Defending the Indefensible

Update: Most of the posts in the thread I linked to have been pulled, including the awesome messages by “romance author” defending grammatical illegibility (and by awesome, I mean “WHAT THE SHIT?”), as well as Emma’s wonderful and articulate response. *cries* But if you want to ogle another train-wreck-in-progress, check out this other a-splosion, in which an author who’s at least brave enough to sign her name writes some more about…how the bad sentences in her book were taken out of context. Oy.

* * * * * *

Via crankyreader, check out this “romance author” who tries to argue that grammar, spelling and, well, general coherency don’t matter. Aieeee. A poster named Emma summarized what I would’ve wanted to say, with much less profanity and a great deal more eloquence.

Man, I wonder who this romance author is. People who don’t bother to at least come up with SOME sort of username and instead resort to “anonymous,” “a reader” or “romance author” and the like strike me as singularly uncreative minds. Look, if you want to be chickenshit, be a CREATIVE chickenshit.


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  1. 1
    Kate R says:

    Seems to me everyone in that discussion went into passionate overload. The writer (no, she isn’t me. I’d have made a bunch more typos) did say she hated the idea of having typos and other mistakes in her mss—she didn’t say she thought they were a-okay…

    Or maybe she did once the argument heated up and I missed it? I got to the first “and the horse you rode in on” and abandoned it.

    I love reading AAR but I’m glad to be reminded why I shouldn’t post there.

  2. 2
    Shannon says:

    I think we should have a gigantic eBay ARC auction and use the proceeds to hire a hacker to ID said “romance author”.

  3. 3
    Kate R says:

    Adele Ashworth posted too, and didn’t do too badly—if you’re going to join in that kind of discussion it’s hard not to get to whimpery or angry.

    I still argue that the best policy is to pretend you don’t see it. I think I’ll write a whole book based on this. . .
    ….or if you can swing it, do like DDD.

    Best part of the whole thread was Robin’s suggestion to hire a grad student. Oh. Duh.

  4. 4

    Typos do happen. Despite all the major technological advances in the publishing industry, humans still edit the books. Human eyes get tired, human brains see what’s not there, or miss what is there.


    IMO,the correct response is not, “Well, who cares, it’s a romance, don’t be so damned picky, silly reader who pays my damned royalties.” The correct response should be the editor going, “Oh, shit, my bad. Sorry, author.” At least, that’s my response. And the big boys should have the staff in place to do the stuff right.

    That attitude of “who cares” is especially prevalent in erotica and erotic romance, and it PISSES ME OFF. I have had people complain that edits were ‘too nitpicky’. That editing “takes too long.” that “People don’t read these books for the plot.”

    If the authors don’t take it seriously, why should anyone else?

  5. 5
    Aimee says:

    To me, there is nothing more beautiful than the written word and to have it butchered beyond recognition hurts me more than I can say.

    I don’t care what form the writing is in, be it a work of fiction, a technical manual or a legal document, but any form of published or public document needs to be free of typographical and grammatical errors.

    What I didn’t like was the tone that correctness and accuracy of the written form only matter in certain situations and not in others.

  6. 6
    Kate R says:

    Hmmmmm. I should gear up into rant-mode, huh? Instead of wandering off on tangents? (What a nice shade of green is that sky over that tornado.)

    Naw, every discussion should have someone in the corner talking to herself. Just call me Aunt Emmeline (a literary allusion: Wodehouse.)

    A bit more mumbling . . .and now perhaps I’ll go collect a few cats.

  7. 7
    Kate R says:

    and perhaps a rabbit.
    I should like to have a baby bunny as well.

    dodder, dodder, mumble,

  8. 8
    Holly Bush says:

    Strangely enough, I regularly only read here (Smart Bitches) and AAR. It’s like being in a room with William F. Buckley and Gloria Steinem.

    I write romances. And I am not the Anonymous Author. I felt compelled to post this. I have had several glasses of wine and a B&B.

  9. 9
    Robin says:

    Seems to me everyone in that discussion went into passionate overload.

    Hey, what can I say? It’s finals and I’m pretty much chained to my computer and surrounded by piles and piles of unstapled papers and heavy books (note to anyone who thinks it might be fun to go back to school: Just. Say. No.).  AAR is a good diversion, and it keeps me from venting in a way that would cause harm to those I love.  God bless “romance author.”  Now, if anyone could figure out who she is so I can send her my personally highlighted copy of Duke of Scandal to enjoy, I’d really appreciate it.

  10. 10
    Kate R says:

    It’s finals and I’m pretty much chained to my computer and surrounded by piles and piles of unstapled papers and heavy books

    I take it that means you’re not one of the students available to do proofing for cash?

  11. 11
    Emily says:

    Geez that “author” needs a reality check of some kind. I just finished my first bit of erotica writing and I panicked because I shared it with friends and then realized I’d made a continuity error involving a corset. No one else seemed to notice it, though, but I’m still irked that it’s there and I know it’s my fault.
    If I can muster enough ire to get my nose out of joint and panic over a crappy bit of amateurish scribbling I’ve done, this “author”, be they published or not, should take a modicum of pride in his/her work.

  12. 12
    Candy says:

    Kate: I adore you. Cats and rabbits, dodder dodder mumble indeed. I may have exaggerated by saying that “romance author” was arguing that the mechanics of language didn’t matter, but she comes pretty damn close by trying to claim that it’s all about the author’s individual style, dammit (doing this in the face of the wonderfully incoherent sentence Robin quoted was…well, either blissfully ignorant or wonderfully stubborn, or a magic combination of the two) and playing the “oh you picky, pedantic readers and your love of tearing apart an author’s book because you’re all so goshdarn mean” card. Fuck that shit. Bad grammar is bad grammar, and telling readers we’re being picky is NOT a valid defense.

  13. 13

    I’ve heard that one too many times myself. Don’t change that, it’s my VOICE. As you said, bad is bad. My personal winner was a submission I got that told me the misspellings in the manuscript were deliberate, and could not be changed. Sigh…

  14. 14
    tisty says:

    Okay, now I’m really panicing!

    I’m going to come out of a particular comfortable closet and admit that I am a soon to be published dyslexic writer Though I haven’t told my publisher yet. possibly thay have already guessed?! My nightmare is me being chased by dictionaries. Or English teachers. Or both!

    Everytime my book was rejected, I assumed that it was because of the spelling/gramar thing and edited it again. And again, and… well you get the picture. When I finally got accepted, after the hallelujah choras, well that’s when I really started to panic. And right now I’m Bleeding tears of shit over book 2!

    But if a big company like avon can get it it wrong what hope have I got?

    And why is spelling always associated with literacy. I’m very literate yet when last tested (Just before going into Uni) I have the spelling age of 10years8months (Reading age of 35)?

    And how bad is to bad? What is the upperthresh hold for just plain shody?

    Please, I need reassurance!!!!!!!

    (Pathetic isn’t it)

  15. 15
    tisty says:

    PS Mistress stef: None of my spelling errors are deliberate. The goblins do it when I’m not looking!

  16. 16

    I blame gremlins myself.

  17. 17
    tisty says:

    Nah, mine are definatly goblins. Not franchised you see. Shabby dressers.

  18. 18
    Robin says:

    I take it that means you’re not one of the students available to do proofing for cash?

    Thank you, Kate; I needed that laugh.

    Seriously, though, English grad students usually spend a lot of time teaching undergrads how to write at the college level, which also usually means lots and lots of grammatical review.  I never really learned the *rules* of grammar until I had to teach them, and I think it’s the same for most grad students (especially at the beginning when you’re all shiny and new and want to impress and be adored by your students).  And the best part is that it takes FOREVER to get your Ph.D., so these students are around for a long-ass time, generally speaking.

    I edited a couple of books as a grad student (although I worked a lot of content as well as grammar and form), and it was really fun. I was also lucky, though, because in both cases the author gave me a great deal of discretion to make changes as I saw fit.

  19. 19
    bam says:

    I wrote a short story for my fiction class where the male lead is tied up and the female lead is doing all sorts of shit to him… all of a sudden, his hands are around her waist…

    My professor didn’t notice, I didn’t notice, but my workshop buddies did, and they made sure I knew about it.

    I was so embarrassed that I had nightmares about it for weeks.

    A writer owes it to her readers to make sure that shit doesn’t happen. It’s just irresponsible to say shit like, “Oh, well, it’s just grammar. You knew what I was trying to say.”

  20. 20
    SB Sarah says:

    I remember so clearly a book review in a somewhat prominent newspaper chastising Danielle Steele over her “writing style” which was so popular and powerful in the sales department that no one corrected egregious misuses of grammar. IIRC, “No, no, Danielle. We do not use four ellipses in one sentence. No, no Danielle. Comma splices are not acceptable indications of ‘style.’ They are a grammar error.”

  21. 21

    Tisty—get someone else to read your manuscript before you send it off.  Another suggestion, and I don’t know if this will help you or not, read your entire manuscript aloud.  Seriously.  You’d be surprised how many typos you catch that way, and it will help you realize if you’ve got a sentence fragment or some other structure problem. 

    Finally, change the font for your last read through, then change it back.  I change mine from Times Roman to Comic San Serif and I catch some surprising missing punctuation marks that way.

    Good luck!

  22. 22
    Robin says:

    <style.’ They are a grammar error.”

    Comma splices have always been my error of choice.  Finally, when I was writing a final GRADUATE LEVL paper on Chaucer, my professor sat down with me and explained very carefully how to use a semi-colon.  At the time, of course, I thought she was being kind of petty (that was also the quarter I had whooping cough, so it was a miracle I was even going to class—note to grown-ups:  that vaccine only lasts 12 years).  In retrospect, though, I have been soooooo grateful for the time she took to make sure I got it.  Now, of course, I’m addicted to semi-colons (and I still occasionally sin with a comma splice).

  23. 23
    Robin says:

    A writer owes it to her readers to make sure that shit doesn’t happen. It’s just irresponsible to say shit like, “Oh, well, it’s just grammar. You knew what I was trying to say.”

    I also think an editor owes that to the writer.  IMO it is the editor’s job to make sure that an author’s writing is the closest to how they *intend* it as possible.  A good editor will spot inconsistencies, as well as awkward phrasing and bad word choices.  I also think a good editor knows the difference between a writer who is breaking grammatical rules for effect and one who just made a mistake.  The better skilled and editor is, the more that editor will work to make invisible to the reader what is visible to the editor (effective use of grammar, spelling, word choice, etc.).  IMO, when an editor (or a fleet of them, as appears to exist at Avon for every book) fails to assist the author in this way, it’s much more than failing to proofread closely; it’s first a strike against the author and then an undermining of the whole writing-publising-reading process.  If it turns out that the author in question is so nearly illiterate that their MS appears to be in code (I’ve seen this excuse offered for less than perfect editing before), maybe the book shouldn’t have been purchased and/or released in the first place.  After all, this is fiction *writing* not pantomime.

  24. 24

    >>Finally, change the font for your last read through, then change it back. <


    Darlene, this is a GREAT idea. I’ve never tried this.

    And, totally off topic. . .

    Happy First Mother’s Day to SB Sarah! All children should be lucky enough to have a Smart Bitch for a mother.

  25. 25
    SB Sarah says:

    Aw thank you Victoria! Happy Mother’s Day to all the Smart Bitch mothers out there!

  26. 26
    Jane says:

    “Oh, well, it’s just grammar. You knew what I was trying to say.”

    Damn, that was some funny shit, bam.  The “you knew what I was trying to say” could be the excuse for so many things.

  27. 27
    cranky says:

    MJD’s joined “romance author” in insulting romance and romance readers. I’ll make sure to let everyone I know about how MJD feels, too.

  28. 28
    Lani says:

    Wow. Interesting conversation. Interesting in the fact that, “Wow, I can’t believe anyone disagrees on this.”

    First of all, here’s how it works. An author writes a book. Some authors are obsessive and write fairly clean copy. The suggestion to switch fonts for a re-read is great. Also, reading aloud helps a lot with a lot of things, not just spelling. Do NOT rely on spellchecker; it’s a good start for basic stuff, but it won’t correct for incorrect uses of “there” for “their”, etc. And the grammar correction on most word processing programs is crap, because I, personally, violate grammatical rules like a viking in a new village if it serves my voice. But only if it serves my voice. I think grammar is important, but you bend it over for voice. That’s just the way it is. There is a difference between stupid grammatical errors, however, and deliberate violations that serve voice. Rule of thumb – if it kicks the reader out of the story, it’s not serving voice. This is where beta readers come in super-handy.

    Then, once the author is done, it goes to the editor, who doesn’t give a crap about grammar and spelling (unless the copy is UNCLEAN!UNCLEAN!) – the editor edits for story. Then the writer gets it again, and can sweep it with fresh eyes while doing revisions.

    Then it goes to a copy editor. I’ve had three copyeditors who were gifts from God, and one who incorrectly “corrected” my usage of a word, and then forced me to go back and double-check everything again, because I couldn’t trust her to catch what I couldn’t. I was right to do this – she missed easily 50% of my errors. Not just spelling, but continuity, etc. It was horrifying. I was still correcting big errors in galleys. So far, I haven’t found anything egregious in that book, so I’m starting to breathe again, but I keep waiting for someone to notice…

    Anyway, after the copyeditor, it goes to the typesetter. I still don’t know much about this process, but I believe it’s still done by hand, because there are still basic typing errors that will come up during this phase. Then it goes to galleys or page-proofs, when I again take a fine-tooth comb to it and fix any typing mistakes. In their defense, at least at Warner, the page proofs are typically shockingly clean. I’ve been very impressed, and blame nothing on these guys. They’re pros all the way.

    The bottom line, and what many authors fail to realize, is that it’s not, “I’m the writer and therefore if I say it’s okay, it’s okay.” The proper attitude is, “I’m a writer, and I humbly create this for you, my reader, and if my lazy-ass attitude toward this work kicks you out of the story, then here is my head, here is a platter, do thy will.” We are a million little Sheherazades, and readers are the King who will decide if we live to tell another tale.

    So, yes. Mistakes happen. But, as far as I’m concerned, because every mistake comes before my eyes before it goes to print, they’re all my fault. Because I had to do more work on one when I had the bad copyeditor means nothing. I failed on that one, although I still don’t think I failed that badly. I did do my best. And I haven’t heard of it kicking anyone out of the story. Yet. Gulp. But if the reader notices, and it kicks her out of the story, I’ve failed, and it’s head and platter time. There’s just no other way to look at it.

    Oh, and Tisty – tell your editor. You shouldn’t be ashamed of your condition. You should be damn proud that you have the courage to do this given your challenges. The editor can be sure you get the best copyeditor in the house. Then see if you can find a good friend to help you go through things. Sweetheart, you have nothing to be ashamed of.

  29. 29
    Kate R says:

    bleh. Adele A’s feelings got hurt after all and she forgot the golden rule of being a rioter: only let it out in private.

    Generally speaking (as in abandoning that particular example) it’s astonishing that people on message boards are taken aback when authors can be as waspish and unhappy as the readers.

    I mean, obviously for PR reasons they should Rise Above It, but when you’re working in your house alone with only the cat for company, you tend to forget you’re a Professional.

    Because very few writers have a staff on hand to remind them to shut up and because they tend to think of their writing as their Nearest and Dearest, I’m surprised there are more “yeah? and so’s yer old man” exchanges out there.

  30. 30
    Robin says:

    I, personally, violate grammatical rules like a viking in a new village if it serves my voice. But only if it serves my voice. I think grammar is important, but you bend it over for voice. That’s just the way it is. There is a difference between stupid grammatical errors, however, and deliberate violations that serve voice.

    I think what people don’t often understand is that authors who effectively violate rules of grammar do so because they KNOW the rules first.  It’s like anything else; you don’t really know how to break and bend the rules most effectively until you know them, know their strengths and weaknesses, know their purpose in the first place, and know how you can serve another purpose by choosing to deviate from the rule.

    I guess what’s most frustrating to me about the whole issue of whether “grammar” counts is that readers don’t always remember that this beautifully crafted prose they love in their favorite books may not have been sprung whole—Athena-style—from the author’s head.  Instead, it might have been wrought through multiple edits and revisions and numerous stages of feedback (of course, some authors write stunning prose to begin with, but not everyone does).  Readers should not, IMO, have to be worried, let alone distracted, by pesky little things like dangling participles, split infinitives (although I break that rule all the time and happily so, since I think it’s often stupid), comma splices and the like.  Someone, preferably the author or editor, should have caught all that before a book goes to publication, thereby making invisible what is glaringly obvious to those involved in crafting the book: writing is a skill and a process that often improves with practice, as well as caring and competent editing. No MS is perfect, IMO, but I think professionally published writing should be pretty darn clean.

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