Lauren Carr is the international best-selling author of the Mac Faraday, Lovers in Crime, Chris Matheson Cold Case, and Thorny Rose Mysteries—over twenty-five titles across three fast-paced mystery series filled with twists and turns!
Killer Deadline marks Lauren’s first venture into mystery’s purely cozy sub-genre with a female protagonist.
Book reviewers and readers alike rave about how Lauren Carr seamlessly crosses genres to include mystery, suspense, crime fiction, police procedurals, romance, and humor.
A popular speaker, Lauren is also the owner of Acorn Book Service, the umbrella under which falls iRead Book Tours. She lives with her husband and two spoiled rotten German Shepherds on a mountain in Harpers Ferry, WV.
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Why Grammar Nazis Need to Get a Grip
Is your New Year’s resolution that you are going to finish that book you’ve always wanted to write and get it published? Read on!
A common topic of conversation among writers is editors, editing, and reviews criticizing our books’ editing. Recently, I had an energetic email exchange with a writer who received her first review in which the reader complained about the editing. I am glad to say that she went away saying that she felt better.
Since Shadow of Murder (my 29th mystery!) is currently with the proofreader who is scouring it for errors, I thought now would be a good time to freshen up this lengthy (and venting) guest post that I had written a few years ago on my thoughts about what I call Grammar Nazis.
Grab a glass of champagne and read on:
The Internet has made it much easier for anyone yearning to voice their opinion about anything and everything to do so. Among those striving to be heard are readers anxious to release their inner book critics to heap praise or criticism upon the authors of those books they love or hate. Nowadays, any reader with a kindle simply has to hit a button at the end of the book to leave their ratings.
Thus, Grammar Nazis can now easily warn perspective readers of any book that does not meet their lofty standards by posting reviews citing the read as poorly written and badly edited.
This is not necessarily a good thing because nasty reviews from Grammar Nazis can potentially deter unwitting readers from purchasing and reading books that are actually very well written and finely edited.
What is a Grammar Nazi?
According to the Internet, a Grammar Nazi is someone who believes it’s their duty to attempt to correct any grammar and/or spelling mistakes they observe—usually found hanging around book reading chat rooms,
⇒ or posting one-star reviews declaring books poorly edited (or not edited at all) on Amazon, Goodreads, and every other book website they can find,
⇒ or sending emails with multi-paged lists of spelling and grammatical errors to authors of said books and declaring their editors and proofreaders incompetent.
I am very familiar with Grammar Nazis. My late mother was one. Luckily for authors, she was unplugged and had more important things to do than compose detailed lists of what she considered to be grammatical mistakes in books—unless it was one of mine.
What type of books have fallen victim to one or more negative reviews from Grammar Nazis? Well, here’s a sampling of reviews that I have found on Amazon, the biggest book seller in the world.
One reader, who identifies him/herself as a literature teacher, begins a long-winded one-star review by stating that he/she only uses To Kill a Mockingbird in his/her class “when forced to” because it is so poorly written. This reader goes on to say, “The descriptive passages were rather crude, and at times the language became practically unintelligible.”
Not even Ernest Hemingway is immune from Nazi attacks. Another reader posted a one-star review for For Whom the Bell Tolls. This reader writes:
I will not presume to say that I am right & that millions who love this book are wrong, but I really do not understand why this book is considered a classic. The dialogue is so choppy & forced-formal that it seems like the characters are all talking past each other.
Another reader had trouble understanding how Tom Clancy’s Hunt for Red October became a best-seller:
Clancy could have edited 40% of the text out and had a much better story. This novel is bogged down with irrelevant character descriptions, military acronyms, tedious sub-plots, and background stories that have nothing to contribute to the novel’s overall focus. I found myself constantly frustrated with the monotonous length it took to cover simple plot points. Clancy obviously has a huge audience; however, he needs an effective editor. This novel is a very slow read.
As you can see, Grammar Nazis really don’t care who you are or how experienced your publisher or editor is. When they see a mistake, they’re going to let readers know. Like in this Nazi’s review for Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight, published by Little, Brown Books for YA:
…the editing—or lack thereof—is appalling …; the grammar and syntax are unforgivably bad; the plot is onion-skin thin; and the characters are uniformly dull and uninspiring.
The purpose of this post is not to rip apart Grammar Nazis. After all, I was closely related to one. My mother used to proofread my books before they were released to catch errors missed by my team of multiple editors and proofreaders. (More about that later.)
Nor is the purpose of this post to convince Grammar Nazis that they’re wrong. Believe me, there is no convincing a Grammar Nazi they are mistaken about errors they have noted. They are right. They got “A’s” in English in school. They have worked for a hundred years as an editor for a daily newspaper and never once during that whole century—publishing two editions seven days a week—not once was there so much as one typo in any of those newspapers—not a single one!
As an author and a publisher, I would like to put this issue into a proper perspective for both readers and those authors whose books will fall victim to a reader or two who has too much time on his or her hands. As a rule, I do not engage or argue with the rare Grammar Nazi who posts a nasty review on Amazon, Goodreads, or any other sites about grammatical errors they may have found in my books. As a matter of fact, I give no credibility to Grammar Nazis at all and I will explain why in this post.
However, I do believe that the average reader who sees reviews posted by Grammar Nazis and new authors who will (not if) receive such reviews should be aware of a few things before they accept the Grammar Nazi’s claims of bad writing and poor editing as fact.
Poorly Edited According to Who (or is it Whom?)
A couple of years ago, an author friend of mine independently published a book. During the publication process, her book went through two rounds of editing (by two different editors) and was proofread by another editor, plus a friend of hers, who happened to be an English school teacher. Thus, her book was looked at by four different pairs of eyes before publication.
Nine months after the book was released and received several glowing reviews, she received one poor review declaring that it was poorly edited and had numerous grammatical errors. So, she hired yet another editor to proofread the book again for grammatical mistakes and misspellings. This editor, who used a different style manual than the other editors, ripped that book apart with changes on every page. So many in fact, that it took the formatter over a month to make every change in order to re-release the book.
Over a year later, a traditional publisher acquired this same book, signing my friend to a multi-book deal. As part of the re-release of this book under the new publisher, the book was edited yet again! It went through two separate editors—one of whom contacted my friend to tell her that it was very well written and was pretty clean to begin with. Not only that, but after the book was formatted, it was proofread by yet another editor.
First review my friend received from a reader stated:
This is the first novel I’ve read by this author, and while it was a good read, with a good plot, interesting primary and secondary characters, and was very suspenseful, the sheer number of grammatical errors, misused words, and spelling errors certainly detracted from my enjoyment of this book. While I’d like to read the next novels in this series, I can only hope that they are better edited and proofread than this one.
Excuse me! This book was looked at by—count them!—seven different editors plus an English teacher. Not all of them were ill-educated, poorly trained, or incompetent!
The answer to how this happens lies in this one simple question:
Grammatical errors, misused words, and spelling mistakes according to whose rules?
Over the years, I had assembled a team of editors and proofreaders to work on my own books based on each one’s strengths. It is a given, where one editor has strengths, he or she has weaknesses in another area.
Let me explain. A few years ago, I sent one of my books to a new editor to be proofread before its release. Because she was unproven to me, I sent the same book to yet another editor as a backup. Neither proofreader knew the book was being worked on by someone else. Therefore, they thought it was completely up to them to catch every mistake.
When the book came back from these two proofreaders, they had both identified completely different errors. Only in one instance did they both identify the same error! They concentrated completely on different areas in proofreading the book. One proofreader was more concerned with the punctuation while the other focused on the spelling.
Also, different editors/proofreaders work under a different set of rules.
One editor I worked with followed the new comma rules—whatever those are. From what I have seen, the comma is rarely used. I have read many books in recent years, whose editors seem to be following these rules. According to the new comma rules, the line from Gone with the Wind: “Frankly my dear I don’t give a damn,” has no commas.
Another one of my editors loves the Oxford comma. Thus, the line would be written, “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.”
Based on what she learned when she was in school, my late mother swore it was, “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn.”
Who is right? Under interrogation, each one could cite a source and reasoning to back up their argument of where the commas go and why.
Another area of disagreement is the ellipse. That is the “…”. One of my editors believes there should be no space before or after the ellipse. Another editor firmly believes there should be a space before and after the ellipse.
Even highly regarded style manuals used by editors disagree. Some argue that the ellipse should be treated like a word, which means it should have a space both before and after. Others (mostly journalistic style manuals) say it should be treated like an em-dash (—) so there should be no space. This is because the space before and after can create havoc with formatting.
Therefore, I quite literally split the difference. During formatting I use a half-space before and after the ellipse.
Supreme Court Decides on the Apostrophe “s”
To better illustrate this issue, I love to tell writers, new editors, and readers about a book I edited for another author several years ago.
This book contained a character whose name ended in an “s.” Well, throughout the book, there were many instances in which his name was used in possessive.
Now, every editor has a thing or two or three or dozen, in which they will not trust their knowledge. To be safe, they will look it up in their style manual every single time. For me, the question of a proper name ending in “s” and used in possessive was one of those things. At that time, the Chicago Style Manual called for this possessive to be “s’” not “s’s.”
Well, the author said I was wrong and that it is supposed to be “s’s.”
So, I looked it up again, not just in the Chicago Style Manual, but several sites on the Internet. Not only did I discover that the answer varies in the Chicago Style Manual depending on which edition you use, but I also found a case in which the Supreme Court of the United States had gotten involved in this very argument while writing a decision on a case. Even the justices disagreed! Clarence Thomas (who should know since his name ends in an “s”) declared that it is “s.’”
I let the author have the last word. He requested that I change all of the possessive references for this character to “s’s.”
Then, upon proofing the book, the author brought in his daughter, a technical writer who goes by a totally different style manual. She stated that it should be “s’” without the extra “s.”
So I had to change it back.
Grammar and Punctuation Is Not Carved in Stone
Many people who are not in the business of writing, editing, or publishing fiction fail to realize that many of the grammar and punctuation rules that we were taught as being carved in stone really are not—especially when it comes to fiction.
Most fiction authors’ literary style and narrative voice don’t follow all of the rules taught in simple fourth grade grammar. Keeping in tune with the casual manner in which people communicate today, writers focus more on creating a conversational tone and flow to the narrative than using the correct pronoun.
When I sent my third book to the editor, I could practically hear her laughing between the lines in her notes when she rewrote a sentence in my narrative. “When was the last time you heard someone use the word ‘whom?’” she asked.
While my sentence was grammatically correct, she noted that it had such a formal stilted sound to it that it broke the easy going pace of my writing. As a result, the reader would be pulled out of the story. Yes, the sentence, rewritten by the editor, was grammatically incorrect. However, the narrative flowed much more naturally.
Grammar Nazis, particularly those who have spent the bulk of their education or professional lives in the world of non-fiction writing and editing (working in journalism or teaching grade school English), fail to realize this when reading fiction. Being a Nazi, they are incapable of becoming immersed in the plot and the story because they have spent their lives searching for mistakes. When they encounter what they perceive to be an error, they are so offended that all enjoyment of the other 99.9% of the book becomes an impossibility—all they can see and think about is that imperfection.
Feeling righteous about what they know is right, they feel compelled to note said error and to warn readers via bad reviews and/or notify the writer of what a sloppy job his editor did and wonder how any author who considers herself a professional could allow such mistakes to reach their readers.
“Your readers deserve better!” I have been chastised by one Grammar Nazi (not my mother.)
Here’s how this can and does happen:
Prolific writers (those who write more than one book a year) make mistakes. A prolific writer cares more about writing a thrilling book with fully developed characters and an intriguing plot than determining if every single word (Is it lay or lie?) is right and ensuring that every punctuation mark is correct (To use the comma or not to use the comma?).
Such minute details have the power to tie a Grammar Nazi’s panties into a knot.
Several years ago, I received an email from a woman informing me that I was a shoddy writer and how dare I consider myself worthy of editing other authors’ books. (I don’t edit other authors books anymore because I am too busy writing my own books.) Her complaint: In The Murders at Astaire Castle, which was released in the top 10 of mysteries on Amazon in July 2013, contained this sentence:
“On the way into the police station, David stopped at the donut shop to buy a box of donuts.”
The Nazi wrote, “No, sh!t.” She used the actual word. My error was using “donut” twice. That is repetition, which is a no-no. This, she declared was sloppy and shoddy writing. She went on to post a one-star review on Amazon and Goodreads.
Since she told me in her email that she was a writer, and obviously much better than I am since she would never have written that sentence, I looked up her profile in the social media sites and found that she had never released a book. Based on her reaction to the news that David had stopped at a donut shop to buy donuts, I think she is probably too busy sweating over every page, paragraph, sentence, comma, period, and word to allow her book to be released to the public.
By virtue of being a Grammar Nazi, her book must be perfect. Anything less is unacceptable.
That’s pretty sad in my opinion.
Prolific Writers and Editors Are Human Beings
Prolific writers know that there comes a time in every book’s life where we need to just let it go and move on to the next book. We accept the fact that there could very well—No, we know and accept the fact that there will be one, two, three, or twenty grammatical errors in the book that our team has not caught.
However, from a professional stand-point, it is not good business to hold up the release of a book to invest in yet another editor to scour a whole book in search of those few errors that will cause hissy fits for one or two Grammar Nazis—even if they do use the power of the Internet to proclaim the book as poorly edited.
At what point can a book—not a five-hundred word article or a student’s ten-page research paper—but a 60,000 to 110,000 word book—be declared error free, especially if editors, proofreaders, and Grammar Nazis can’t agree on what the rules are?
Unfortunately, not only are my editors and proofreaders professionals—but also, every single one is a human being. Therefore, they suffer from the condition that every human suffers—Yes, even the Grammar Nazis suffer from this dreaded incurable condition.
Human beings aren’t perfect. As intolerable as it may be, we all make mistakes.
I have worked with numerous editors in the thirty plus years that I have been writing and I have yet to meet an editor who is perfect, which is why I use more than one on every project.
Think about it. The Murders at Astaire Castle has 66,000 words. This Nazi was having a hissy fit over one sentence, consisting of nineteen words, in the middle of a 286-page book. Frankly, I thought one bad sentence out of the thousands of sentences in that book was doing pretty good.
I wouldn’t call that sloppy, shoddy, incompetent, or poor. Would you?
Well, if a book really does have TOO many errors, like one novel where in the first chapter the author used lied instead of laid FOUR times, that’s not just a typo, that’s sloppy. But donut instead of doughnut? Who cares? One comma, two, or three? Who cares? That reviewer probably has massive strokes when an author decides not to use quotation marks for dialog! Mistakes happen, but unless it is really bad (meaning, the same, really obvious mistake, over and over again), I don’t rate lower.