not saying you shouldn’t point out errors.

    But having errors pointed out on DA, etc. doesn’t impact sales at all, the authors probably won’t care. After all, the fact that somebody’s willing to give them money means more to them than somebody complaining on a blog about their shoddy writing. After all, it’s ALL “subjective!”

    What I do fear is this scenario in which writers who care about good prose writing see what’s happening w/ those who do not, and start to lower their own quality because they come to believe that production value is irrelevant. And you can’t even tell them that they’re wrong when the other authors who put out books with lots of grammar errors and typos are outselling them by hundreds of thousands of copies and rake in $50k+ per month.

  42. Anon
    Aug 21, 2012 @ 12:22:48

    That was a poor paragraph up there.

    But having errors pointed out on DA, etc. doesn’t impact sales at all, the authors probably won’t care. After all, the fact that somebody’s willing to give them money means more to them than somebody complaining on a blog about their shoddy writing. After all, it’s ALL “subjective!”


    But if having errors pointed out on DA, etc. doesn’t impact sales at all, the authors probably won’t care. The fact that somebody’s willing to give them money means more to them than somebody complaining on a blog about their shoddy writing. After all, it’s ALL “subjective!”

  43. P. Kirby
    Aug 21, 2012 @ 12:22:59

    FWIW, I had a sh*tty education as a child. Nearly everything I know about writing was learned by osmosis, via reading, not in school. For the most part, the books I read (and still read) had the basics down pat. They served to imprint a basic template for writing in my head.

    I mean, yeah, I get that there are stylistic disagreements even between editors. But, by and large a published book should adhere to the established norms for grammar, spelling, and punctuation. Even if the characterization is uneven, or the plot holey-er than the Black Pearl’s sails, the author (editors) should know the difference between “heals” and “heels” and how to properly punctuate dialogue.

    Yep, there are times when prose benefits from ignoring the rules, but frankly, you really can’t effectively ignore the rules until you first learn how to apply them correctly.

    So, yes, on behalf of this reader who learned the craft through reading, please continue to point out cases of horrendous editing.

  44. Jackie Barbosa
    Aug 21, 2012 @ 12:30:54

    I freely admit to being in the camp who cannot see past poor mechanics to the “cracktastic” story that lies beneath. More than that, I don’t feel that any reader should be obliged to “ignore” poorly edited writing to get a story they enjoy. Why don’t readers feel they deserve BOTH a story that hits all the right buttons and still manages to follow the basic rules of grammar, spelling, and punctuation? When did that become too much to ask?

  45. Bea @Bea's Book Nook
    Aug 21, 2012 @ 12:34:19


    I completely agree. I’ll stop a book that has lots of typos, spelling errors, grammatical issues, etc. I also get rid of it as fast as I can. Sadly, to me, many readers don’t care. I’ve read reviews of books that had numerous grammatical issues, etc and the review doesn’t even mention it. I sometimes wonder if we read the same book.

    If a writer is going to put their work out for buyers/consumers, then it should meet minimum standards of competency. It is not too much to expect that you the author will have made every reasonable effort to ensure a quality product and that absolutely includes editing. As Jane has said, the reader is not your beta reader.

  46. Robin/Janet
    Aug 21, 2012 @ 12:40:26

    @KT Grant: I think in a lot of cases readers just don’t recognize all the errors, which goes back to what I was saying about learning from poor examples. And while I think the burden to complain is on readers, I think there is harm to the community in general — especially in terms of respect for the books — when standards are low. No story was harmed by competent presentation, and I cannot think of one true virtue that crappy presentation brings to a book.

    @Andrea: Several of us were talking yesterday about how some of the “niceness” conditioning may be part of that; it’s so much more “polite” to talk about things in terms of ‘what works for me’ than to say, ‘hey, the prose in this book was so awful and so awfully punctuated I could barely get through a paragraph.’ I’ve read books like that, and reviewed some, as well, and without question, those types of critiques — even presented in more euphemistic terms — will earn the reviewer backlash for being too picky or too mean. Very frustrating.

    @Ellie: I’ve seen these issues in print books, too, but formatting and self-publication have definitely made them more common, IMO. Also, I wonder if it’s easier to see them in a digital format.

    @Jayne: Exactly! Not to mention all the things you take extra care of when you’re pregnant, like not smoking, drinking, taking certain medications, etc. Wouldn’t the analogous situation (writing and possibly production of the book) warrant the same hyper-conscientious care?

    @Jane: I think it’s important to review these books and call out the problems, because it serves as a warning to other readers, if nothing else. Also, a couple of people on Twitter were saying that you can return digital books to Amazon, and that if you make clear that you are returning for errors, they will in turn tell the author or publisher about the problem. If that’s true, it may be another avenue for readers disappointed in book quality.

  47. library addict
    Aug 21, 2012 @ 12:41:31

    I will never be accused of being the grammar police. And as many others have said I am more than willing to forgive the occasional typo. But if the grammatical and/or spelling errors in a book are egregious enough that I notice and it throws me out of the story, the book is often DNF’d.

    Sadly, this happens much more frequently with self-published books. It doesn’t mean I will give up on self-published works, but I do tend to scan reviews for them more and appreciate it when reviews mention sub-par editing.

  48. Kelly
    Aug 21, 2012 @ 12:52:01

    @P. Kirby:

    …but frankly, you really can’t effectively ignore the rules until you first learn how to apply them correctly.

    EXACTLY. Every writer is free to “violate” rules for the sake of style and characterization – but authors with respect for their audience use that freedom as a conscious choice in specific situations to *support* a story.

  49. Bea @Bea's Book Nook
    Aug 21, 2012 @ 12:52:40

    @Angela James:

    Actually, that’s a good point. The other editors and I at the publisher I work for sometimes get into long, drawn out discussions about punctuation, word use, etc. that might seem absurd to other people. We use the 15th edition to CMoS but the 16th has many changes so accuracy can depend on which edition you’re using.

    Still, as a reader, I want the book or story to be as clean as possible.

  50. Shelly
    Aug 21, 2012 @ 12:52:49

    You know, it’s fascinating writing as a journalist and writing as a fiction author. Since J-school, I’ve always been taught that poor grammar, punctuation, and syntax can completely undermine your credibility as reporter. There are copy editors that will hack a sentence to death for fluidity and congruency. As a magazine editor I can easily engage in 15-minute discussions about the justification of changes to the style book or whether we should use “which” versus “that” in a sentence. So it always annoys me that when I’m reading fiction, it’s assumed that those same rules can be thrown out the window. Now there are times when artistry can allow you to take chances with traditional grammar in your writing. (The famous Faulkner run-on sentence is a prime example.) But I don’t think many of the authors who are doing it nowadays are doing it for artistry. It’s just plain laziness. Writing is a CRAFT… whether you’re doing the snootiest literary fiction that was every written, or a schlockiest commercial book that ever hit shelves. You can only break the rules after you LEARN the rules, which are grammar, syntax, spelling, story construction, etc. The downside to this business is that writing is a highly undervalued skill set. EVERYONE thinks they can be a competent writer when it’s not true, and even the best writers need good editors. (I know I do! And if you see any errors in the posted comment, it’s because it wasn’t edited… which proves my point!) Also, just as I’m protective of my byline on my articles, I’m protective of the brand that comes with my name on a book. I would think most authors would feel the same way. You don’t want your name associated with crappy writing that has good intentions but shoddy implementation.

  51. Margot
    Aug 21, 2012 @ 12:55:30

    Good spelling and grammar are things that, to me, are necessary if I am to enjoy a book. I have abandoned books for misuse (or non-use) of commas in the past, and probably will in the future, especially if I continue to read more self published books. If a book’s editing is shoddy or nonexistent, then I can’t get into the story. Every mistake pulls me right out of it. I am also the type of person who fixes all the typos in the physical books I reads, which is one thing I really wish I could do on my ereader.

    (And I’m still a teen, so not every one of us is fine with the abuse of the English language. Most of my friends do think I’m odd for texting in complete sentences, though, while I try to keep from cringing at their use of “u”.)

  52. Jackie Barbosa
    Aug 21, 2012 @ 12:57:44

    @Margot: (And I’m still a teen, so not every one of us is fine with the abuse of the English language. Most of my friends do think I’m odd for texting in complete sentences, though, while I try to keep from cringing at their use of “u”.)

    Are you in the market for a boyfriend? If you are, my 15 year old son is looking for you :).

  53. Jackie Barbosa
    Aug 21, 2012 @ 13:06:32


    No story was harmed by competent presentation, and I cannot think of one true virtue that crappy presentation brings to a book.

    This. A thousand times this.

  54. Isobel Carr
    Aug 21, 2012 @ 13:10:56


    Obviously they’re doing everything right, and hundreds of thousands of readers agree.

    By this logic the best damn food in the world is made by McDonald’s, and Michelin can stuff their stars where the sun don’t shine.

  55. Emily A.
    Aug 21, 2012 @ 13:11:18

    One of the problems is that television has gotten so illiterate and probably spoken language. Lately, for example, there has been an epidemic of “her and I””She and me”. I do think this has an impact on readers. When they get used to hearing bad grammar both among people they know and on television, how can they recognize in the printed word? I also think that reading and watching television are not exclusive interests. I do both and probably so do many other people.

  56. Robin/Janet
    Aug 21, 2012 @ 13:15:08

    @Angela James: Oh, thanks for bringing this up. I tried to make a nod in that direction when I said, “there will always be points of legitimate disagreement over certain stylistic differences.” But I fully admit to swerving around it.

    I’ve gotten the same types of responses you refer to when I’ve brought issues up in reader discussions – in fact, it’s often the first objection to the pointing out of a particular error.

    My own take is that I don’t see these differences as pure subjectivity, as much as objective standards that have more than one legitimate option. Not that there isn’t an element of subjectivity in determining the “right” choice in the “right” context, but overall these choices are grounded in rules and standards that IMO one needs to know to even have a sound debate. For example, there are many instances in which I think split infinitives are appropriate, but making these choices requires understanding the basic rules that are technically being broken. In general (but not universally), I think you can see when someone is breaking rules (for effect) that they understand and have mastered, and when someone just doesn’t get it. Which goes back to that intuitive line you’re talking about, I think.

    Then there are multiple options that don’t involve breaking hard and fast rules, because those rules have adapted. Some of those make me feel pretty damn old, too, lol. For example, I’m not going to give up the Oxford comma, even though I recognize the legitimacy of not using it. I’ve slowly and unwillingly adapted to the use of a single space after a period, but I still think about it as a deviation from what I learned and still kind of believe in (although understanding how that change has come about helps). But again, I think these issues are grounded in objective standards and rules (often to support clarity — like comma rules, for example), so, for the most part, I include them on that side.

  57. Erin Satie
    Aug 21, 2012 @ 13:32:34

    I follow two opposing principles on this subject; they don’t play together very well, but here they are:

    1. The more you enjoy, the more you enjoy.

    This is a massive net gain. If you push aside your quibbles, there’s so much great stuff out there to enjoy. Your world will be a brighter, happier, funner place. Enjoying things is, itself, kind of fun.

    I consider it a personal failing when I can’t enjoy something that has value. My stubbornness, my loss, my problem.

    2. The more you discriminate, the more you appreciate.

    The only way to access quality is to make distinctions; the more distinctions, the better your appreciation of quality.

    More and finer distinctions means higher highs and lower lows. It also means a drastically reduced number of things in the world that you can enjoy, and occasionally being a sour wet blanket.

    It’s just a simple quality vs. quantity argument. Each side has costs and advantages.

  58. Liz Mc2
    Aug 21, 2012 @ 13:34:24

    Thanks, Robin for your post. I appreciated a calm, thoughtful take on an issue that so often leads to rants and defensiveness.

    Will mentioning writing errors in reviews change anything? I don’t know, but please, reviewers, do it. I don’t care whether you are an expert or not, or whether you can name and explain the usage error in question; if you notice things that seem wrong to you, mention it. If you’re not sure it’s an error, say so, but say it bugged you. Because reviews are for readers, right? And obviously, some readers are bothered by writing errors.

    Yes, there are disputed areas of usage. But like dick, I would not translate that to “grammar [or usage] is subjective.” The disputed areas are debated, and a good editor is aware of the debates and makes an informed choice about what to do. Sure, sometimes that’s what “sounds right” to her or to the majority of readers, but that’s still not “anything goes.” And really, in some of the books mentioned here (like the Mathewson book, the sample of which I read) the errors are mostly NOT in disputed areas of usage at all. These are not informed choices about when to break rules.

  59. MrsJoseph
    Aug 21, 2012 @ 13:38:35


    I refuse to be assimilated! I will double space after each and every sentence until the day I die!

  60. Robin/Janet
    Aug 21, 2012 @ 13:43:46

    @Jane Davitt: I think most readers are triggered by patterns of errors rather than a handful. Which is why I always find the ‘nothing is perfect’ defense I often hear so frustrating. At this point, basic competence is a bar I think has dropped pretty low, leaving perfection an impossible dream!

    @Dabney: I have to confess that I have typed the wrong form of “it’s/its” on more than a few occasion, either because I’m not paying enough attention or, in some cases, because auto-correct on my phone changes the form without me realizing it. So I can be sympathetic to that error — unless it’s consistent and combined with other usage problems, that is. The more errors, the lower my tolerance.

    @Meoskop: I have found those issues with the more recent Sookie books far more than the earlier ones. Also, I think Harris is a clean writer with an inviting voice, which goes a long way toward winning my reader trust, at least when I’m in the midst of a book.

    @JacquiC: Oh, this is absolutely an issue in other fields and disciplines, as well. Which is another reason I want professionally produced work to be of a high quality — we all learn in part from example, and if our examples are sub-par, the standard we’re shooting for will just keep dropping. And there are more than a few instances in which those problems may have real-life consequences (like in the law).

    @DS: Heh, I have been complaining about the editing to Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum books ever since she left SMP for Random House. Is there any big publisher that’s not implicated in this problem?

  61. K. Z. Snow
    Aug 21, 2012 @ 13:47:11

    I’m afraid none of this insistence on mastery of language makes a damned bit of difference in the real world of writing/selling books. I can’t begin to count the number of times I’ve heard readers say, or have simply inferred from a book’s popularity, that a majority of readers really don’t give a rip about technique as long as they find the plot and characters engaging — and there are few criteria as subjective as that one.

    In short, I fully believe this is a losing battle and always has been. (Do you all remember Robert James Waller? Or, going back ever further, Jacqueline Susann? They wrote crap, happily crappily, and made buckets of money. Such is the market for commercial fiction.)

  62. Robin/Janet
    Aug 21, 2012 @ 13:53:53


    They both thought that grammar and usage was overall very good, at the same time one pointed humongous overruse of commas and another did not think so. Wouldn’t this show that some grammatical standards are also subjective, depending on who reads the book?

    My argument is that you need to know the comma rules before you can make these judgments. Comma rules tend to favor clarity above all, so there is definitely room for subjective judgment about their use; however, knowing the rules makes those judgments informed by objective standards, which makes them primarily objective, IMO.

    It’s like arguments about historical accuracy that depend on the assertion that everything is subjective, historians argue, etc. For the most part, issues readers complain about are pretty basic and not at the level of historical debate. By the time you’re at that level, you’ve mastered the basics, so those debates are informed by a lot of foundational knowledge. I find it to be the same with so much of the mechanical elements of fiction — by the time you’re debating those issues, you’ve mastered the basic rules and are grounding your judgments in those rules.

    @Anon: This is why I think the community as a whole needs to be more vocal and more rigorous in our standards. And we need to start returning badly written and edited books if we’re turned off by that, IMO.

    @Jane: I think we need to add “cracktastic” to the list of DA tags, if it’s not already there.

  63. Kelly
    Aug 21, 2012 @ 13:54:06

    @Erin Satie:

    Brilliant. Thank you.

    Anyone who makes snotty comments about romance needs to read threads like this. You people are AWESOME. I’m going to hang out here for a while because this is a much better place for my sanity than Twitter.

  64. Aleksandr Voinov
    Aug 21, 2012 @ 13:56:28


    Don’t forget that some authors, upon going big, basically use their sales numbers as a weapon of intimidation. “If you dare edit me, I’ll take my business to Other Big Six.” The moment A Big Vampire Author stopped being edited, I stopped reading her (I read two more books and then realized that they did’nt work for me at all anymore). Currently a Very Big Name in Faux Medieval Fantasy is an author his editors call “uneditable”. I like to consider the “I’m so big, I don’t need no stinkin’ editor” phase the moment of hubris and reversal.

  65. Isabel C.
    Aug 21, 2012 @ 14:01:13

    One of the things I’ve been considering a blog post on lately is the three ways I tend to judge media: quality, taste, and message/implications/etc. Sometimes I can ignore any one of these for the others, and I admit that I’m more likely to read something trashy that hits my particular buttons than something really really good that isn’t my thing.*

    Except where grammar and spelling are concerned.

    And it’s odd, because I absolutely agree that not all of the formal rules have to apply in fiction. I just used a sentence fragment for emphasis up there. I wouldn’t do it too much–I hope–but it seemed like the best option in context. When I’m writing in close-third-person, I’ll often say “you” when I mean “one” (“She looked around. She thought it was safe, but you never knew when ninjas were going to appear. Fucking ninjas.”). Informal language doesn’t bug me if it seems appropriate.

    Sloppiness does, though, and not just the really blatant stuff. Comma splices are one of those debatable issues sometimes, but more than a few of them will often turn me off if I’m indecisive about a story. Passive voice tends to bug me. “Alright” is not a word, and I will get very surly about that.

    *That* said, if other people can ignore those things, that doesn’t make those people dumb. I can blithely overlook all but the most egregious violations of physics and biology when I’m enjoying fiction, whereas many of my science-major friends can’t. Everyone’s attuned to different things–but perhaps the nature of both writing and reviewing makes grammatical details count more.

    I grew up without ever hearing of the “double space after a period” rule, myself. ;)

    *Message only ever seems to be a negative deciding factor, for what that’s worth.

  66. Las
    Aug 21, 2012 @ 14:02:28

    Great article. I’m a fan of the cracktastic read myself, but I have no problem acknowledging that a book I enjoy isn’t well-written. The problem, as you and other have stated, is that most people can’t do that. They get defensive when it’s pointed out that something they like isn’t actually good. And I’m not sure that’s a problem that can be fixed. I think reviewers absolutely should mention errors if they see them, because mistakes shouldn’t be ignored and because there are a lot of readers who don’t want to buy books that have such errors, but is it going to be a long term solution? Probably not. You can’t cure defensiveness, no matter the issue.

  67. Robin/Janet
    Aug 21, 2012 @ 14:03:25

    @dick: I agree with you, but think that a lot of those judgment calls are best made when you know the rules so well you can break them for the good of your work. While there may be people who can intuitively do that without understanding the rules that are being broken, I don’t think it’s a majority, by any stretch.

    @Shelly: Oh, man, do I love the which/that discussion. It makes me nuts when I see those two used incorrectly.

    @MrsJoseph: Thank you for fighting the good fight!

    @Emily A.: As someone who watches a lot of reality tv and court shows, I must agree. In fact, Judge Judy loves to correct litigants when they speak incorrectly, and at least half the time they just stare at her, totally uncomprehending her correction, let alone the error that precipitated it. But I’m always glad she makes the correction, for the sake of viewers who may not have known the correct usage.

  68. Robin/Janet
    Aug 21, 2012 @ 14:07:37

    @Aleksandr Voinov: Heh, your first example made some interesting public comments about her prose perfection (and all around godly splendor), which I think (hope, anyway) turned some readers off.

    I honestly don’t know how much difference to sales these protests will make, but I think they’re valuable on principle, and if sound writing and editing can become something to recommend a book, even better.

  69. Sirius
    Aug 21, 2012 @ 14:19:24

    @Robin/Janet: OOOO, that makes sense to me, thanks.

  70. jmc
    Aug 21, 2012 @ 14:24:45

    @Robin/Janet: I cannot be broken of the double space at the end of a sentence. CANNOT. WILL NOT. Call me a punctuation/typist Luddite.

  71. Moriah Jovan
    Aug 21, 2012 @ 14:29:47


    I cannot be broken of the double space at the end of a sentence. CANNOT. WILL NOT. Call me a punctuation/typist Luddite.

    Me neither. I wrote a macro specifically to take care of that because it bugs so many people, and it looks funky in print books anyway (which I can acknowledge).

  72. K. Z. Snow
    Aug 21, 2012 @ 14:37:47

    @Aleksandr Voinov: This particularly holds true for content editing, Aleks. I gave up on Stephen King years ago, because his novels kept getting ever more self-indulgent. They became too bloated and discursive for me to enjoy.

  73. cecilia
    Aug 21, 2012 @ 14:48:53

    I really liked this post and the thoughtful comments, and I agree that grammar and other elements of mechanics count. But for myself, my threshold for what I’ll tolerate is definitely somewhat flexible. For one thing, I know there are different schools of thought about certain issues, such as the Oxford comma, and I’m not going to get my dander up if someone follows a style that I don’t follow (as long as she picks one and sticks with it). Also, if most of the writing is skilled, I’ll tolerate an error here and there without getting too indignant. For example, there’s an author I really like who uses a homonym instead of her intended word in every single one of her books. (I can’t remember off-hand what it is, but it stabs me in the eye every time.) She also consistently refers to her characters drinking Indian tea in her Georgian settings. This also makes me insane. In the case of this author, however, her voice is generally so polished, the dialogue flows so nicely, that I would never say her work is not well-written. But there’s always that moment when I think, “I thought you were smarter than that.” It’s hard for me not to be judgy about competence at one’s chosen craft.

    On the other hand, there’s a cliche about speed – “If you go faster than me, you’re insane. If you go slower, you’re an idiot.” I think how many readers feel about errors is very similar – “If you tolerate those mistakes, you’re pitifully ignorant. If those ones bother you, you’re a stuffy pedant.” And that’s where the subjectivity comes back. Errors (any kind) we don’t even recognize are always going to be forgivable.

  74. MrsJoseph
    Aug 21, 2012 @ 15:25:13

    @Isabel C.:

    I grew up without ever hearing of the “double space after a period” rule, myself. ;)

    Acck! Now I feel really old.

  75. Aleksandr Voinov
    Aug 21, 2012 @ 15:25:56


    I saw those posts, but by then I’d stopped being her reader for years. It’s just a constant I notice about authors. There’s the stage when they are “beyond editing.”

  76. Aleksandr Voinov
    Aug 21, 2012 @ 15:34:07

    @K. Z. Snow: King was always too slow for me (I did like the Bachmann stuff, though, especially Death March (?), which I thought was genuinely terrifying), but the issue I have with him is not even the length, it’s the ending. Though I have to say, he’s written some stuff I genuinely loved and it’s still memorable–which is a hell of a lot more than many writers can claim. :)

  77. Keira Soleore
    Aug 21, 2012 @ 16:13:24

    This is a post after my heart.

    @Robin/Janet: …competent writing, grammar, and punctuation [also correct spelling] should be recognized as an objective standard against which every professionally published work should be measured.

    We consider ourselves a literate society, ergo, the basics rules of language have to be followed in our written work. There’s no excuse for poor execution of the language on the page/eReader. It’s an insult to the readers’ intelligence and to the language.

    @Robin/Janet: …if sound writing and editing can become something to recommend a book, even better.

    This is akin to commenting favorably when a child displays good manners. Bad manners are the exception, not good manners. Similarly, a book free of grammatical, spelling, and punctuation errors should be the norm and mention made when a book deviates from that norm. Now, the opposite has become the norm, so we are forced to comment favorably on what should’ve been the norm but is now novel.

  78. pamelia
    Aug 21, 2012 @ 16:23:27

    For me it’s a simple distinction. If the book draws me in and the characters feel real to me and I am involved in the story I barely notice the grammatical problems. (Hello, Kristen Ashley!) If the book fails to engage me on a visceral level then I get really ticked off by every last incomplete sentence, extra comma and run-on sentence. Some people have already mentioned the distinction between writing and story-telling; I think they both have equal importance. As a sometimes writer I can tell you that for me the story is the trickiest part whereas the words just come pretty easily. I am in awe of writers who can pull together characters and plot into a compelling read.
    A thing that really bugs me when I’m not fully engaged in a book is poor word choice. I was just reading a book where the Victorian era heroine called the hero “gorgeous” and I don’t care if that word was bandied about then or not, it just REALLY grated on my nerves because that word to me is so endemic of current vernacular.
    I’m afraid to say that I give self-published authors a bit of a break here. I know they aren’t being edited by 3 professionals. I know it’s really difficult to spot errors in your own writing. I know that they don’t have expectations that thousands and thousands of people will read their books; even the much-maligned E.L. James surely did NOT expect a best-seller out of FSOG.
    The successful authors who eschew the advice of editors in their latter books? They bother me to no end. I’m talking to you, Lora Leigh and you, Laurell K. Hamilton.

  79. Lynnd
    Aug 21, 2012 @ 16:34:14

    @jmc: I’m with you! It just looks WRONG with only one space after a period.

  80. Jane
    Aug 21, 2012 @ 17:17:17

    So do we cut self published authors slack or tend to avoid commenting on bad editing because of the inculcation to “be nice?”

  81. pamelia
    Aug 21, 2012 @ 17:28:45

    @ Jane: I wouldn’t necessarily avoid commenting on bad editing for a self-published author. I’m just more understanding of why more errors come through. If that’s following the “be nice” directive then I guess I’m guilty.

  82. Meoskop
    Aug 21, 2012 @ 17:30:46

    @Robin/Janet: I read the first 5 Sookie in a row – it really stands out. I think she hired more editor / continuity help after that, but she’s who she is.

    @Jane: No, we don’t cut the self published slack. It makes me kind of crazy that people do. Your work is your work. In the future all authors may be self published. Where will the invisible quality line be drawn then?

  83. Meoskop
    Aug 21, 2012 @ 17:33:16

    @K. Z. Snow: Don’t confuse quality with basic competence. In the case of Susann or Robbins or Andrews or any author who captured the public imagination beyond what the quality of their books would suggest there was still basic editing. Sentences made sense and had the proper punctuations (overall). If the prose was tortured, if the plot absurd, that was a different matter.

    Wait, I think we’re agreeing. Hm. I might need a nap today.

  84. Jackie Barbosa
    Aug 21, 2012 @ 17:39:58

    @Meoskop: When people talk about cutting self-published books slack because the author (of course) isn’t being professionally edited, I want to tear my hair out. Professional editors can be hired. Particularly when it comes to basic copy editing, there’s simply no excuse–all of the major publishing houses outsource their copy editing. The same “quality” of copy editing is available to every self-published author as to every publishing house. The only question is whether the author is willing to pay for it. (And honestly, high-quality copy editing can be had for 1-2 cents per word. If you can’t afford to put that amount of money into ensuring your book is reasonably polished and professional, maybe you shouldn’t be self-publishing. Sorry. I know that’s bound to offend someone.)

    The notion that we should expect a self-published book to be of lesser quality than a house-published book is offensive to me. Whenever this comes up, I like to point out that Dickens’ A Christmas Carol was self-published. It’s also probably the best known and most beloved of all his books. Enough said.

  85. meoskop
    Aug 21, 2012 @ 17:49:51

    @Jackie Barbosa: It perpetuates the image that the self published are inferior in ability. It’s inherently patronizing. Of course it offends the self published author who presents their work in a professional manner. How could it not?

  86. Courtney Milan
    Aug 21, 2012 @ 17:51:44

    @pamelia: I’m afraid to say that I give self-published authors a bit of a break here. I know they aren’t being edited by 3 professionals… I know that they don’t have expectations that thousands and thousands of people will read their books; even the much-maligned E.L. James surely did NOT expect a best-seller out of FSOG.

    I actually think that many of them do, and quite frankly, if they don’t expect to be seen by thousands–if they really just want something for friends–they should not put their books on Amazon or Barnes and Noble, and just set up a paypal scheme. If you put it in the undifferentiated stream of commerce as a commercial item, you owe it to the people who will pick up your book to do a professional job.

    As for E.L. James, you’re being way too kind to her. I think it’s pretty clear she thought she stood a good chance of making bank. She pulled the fanfic for commercial publication in part because she wrote a short for charity that earned five figures. She knew the potential was there, and she went for it.

  87. Darlynne
    Aug 21, 2012 @ 17:59:18

    @Jane: No, no, no. Please, keep mentioning it. I appreciate the information when given.

    In those circumstances when I have been warned and chose to purchase with and in spite of that knowledge, I’ve invariably loved the book. Knowing up front about something that always pisses me off goes a long way toward ameliorating–if not completely diffusing–my ire. It’s a public service, Jane; you’re liberating me to enjoy a book I want to read without my usual outrage over poor editing and sloppy grammar. Can we get a “Here Be Errors” avatar or something?

  88. Las
    Aug 21, 2012 @ 18:01:47

    I don’t see why anyone has to be cut any slack. If you noticed a lack of editing, say so. If you enjoyed the book in spite of the errors, say that, too. You don’t have to give a lower grade because of the errors if you really liked it, but not mentioning them at all when you noticed them would be dishonest.

    Considering how many bestsellers are sloppily written, there’s no point in cutting those authors slack–the money they’re making will go a long way in easing the sting of criticism.

  89. Ros
    Aug 21, 2012 @ 18:05:18

    I think I would go even further than Robin’s original post. Of course grammar, punctuation and spelling are not matters of taste. Nor is consistent and readable formatting (especially on ereaders).

    But I also think that there are other areas which are not wholly subjective. Some writers are better at crafting plot than others. Some write incredible, lyrical prose and others don’t. Some are better at delving deep into a character in a way that draws the reader in, and others aren’t. Some books are better written than others, displaying more technical skill in all these and other areas.

    That is not to say that a book with poor writing in all these areas can’t give someone enormous pleasure to read. That’s fine. I really, really like watching lowbrow trashy reality TV. But I don’t pretend that it is well-made, well-written, well-plotted drama. It’s not, and I don’t watch it for those reasons. Occasionally I even enjoy reading a book that’s badly written if something about it captures my imagination. I don’t ignore the mistakes or pretend that it’s a classic piece of literature. I can enjoy it for what it is.

    So, I guess, I’m happy with reviews that make judgments about books. That’s not the same as making judgments about readers who enjoy those books. But when I read a review I like to know what’s done well in the book and what’s done badly. Isn’t that the point?

  90. Ros
    Aug 21, 2012 @ 18:08:22

    @Jane: I think that’s some of it. I also think there’s something about not wanting to offend other readers who have enjoyed those books, especially when they have sold very well. Not wanting to be the one to rain on someone’s parade. And maybe there’s a touch of Emperor’s New Clothes about it too.

  91. DS
    Aug 21, 2012 @ 18:23:40

    @Robin/Janet: I’m quite ok with choosing one set of rules over another. However I have DNFed two self published books in the past week in part because there was NO rhyme or reason to the author’s use of commas. I ended up thinking that both authors independently decided that after so many words a comma was needed regardless of the sense of the sentence. It was maddening to try to read either book.

    My friend gave me the Thompson book and insisted I try to read it. I’m wondering at this point if somehow St Martin’s managed to publish a draft instead of the edited version.

  92. Michelle
    Aug 21, 2012 @ 18:33:18

    I have an overwhelming urge to dig out my copy of Eats, Shoots, and Leaves.

  93. Susan
    Aug 21, 2012 @ 18:49:06

    I’m in a rush because I’m racing a planned power outage in a few minutes. I’m going to come back later and read thru all the comments, but I want to interject right now with a heartfelt, “Brava!”

    While I fully recognize that mistakes get made (heck, I’m the person who left out the “l” in “public” and misspelled the name of the organization I worked for on formal invitations despite having both documents proofread my several co-workers), I like to think that at least some attempt has been made to get things right. I think I first heard of Kristen Ashley in a DA comment string, but I said “no thanks” when I saw all the Amazon reviews pointing out the pervasive grammatical errors. And this was true across the board on all her books so she obviously doesn’t care about making improvements.

    I sometimes wish I could turn off my internal editor/proofreader because I see mistakes everywhere. They’re on signs, in the newspaper, on the news (that “grizzly” murder had nothing to do with bears!), in my co-workers’ emails–everywhere! I can sometimes numb myself, grit my teeth, and move on, but being forewarned definitely helps. Pointing these things out shows authors and publishers that these things matter to readers. So please, DA, don’t stop trying to improve our books.

  94. Leslie
    Aug 21, 2012 @ 18:53:20

    @Jane: No way! Do not cut these authors any slack. Keep doing what you already do so well.

    How hard is it for self pub authors to find a few people to look over the final draft of their novel? Friends, co-workers and librarians would be just a few obvious suggestions.

    Another thing, would R. L. Mathewson be on the NYT bestseller list if her books were more than 99 cents a copy? I don’t think so.

  95. pamelia
    Aug 21, 2012 @ 19:40:21

    @ Courtney Milan: “I actually think that many of them do, and quite frankly, if they don’t expect to be seen by thousands–if they really just want something for friends–they should not put their books on Amazon or Barnes and Noble, and just set up a paypal scheme. If you put it in the undifferentiated stream of commerce as a commercial item, you owe it to the people who will pick up your book to do a professional job.”
    I think it’s funny you should say this because my husband just about 2 hours ago self published a story he wrote to Amazon. It took all of 5 minutes for him to set it up (not sure how long he spent writing it). I haven’t read it. He didn’t ask me to proofread it although it may be one we read when we did a writers group a few years ago. I’m remarkably certain if he makes even $10 on the book at $0.99 per copy that he will consider it a remarkable success. Should he have spent the money on hiring an editor? Is it unethical for him to have put his creative endeavor out there like so many others are doing? I frankly expect it to be lost in the shuffle.
    Maybe Amazon makes it too easy to self publish or maybe they should have a separate “non-professionals” only store? I for one have enjoyed reading even the unpolished works of many self published writers who have put their work out there. Do I find them as well-crafted as your books? Certainly not. I’m not saying that I would not point out the errors/problems with their books if I reviewed them. What I am saying is that I understand why there might be more problems (my utterly subjective viewpoint if you will). I am also not suggesting that Dear Author (or other blogs) reviewers should NOT point out the problems. What I look for when I read is an immersion in the story and an emotional involvement. I never know till I read a book if I’m going to get that or not.
    (As for E.L. James I can’t imagine ANY author anticipating the level of sales she achieved with FSOG. Hoping for a best-seller is one thing, but getting there is no sure bet. I’m hoping that she takes a more traditional route for her next foray into publishing with a really good editor because no one could call FSOG even close to being well-edited.)

  96. Pharmer
    Aug 21, 2012 @ 19:49:35

    For Dear Author to review a self published book, “it needs to be professionally edited” (Info / For Authors) or “we prefer that they are professionally edited” (Review policy).

    So, I’m predicting future DA reviews containing comments about poor editing, will become few and far between?

    If Dear Author will only review books that are available in both epub and Kindle formats (as of 2013), then it makes sense to take stand on editing too.

  97. Robin/Janet
    Aug 21, 2012 @ 19:52:43

    If there is any indicator of how ambitious self-published authors can be for commercial success, it’s the backlash negative reviews routinely get. I would guess that the success of Amanda Hocking, EL James, and others has made the dream of seven figure book deals even more potent for many self-pubbed authors.

    As Courtney Milan said, once a book enters the stream of commerce, it’s a consumer product. Would you hold an individual building contractor to a lower standard than a corporate contracting company? Of course not; when you pay money for a service or product, you expect professional quality. I’d even extend that argument to books offered for free on retail sites, because those books are being given away in the hopes of building future sales.

    @DS: The thing about comma errors is that you can detect many of them by reading the prose out loud. Not as good as an editor, but it’s still something.

    @Ros: I agree, and in fact, my original idea for this post was to take it in that direction. However, with the increase in self-published books and the debates over these pretty basic issues, I figured it was best to keep it simple for now. However, I absolutely think there’s an argument to be made that some craft is just stronger and more masterful, and that it’s perfectly legitimate (and perhaps even valuable) to recognize that in the context of evaluating a book.

  98. Las
    Aug 21, 2012 @ 20:04:35

    @pamelia: Personally, I don’t think it’s unethical for self-published authors to not hire editors, and I don’t even blame authors for not bothering when readers are willing to buy their books anyway. It sucks for me, because I prefer well-edited books and the more that unedited books sell the more will get published, resulting in more crap for me to wade through in order to find something I want to read; but since I’ve read and enjoyed plenty of poorly edited books despite my preferences I can’t really complain too much about that.

    What I do criticize authors (and their fans) for is their defensiveness when readers complain about the poor quality of their books. Just as writers don’t have an ethical obligation to write a certain way, readers aren’t obligated to consider an author’s circumstances when reviewing a book. It’ s not my problem that an author can’t afford an editor; I don’t care that she’s a really nice person who knits booties for homeless kittens; all of that is completely irrelevant . The discussion is about the book. Should an author spend the money for a professional edit when they might not make much money of the book? If they want to, yes. But if they don’t, neither they nor their fans get to complain when their error-laden work gets called out.

  99. Lynn S.
    Aug 21, 2012 @ 20:16:41

    I knew it was going to be a crazy day at work when I pulled up your post and so desperately wanted to share my ramblings. It never fails that when I’m itching to respond, I don’t have two free minutes to string together a sentence. I’m completely with you, but I’m afraid this is a battle of the already-lost variety. This will not stop me from typing though; I have hope even in the face of doom.

    Grammar and punctuation as inviolable is more the purview of instructional or informational writing and fiction is the place where grammar and words come out to play. But that adage about knowing the rules to break them, while irritating, holds especially true for the literary arts; and a forest worth of native talent doesn’t excuse gross and/or unintentional misuse of language and sentence structure. I don’t see that there is anything shaming in striving for and expecting a higher standard of technical skills in any genre. I remember sharing comments with you on your review of Julie Anne Long’s What I Did for a Duke and stand by what I said there. I know that when an author such as Long has so much to offer in style and perception, I yearn for her to want the beauty of the form along with the function.

    I have a tendency to read like a writer and it enriches my reading experience. When I’m in a good mood, I like to make a game of repairing the occasional broken sentence or misused verbiage. On other occasions, it can drive me batty. I was reading an author recently who was in love with using “more quickly” and assorted other more/adverb couplings. Once I noticed it in her books, I saw it everywhere. If any authors are reading this, sometimes writing more adverbly works, but often it doesn’t; please think about “quicker”. Quick, quicker, quickest.

    Also, calling someone’s writing cracktastic and meaning it as a compliment; saying that you read an author’s entire twelve-book opus over a weekend; or that you’re jonesing for more of an author while backhandedly saying you shouldn’t. All of these make my inner critic want to shout out “Sweet Baby Ray Milland, is this something we ought to be bragging about?” Seeking to elevate is the highest form of praise I can give to my beloved romance fiction and your post gives me hope that others will fight along with me.

    @Dabney: I think some of the homophone abuse can be attributed to composing while typing. Personally, I have a problem with typing “to” when my brain knows that the correct word is “too” and self-proofing eyes often trick us. It is problematic though when an author (who knows what a homophone is—please, lie to me and tell me they all know this) is aware or is made aware of it in their writing and can’t be bothered to use their word processing software to run a simple find and replace check.

    @jmc: Double spacers of the world, unite. You would think with the margin abuse, font shenanigans, etc. that the publishing industry is now so fond of they would embrace the double space, but no.

    @Aleksandr Voinov: Internal plot archs attacking in the garden?! My goodness, another reason to keep my cat in the house.

  100. Courtney Milan
    Aug 21, 2012 @ 20:33:55


    Is it unethical for him to have put his creative endeavor out there like so many others are doing?

    Unethical isn’t the word I would use. I’d say, more like, he should be prepared to take it on the chin, and if it happens, say, “Yeah, I guess I deserved that.”

    And I don’t want to talk about your husband, because obviously you know him better than I do, and also obviously, my point was not that some people don’t expect to sell well–it was that many self-published authors who do not edit do envision themselves selling thousands of copies.

    So let’s grant that your husband is the way he is, and talk about human nature more generally, which I think doesn’t tend to track your husband.

    For every person like your husband, I think there are at least ten self-published authors who put stuff out there without editing because they’re thinking that self-publishing is like buying a lottery ticket–maybe you’ll hit the jackpot, and it only costs a dollar to play. Yes, they say out loud that they’ll be happy with five or six sales in a year…but most of them start dreaming of five star reviews and thousands of sales, and why, if just five thousand people buy their books, that would be ten thousand dollars!

    I think the number of self-publishers who put books up for sale on Amazon and Barnes and Noble without looking at the potential upside and daydreaming just a little bit is vanishingly small. Not nonexistent; just small. Do they manage expectations? Sure. But I find it hard to believe that someone would go to the trouble of making their book available for sale if some small part of them didn’t cling to the hope that there would be sales.

    (As for E.L. James I can’t imagine ANY author anticipating the level of sales she achieved with FSOG. Hoping for a best-seller is one thing, but getting there is no sure bet. I’m hoping that she takes a more traditional route for her next foray into publishing with a really good editor because no one could call FSOG even close to being well-edited.)

    This is a straw man. You don’t have to expect to sell millions of copies of a book to get it professionally edited. I know multiple self-published authors who get their books professionally edited, and none of them have sold at E.L. James’s level.

    From conversations that others had with her and later disclosed, it’s clear that she at least expected to make tens of thousands of dollars. She was talking about “getting a fat paycheck” before 50S ever hit the shelves. If you’re expecting to take in five figures, you can spring for editing.

  101. pamelia
    Aug 21, 2012 @ 20:37:11

    @ Las: I completely agree with your 2nd paragraph. I think it only damages my desire to read an author’s work when they (or even their fans) pull that kind of stuff. If an author chooses to self publish an under-edited work they should be grateful that people purchase and read it and eager for feedback about how to better their product. If an author doesn’t choose to grow as an artist and hone their technique I can’t maintain respect or interest for their work.
    I do however appreciate many of the efforts of authors who may not have the resources/know-how to get a polished work out there. I’m always on the lookout for something new and fresh and boundary-pushing and oftentimes self-pubbed works can be just that. I guess I have a (possibly skewed) vision of big-time publishers sanitizing/homogenizing books in an attempt to boost sales while not realizing that readers don’t want the same stuff over and over again (but that’s a whole “nother” topic.)

  102. hapax
    Aug 21, 2012 @ 20:39:05

    How hard is it for self pub authors to find a few people to look over the final draft of their novel? Friends, co-workers and librarians would be just a few obvious suggestions.


    I heartily agree with the original post, and keep looking for “like” buttons on almost all the comments. (Why is there no “Fist-pumpin’ HELLZ YEAH!” button?)

    But I am a librarian. I have friends and co-workers. And I also freelance edit, copy-edit, and review professionally.

    Because it is a professional skill. Doing it well requires enormous amounts of time, attention to detail, and a professional distance.

    If you want me to edit your book, and you’re a close friend or family, I might say, “I’ll be glad to look at it and tell you in general terms what I think”; but probably not, because I value our relationship more than the (extremely unlikely) chance you’ve written a brilliant book. If you’re a co-worker or a visitor to my library, I’ll tell you how to get in touch with me when I’m off the clock, and quote you my (very reasonable) rates.

    If you think your work is good enough to charge me for the finished product (whether it’s $25.99 or .99 or just my time and an online review), then your work is also good enough to pay for professional editing.

  103. pamelia
    Aug 21, 2012 @ 20:51:05

    @ Courtney Milan: Since I first read FSOG in October last year I was ahead of all the kerfuffle over it’s provenance and simply read it and enjoyed it for what it was (I’m one of those people who was completely entranced by it’s story/characters and willing to overlook the editing problems and love it.) I imagine that if I went to try to read it now I might have a different response since it’s history has been revealed and become so bloated/sordid. I can’t unread it and I can’t un-enjoy it. As I said, I hope she doesn’t publish her next work without the aid of an editor (a really good one which she obviously now can afford, or more to the point have her publisher afford) because I think she should be embarrassed that it was published in such a rough state.
    You’re right that every author who throws a book out there to the world daydreams of earning thousands from it. I’m sure my husband imagines a new car when his story sells a few thousand copies and/or we hit the lottery. I myself have entertained such fantasies too, but expectations and fantasies are distinct concepts here.

  104. Liz Mc2
    Aug 21, 2012 @ 21:31:08

    (Is it OK to point out that 50 Shades was technically not self-published? I don’t think it helps in these discussions, anyway, because it’s such an outlier in many ways and because, whatever you think of James’ writing, it doesn’t as far as I saw [sample and excerpts quoted various places] have the kinds of egregious, “objective” errors people cite in self-published writers like Mathewson or Ashley).

    I don’t think we should only talk about self-publishing when it comes to these issues, and appreciate that Robin didn’t. It’s no surprise that self-publishing has become a focus right now, though, because it’s the Wild, Wild West right now. It’s the wave of the future, every book the next goldmine, where the interesting books are, a big slush pile of crap. You hear all those things. Polished, professional books (many by people who also publish traditionally and have a good knowledge of their craft, others by debut writers) are up there on the same virtual shelf with amateur efforts someone uploaded one day one whim. It’s pretty hard right now for a reader who cares to tell the difference, and it’s hard to know if and how this lawless frontier could ever be controlled or regulated. Honest reader reviews are important but hard to come by.

    On trading off polished for fresh and different (something mentioned in many reviews and comments): I wouldn’t question readers who are reporting their own experience. But when I look at self-published romance, a lot of the books getting reader love seem to contain some familiar romance elements with–in some cases–fresh twists. You can find that in traditional publishing too. (It seems to me there are also a lot of the uber Alpha heroes who are less common these days in traditionally-published contemporary romance–not exactly new, but beloved by many readers). And right now, surprise surprise, there seem to be a lot of self-published erotic serials featuring dominant billionaires and hapless ingenues. It’s hard, then, for me to see self-publishing as offering a lot that is that dramatically different from traditional publishing (though there are also some good and really different books that would never have found a home in NY).

    On the other hand, I think unpolished feels more sincere somehow to many readers. I’m not really sure what to make of that. It’s not like writers who work on their craft aren’t invested or don’t care.

  105. Ann Somerville
    Aug 21, 2012 @ 21:56:41

    @Courtney Milan:
    “I know multiple self-published authors who get their books professionally edited, and none of them have sold at E.L. James’s level.”

    Well, you may do. But a 90k book, I am reliably informed by someone you may be familiar with [ : ) ] costs around $1500 to edit. My best selling SP book has made me so far $2300. The average is $581. Most of my books are 70-90k long, with the longest being 310K.

    Given that I would not sell *one* extra copy if I paid for editing, how, exactly, does it make commercial sense for someone in a niche like mine (non-erotic non-hetero speculative fiction) to spend $1500 on a book that will gross me $580, and likely only about $300? Given that I can’t tell which of my books will make me $2300 and which a tenth of that?

    I care about editing, and I care about quality. I do the best I can without paying an editor (and given my wildly mixed experiences of editors with small presses, I can’t even be confident that I’ll get value for money.) If people want to avoid my books because I don’t hire Sarah Frantz or her peers to edit them, so be it. But I can’t afford to ‘polish’ to your standards, and never will do.

    Again, I never expected to sell thousands, or even hundreds. I’m amazed I sell as many as I do. It’s a very pleasant surprise.

  106. Brie
    Aug 21, 2012 @ 22:35:08

    Anyone here knows if the self-published books that have been acquired by big publishers (Gabriel’s Inferno, Slammed, Beautiful Disaster, etc.) are edited before their release? I think that Slammed was available for sale almost immediately after S&S announced the acquisition, so no much time to edit it. Even the covers remain the same; the only visible difference is the price. I wonder if this says something good about the books, or bad about the publishers. But of course, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Right?

  107. Susan
    Aug 21, 2012 @ 22:44:22


    Yett for every reader who sees the book as fresh……..

  108. Courtney Milan
    Aug 21, 2012 @ 22:53:28

    @Ann Somerville:

    There is a sliding scale of editing. A good substantive editor is expensive, but you’re right that a lot of people doing substantive editing aren’t good (even if they’re charging expensive rates). But for things like copy-editing and proofreading, $1500 is way on the high side. (And again, I’ve found that what people charge is completely uncorrelated with quality).

    I think it’s possible to get by with a lot less than $1500; I also think it’s possible to get by using friends. I know self-published authors who don’t pay editors and put out books that are so clean that they are indistinguishable from NY-published books.

    My point isn’t that you have to pay editors; it’s meant to look more like this: if you don’t give a shit, don’t get mad when people point it out.

    I’m hardly perfect, so I’m not going to point fingers at anyone who’s giving shits.

    It’s just when people blatantly don’t, and yet think they should get a pass that I get annoyed.

  109. Ann Somerville
    Aug 21, 2012 @ 23:06:55

    @Courtney Milan:
    “It’s just when people blatantly don’t, and yet think they should get a pass that I get annoyed. ”

    Ah, thanks for the clarification. I thought you were following the line of thinking I’ve seen that self-published authors who *don’t* pay, have no right to put books out, and even as a commenter in a previous thread suggested, all books should name editors for that reason. It tends to get me riled up because I know it’s just not feasible for many SP authors.

    But one of the problem with authors – mostly younger ones, but I won’t exempt the older ones – is that their literacy skills are simply too poor to realise they are making mistakes. They literally have no idea how to correctly use apostrophes, commas, or how to punctuate dialogue, nor do they have any idea that ‘discrete’ and ‘discreet’ are two different words, that ‘disinterested’ does not in fact mean ‘uninterested’ (though it’s now come to mean that as alternative through bad use, just as ‘decimate’ now means the opposite of its original meaning for the same reason.) They are genuinely confused and angry when someone says their work is full of mistakes – and so are their readers, who are similarly handicapped by poor skills.

    The thing is, how do you reach them? Self-publishing isn’t going away, most SP authors can’t afford an editor until they make it big, and who can predict which SP book will make it big? Customers are paying the price for decades of low education standards on this matter, and of teachers with weak skills unable to pass on proper ones. (And of course it’s not just SP authors – if the BBC site, from an organisation once held up as the gold standard of correct English usage around the world, can’t proof its content and its authors don’t know that ‘its’ in this sentence doesn’t need an apostrophe, then there’s probably no turning back the tide.)

  110. Robin/Janet
    Aug 21, 2012 @ 23:19:04

    @Ann Somerville: I have an online subscription to the Chicago Manual of Style that costs me $35/year, I think. Anything you ever want to know (and tons of stuff you don’t) is there. I am also always double-checking word definitions on Webster’s Online, in part because widespread misuse of words has had me second-guessing myself on more than one occasion. Even Google is full of free resources on grammar, word usage, style, and sentence structure.

    If people don’t recognize that they need the direction, there may be nothing anyone can do, and reviews are always for readers first, so I don’t know how much impact those will ever have beyond letting readers know what they should avoid if they do not want to read a poorly crafted book. Beyond that, the market may continue to reward some shoddy work and miss some outstanding work, as usual.

  111. Robin/Janet
    Aug 22, 2012 @ 01:28:42

    I don’t mean for this to turn into a forum on where to find editing resources, but since we’re discussing the cost of editing, I did want to mention that Carina Press Executive Editor Angela James runs an online editing workshop for less than $50: I haven’t taken it myself, but I cannot imagine a better opportunity for such minimal monetary investment.

  112. KT Grant
    Aug 22, 2012 @ 04:25:05

    In regards to 50’s lack of editing I was told it it’s not broke, don’t fix it. By the time James sold 50 to Coffee House in March of 2011, a million people had read it and up to the end of 2011, hundreds of thousands of people were buying it without any new editing. It’s selling near 300k copies of week still and from what I hear the editing is still sad. If most of these self published books are selling like crazy without the benefit of an editor, why would a publisher who buys the book take money out of their pocket and re-edit the work if it’s selling so well?

  113. Jennifer Lohmann
    Aug 22, 2012 @ 05:40:30


    How hard is it for self pub authors to find a few people to look over the final draft of their novel? Friends, co-workers and librarians would be just a few obvious suggestions.

    I’m a public librarian and this is my plea–
    Please don’t ask your local librarian.
    1) We may not all be good editors. I’m excellent at knowing when to use a semicolon, but can’t spell my way out of a box. Not just homophones, but I’m dyslexic and will confuse condone instead of condemn. Why would antonyms begin with the same three letters?
    2) I don’t have time to edit your book. I’m lucky because I only work the reference desk 2-4 hours per day, but many librarians work at the reference desk 7 or so hours a day. Do you want someone working a reference desk editing your books?
    3) Besides not having time, it is also not my job to edit your book. People expect a lot out of public librarians and we are helpful people so we try to help BUT there are somethings we shouldn’t be responsible for. It is my job to help you find a good manual of style, dictionary, thesaurus, writer’s guide, how to write X book, and a grammar workbook so that you can learn the rules and write a better novel. Come to my reference desk and ask me how to write a better book and I will enthusiastically show you all the resources we have.
    4) Good editing is a skill and skills should be paid for. Not that all paid editors will give you a quality product, but if you ask friends and coworkers, you have no idea if they know what the oxford comma is, much less when and if it should be used.

    Sorry for the off-topic plea, but I don’t want anyone reading this thread to think they should ask their librarian to edit their novel. It is not uncommon for us to be asked to edit things and people look downcast when we send them away with a no and try to help them find a grammar book. The only exceptions I make are resumes and cover letters.

    On topic–if you put something out there for people to PAY FOR and read, please give them the best product possible. Have respect for the reader and what it means to call yourself an author.

  114. Jennifer Lohmann
    Aug 22, 2012 @ 05:42:43


    I took Angela’s class. It was great and I highly recommend it.

  115. Aleksandr Voinov
    Aug 22, 2012 @ 05:49:09

    Seconding the recommendation for Angela’s class. I’d also recommend “Self-Editing for Fiction Writers” by Browne/King, which can be had for 5 bucks.

  116. Des Livres
    Aug 22, 2012 @ 06:40:14

    What is Dear Author going to do? Keep reviewing books, selecting them the same way they have up to now? Or cease reviewing books “not of merchantable quality” due to an excess of typos/other poor editing. Or do what was done with the first Mathewson review where the reviewer noted the prevalence of problems, and what an obstacle it was to engagement with the story. I also liked the approach taken with DA review of Perfection where she noted such problems up the top, and moved into the concerns she had with the “meat” of the story.

    I hope all this filters over into the carelessly-SP/lazy-cheap-publisher realm and it all becomes a non issue. In the meantime, these objective problems being highlighted in reviews is a big help to me, and what books I won’t be wasting my time with.

  117. Kaetrin
    Aug 22, 2012 @ 07:45:08

    @Lynn S. I was taught that “quicker” was not a word and that the correct use was “more quickly” and if I did not wish to use 2 words, to use “faster” instead. I would have loved the “more quickly” book (that part of it, at least!). Quicker drives me batty. :)

  118. Jayne
    Aug 22, 2012 @ 08:06:25

    @Michelle: “Grammar Snobs are Great Big Meanies” by June Casagrande is also wonderful.

  119. Jane
    Aug 22, 2012 @ 08:07:38

    What I do criticize authors (and their fans) for is their defensiveness when readers complain about the poor quality of their books. Just as writers don’t have an ethical obligation to write a certain way, readers aren’t obligated to consider an author’s circumstances when reviewing a book.

    Agreed. Nor should a reader have to consider an author’s feelings in this matter. Putting a book out there in exchange for payment means you are going into business. If you choose to engage in a business transaction with a half assed product, then you should expect that there will be comment and criticism of half assed production. Even the best edited and produced books will result in complaints. Poorly produced products get a pass because the author failed/refused/whatever to put in the effort to put out a better produced product?

    And quibbling about a few errors isn’t what we are talking about here. There are books out there, books I have enjoyed, that are replete with errors from getting the characters names misspelled to using repeated homophones. Or in Ms. Mathewson’s case something so easy as appending a period at the end of the honorific Miss.

  120. Stephanie Doyle
    Aug 22, 2012 @ 08:23:09

    @Ann Somerville:

    I don’t think it’s about *paying* necessariliy although I can tell you I had my 100K manuscript copy edited for far less than $1500.

    And no I have not earned out on my investment. However as a traditionally published author as well making sure my product was professional was worth any amount of money to me.

    I think that’s the issue. If you’re going to self-publish, and call yourself a “professional” writer and earn money from your craft – to not have a book edited (by either a professional editor or perhaps another professional writer) seems to blatently disregard what “publishing” is.

    It’s not just writing. And it’s not just selling.

    As reader I would really love to see self-published books come with disclaimers.

    “This book was edited.” vs. “This book was not edited.”

    Think about that – how many people would choose to spend money on a book they knew in advance was not edited by anyone?

  121. Jackie Barbosa
    Aug 22, 2012 @ 09:32:10

    @Stephanie Doyle:

    I don’t think it’s about *paying* necessarily although I can tell you I had my 100K manuscript copy edited for far less than $1500.

    $1500 seems on the high side for copy editing of a full-length manuscript, particularly if you provide a relatively clean version of the final draft to your editor, as I would expect both Ann and you to do. Some copy editors will quote you a price based on reading a few chapters of your book; the less “work” they see in the sample, the lower the price will be. For those who truly can’t afford to pay up front, there may be some editors who are willing to work on a percentage of sales and/or to barter with you. (My last novella was edited on barter with another author; both of us have been copy editors at an epublisher, so we both have the professional credentials.)

    The main thing, however, is that even with great training and knowing all the rules, it’s still practically impossible to act as your own copy editor. You simply don’t see the things another set of eyes can. And you really want that other set of eyes to have the editorial chops to see the small stuff.

    With all of that said, I feel that some of the authors we’re discussing genuinely don’t know the rules (as I believe Ann pointed out upthread), and may therefore not even be competent to tell a high quality copy edit from a poor one. This presents an even bigger problem, because not only are they not capable of delivering a relatively clean final draft to an editor, they aren’t capable of knowing which editorial corrections are right/wrong or whether the editor has, in fact, found the majority of the errors in the book. This is when having a publishing house really helps, because the publisher can “lay down the law” when it comes to mechanics and some house style issues. The house is also likely to have competent copy editors (although this isn’t always the case, sadly). A self-publisher can feel free to ignore any advice he/she doesn’t like or make the mistake of relying on a copy editor who isn’t competent.

  122. dick
    Aug 22, 2012 @ 09:41:32

    Am I a grammar cop? You betcha! Should reviewers and readers complain about egregious errors in grammar? Definitely. But would I pull out the billy-club, beat the hell out of a really good story because the writer had little or no understanding of grammar or a really good joke because the teller of it couldn’t spell as Webster insists he should? I don’t think so. Still, readers of print books have a right to expect that the publishers would have done some editting. E-books, though, are DIY endeavors. In most instances, buyers of the e-books know that and have no reason, really, to expect the same finish as print books should have.

  123. Jane Davitt
    Aug 22, 2012 @ 09:59:55


    I can’t say that I agree with you about e-books being DIY endeavors. I sub to a few publishers; some bring out my books as paperbacks and e-books, some only go the e-book route — but the editing is as rigorous for both formats, as it should be.

    When simultaneous print/e-book releases are commonplace, I’m not sure why you’d think this unless I’m misunderstanding you in some way. Did you just mean when it comes to self-publishing when authors are more likely to choose an e-book to maximize profits?

    And when I pay for a book, I don’t care if it’s on paper, pixels, or carved in a rock; I expect it to be free of grammatical errors beyond the odd forgivable typo.

  124. Jane Lovering
    Aug 22, 2012 @ 10:02:10

    I was always taught that correct punctuation is used to make the meaning of a sentence clearer. For example;
    We ran out of food, so we had to eat the dogs
    means something vastly different from
    We ran out of food, so we had to eat the dogs’.

    I can understand how, writing quickly, when the ideas are burning through the mind like a forest fire that will take out your eyeballs if you don’t get them down fast enough, mistakes are made. But if we, as authors, care about the meaning, the message, does it not behove us to double check – and to be pleased if someone corrects us – because telling our stories means telling them in a way that others can understand. Not in such a way that readers have to stop and think “what the…” and then try to figure out what it was that we ‘meant’ to say.

    Writers do the work, so the reader doesn’t have to.

  125. Jackie Barbosa
    Aug 22, 2012 @ 10:31:54


    In most instances, buyers of the e-books know that and have no reason, really, to expect the same finish as print books should have.

    This comment made me see red. Why on earth would anyone suggest that the format of a book should have any relationship at all to the polish of its text? This is the equivalent of saying that we shouldn’t expect the same level of editing in a mass-market paperback as in a hardback. I can’t imagine that would fly on any planet, but it’s the same basic proposition–the mmpb format is clearly “inferior” to the hardback format, so therefore, we should expect less from it.

    At a time when pretty much all books from major publishing houses are delivered in both digital and print format (and the digital format sometimes costs more than the print version because discounting isn’t permitted), I don’t think it is remotely reasonable for readers to expect “less” of a digital book than a print one. I am willing to admit that I am more forgiving of the occasional error in a self-published or small-press-published book that I paid less than $4 for than I am in one from a major publishing house that I paid $8 for, but I expect those errors to be rare in both cases. A book that has multiple mechanical errors on every page of the sample isn’t even worth downloading for free. And for me, format has absolutely nothing to do with it.

    I really object to the idea that ebooks are inferior to print books. They aren’t. Books are books. I buy them to read them, and what I care about is the quality of the story and the writing, not the means by which the story and the writing is delivered.

  126. Kelly
    Aug 22, 2012 @ 10:33:51

    @Lynn S.:

    Sweet Baby Ray Milland….

    I think I love you. Will you marry me?

  127. MrsJoseph
    Aug 22, 2012 @ 11:45:24


    Buried Comment (Reason: slightly ad hominem)   Show

    That’s a sad, sad world you live in.

    I do not and will not ever expect a lower quality of book – regardless of formats.

  128. Robin/Janet
    Aug 22, 2012 @ 11:55:50

    @Jennifer Lohmann:

    4) Good editing is a skill and skills should be paid for. Not that all paid editors will give you a quality product, but if you ask friends and coworkers, you have no idea if they know what the oxford comma is, much less when and if it should be used.

    Jumping off your comment, I just want to point out that there are also different *kinds* of editing. There is substantive editing (this is what I most like to do), copy editing (which can be had in the context of substantive editing or on its own, depending on the editor), and proofreading (another skill altogether), which are the biggies. There is also fact checking, historical research, and other types of consultative work. Each requires a different skill, and while some people might possess one or all of them, they are not the same, nor are they interchangeable or likely to cost the same.

    One thing I will say, though, is that IMO good proofreaders and copy editors are vastly undervalued. I have friends who do both, and even though they charge what I think are incredibly reasonable rates, they are often met with scoffing disbelief or flat rejection.

  129. Lazaraspaste
    Aug 22, 2012 @ 12:13:36

    You know, Beta was a superior product to VHS but VHS won out in the end.

    I only mention this because people keep mentioning sales as if number of sales were the only determiner of value or worth. There are things we do and ought to value beyond monetary gain. Surely we should value the craft of writing for itself even if it does not generate millions of sales? Surely we should value stories that are well-written, well-executed, and clearly have had authors, editors, etc. labor over them EVEN if we don’t end up personally enjoying the book? Surely we should value a job well done even if the result is not something we found pleasurable? Or that made money?

    I mean, good god, just because you can produce some crapulent piece of shoddy workmanship that sells billions of copies doesn’t mean that you should. We wouldn’t tolerate that in other “products.” Why do we tolerate it or dismiss the idea of a set standard of professionalism in our art? Just because we like something or enjoyed it doesn’t mean it is of good quality. I thoroughly enjoyed a turkey sandwich from the cafeteria yesterday because I was ravenously hungry. It was a sandwich that was mediocre bordering on bad.

    Taste may be subjective, but it is also contextual. If you are starving for a certain kind of story, you may not be very particular about how or what form it comes to you in. But that doesn’t it mean it is a good piece of writing, any more than my hunger made the turkey sandwich anything other than edible. It wasn’t delicious. It wasn’t quality. All my hunger did was allow me to enjoy it more than I would have had I not be been hungry.

    And really, if you want to be a writer, if you need to tell a story, why then do you not want to tell it well? This is the part I don’t understand. If your writing is so important to you, if it is so damn central to who you are as a person that any criticism has the ability to break your spirit, the why, why, WHY, can you not be bothered to look up the difference between affect and effect? Or, I don’t know, write at least a second draft?

    I’m obviously pro-standards.

  130. Janet W
    Aug 22, 2012 @ 12:17:30

    Jackie, I don’t have a dog in this fight but in slight defense of what Dick said (altho I know that when you publish an e-book, it’s complete, finished, done. A product to be proud of) … there seems to be no compunction by some authors to consider an e-book a work-in-progress even while they sell it. The whole we are not your beta-readers thing. Could that have been what he meant?

    Completely off topic but it seems so quaint now that I was thrilled to find the REAL Whitney, My Love — the pre-changed version. That sucker would be changed in a heartbeat these days.

  131. Lynnd
    Aug 22, 2012 @ 12:41:35

    @Jane Davitt: I agree that I make no differentiation between the quality of a print book and the quality of an ebook when I’m reading. If continued and egregious spelling, grammar and syntax errors throw me out of the story, I’m going to be annoyed and judge the book accordingly. What makes me really angry is when those errors occur in professionally published ebooks for which I am paying full publisher prices (which in many cases is more than the price of the print book).

    If a self-published author chooses not to have the book editted (or at least looked at by someone competent, then they cannot complain when readers point out the flaws.

    I also agree with those who say that many younger writers simply don’t know the rules and, unfortunately I think it’s going to get worse before it gets better. I see this with some of junior lawyers and it frightens me since a misplaced comma or the use of a word improperly can result huge issues for our clients. A whole generation of kids went through school where no spelling or grammar were taught because educators believed that they would “absorb” the rules by “osmosis” from their own reading (a teacher friend of mine was told she would be fired if she taught spelling and ran spelling tests for her students who couldn’t spell). I had to teach my nephew how to use a dictionary because he had never been taught to use one in school (and he comes from a very affluent area and “good” schools). If the next generation is now learning from these poor writers, heaven help us all

  132. Jackie Barbosa
    Aug 22, 2012 @ 13:00:57


    I also agree with those who say that many younger writers simply don’t know the rules and, unfortunately I think it’s going to get worse before it gets better.

    I actually disagree in one sense, because my kids (ages 15, 13, and 10) have been getting pretty rigorous schooling in grammar, spelling, and punctuation. Does that mean they always remember all the rules and follow them? ‘Course not, but this is not because they are not ignorant of them.

    In my day job, I do a fair amount of editing of other people’s written work. (Note: I am not allowed to edit my own. I consider this a Good Thing.) I can assure you that I find absolutely no correlation between the age of the person who wrote the text and the competence (or incompetence) of the writing. I edit text written by people in their 50s and 60s that is just as riddled with errors as text written by those in their 20s or 30s, and just as much that is the reverse. As far as I can see, there is absolutely no basis for the assertion that one’s age or the era in which one attended school has anything to do with the ability to produce grammatically correct, properly punctuated and accurately spelled work. None.

  133. dick
    Aug 22, 2012 @ 14:24:45

    @Jackie Barbarosa:
    I don’t know whether you’re right or wrong about a book being a book regardless of its format; the terms describe different things, don’t they. But in what I posted I was extrapolating–perhaps incorrectly–from the furor over FSoG and the large number of mentions of poorly editted e-books in the posts in this thread. And I obviously wasn’t speaking of established authors who sell books in the e-format or those books simultaneously published in both print and and on the net which usually have had some editting other than the authors’. I think the final point in the previous post retains some validity; in a great number of cases, buyers of e-books ought not to expect the same level of finish as print books.

  134. Jane Davitt
    Aug 22, 2012 @ 14:38:33


    in a great number of cases, buyers of e-books ought not to expect the same level of finish as print books.

    Well, I do. And I will continue to do so.

  135. Katee
    Aug 22, 2012 @ 15:09:18


    I am currently enrolled in Angela’s Before You Hit Send Workshop and it may be the best $50 I ever spent. I would urge all writers who want to sharpen their skills to take this course. Not only do you learn how to improve your own writing in dozens of ways, you learn what to look for when critiqueing friend’s work and what makes agents and editors cringe straight from an industry insider. Take it. Worth every penny.

  136. Ros
    Aug 22, 2012 @ 15:11:37

    @dick: I think you are confusing e-published with self-published. Many e-publishing companies, including the one which publishes my books, have rigorous editing, copyediting and proofreading processes, just like any print publishing company.

  137. Michelle
    Aug 22, 2012 @ 17:54:17

    @Jayne-thanks, just requested it from my local library.

  138. Ann Somerville
    Aug 22, 2012 @ 18:57:17

    @Stephanie Doyle:

    “However as a traditionally published author as well making sure my product was professional was worth any amount of money to me.”

    Paying for an editor – or having a publisher edit your book – does not necessarily equate with a professional product. 3 of the 4 presses who accepted my books used their own authors to edit the books – and those authors had much weaker skills than mine. Fortunately only one of my books remains in the hands of this crew, but it’s one reason I am super wary not only of small presses but of ‘professional editors’. Having seen books which tout their edited status which are really poorly edited, and knowing anyone can set themselves up as an editor, I would rather trust my own rather good skills and those of friends and family I trust, than spend money I don’t have (for a return I will certainly not get) on a service of unknown quality.

    With all that, I believe I produce works which come close to, if not equal, the editing quality of my pro published books. I certainly strive to do so. I believe many SP authors strive to.

    Having said all that, I agree with Mrs Joseph: “I do not and will not ever expect a lower quality of book – regardless of formats.” Or regardless of who published it.

    I expect readers to take the same approach, and I absolutely support and encourage all reviewers to continue noting editing problems. Obviously many readers aren’t bothered by them, and that’s for them to decide. Many readers are, including myself, and I want to know in advance.

  139. Kaetrin
    Aug 22, 2012 @ 19:28:05

    @Jane Davitt: Me too. That’s the whole point of the post isn’t it? That we should?

  140. Susan
    Aug 22, 2012 @ 20:41:24

    I expect a final, polished product whether I buy a DTB, an ebook, a self-published book, a book published by a big pub house, whatever.

    I will agree that errors (grammar, usage, spelling, formatting) are more common in self-pubbed ebooks than in print books. But, I have also read some fantastic self-pubbed stories that were also virtually error-free. Some of these authors are going to the effort to put out quality products, whether they are professionally edited or not.

    OTH, I am seeing more and more errors in books by well-known authors who are published by large, reputable publishers. Yesterday, I was reading a book when I came across the phrase “taught peaks.” Yep, it was right in the middle of a sex scene. The only sex scene in the book. And it brought me to a screeching halt. My eyes simply wouldn’t move forward for the longest time. It totally ruined it for me. (At least they weren’t “taunt peaks.” I’ve seen that, too.) The same book used the word “minuscule” quite a number of times, but couldn’t quite settle on whether it was spelled “minuscule” or “miniscule.” It drove me crazy. And just last week I read another popular book in which the author repeatedly used the word “enormity” when he meant enormousness/immensity. Again, the first time I read it I puzzled over the possible wickedness of the thing described before I realized it was just really big. Some readers might say it’s no big deal, but it took me out of the story every time. (And “enormity’s” author is an English teacher in his day job.)

    My point is that these problems are pervasive throughout society and in all media, not just certain self-pubbed ebooks. I fear that another poster is right when she stated this is probably an already-lost battle, but I still say it’s worth fighting the good fight. Point out the errors without worrying about bruising anyone’s delicate feelings. The readers who will be bothered deserve to be forewarned, and conscientious authors and publishers might be moved to improve.

    And hold firm on the 2-spaces-after-a-period rule!

  141. Shelley
    Aug 22, 2012 @ 21:27:10

    Just had to chime in here. As an avid reader I’ve learned to overlook a certain number of errors especially in these self-published works. One or two doesn’t detract from my enjoyment at all but when it becomes obvious that this is going to be a pattern throughout the book it makes me freakin’ crazy!!! Authors, please, please, please check your work. I personally hope to self-publish one of these days and would not ever let one of my books be put up with so many errors. Not to say there won’t be errors cuz nobody’s perfect but come on…really?

    On a side note, I’ve enjoyed Mathewson’s 1st two books in this series. Yeah, some of the characters’ traits drove me a little batty as well as the errors but all in all, I enjoyed the books quite a bit in spite of these.

  142. Errors and Expectations, II | Something More
    Aug 22, 2012 @ 23:57:27

    […] of the need for editing and evaluating writing, Robin had a great post at Dear Author on objective vs. subjective standards for critiquing fiction; the comments are also well worth reading. Inspired both by that […]

  143. Stumbling Over Chaos :: Linkity leeches away your time!
    Aug 24, 2012 @ 19:29:36

    […] Keira Andrews on the importance of copy editing, inspired by this Dear Author post and the ensuing comments. […]

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