Monday, June 11, 2012

Authors, please, give me a break! An amateur reviewer’s peeves.

I have been reading and reviewing stories written by others for many months. Reviewing isn’t a job for me; I do it because I want to, and for no other reason. I have no ax to grind, I bend over backward to be fair and I like imaginative work. Despite the things I enjoy about reviewing, however, there are a couple of things I don’t like. Bad grammar is one. Editors can help, but authors remain responsible for the final product.

I don’t want to mislead anyone. I am not a grammar expert. When I write, I constantly search the Internet for comma placement rules, how to hyphenate and the like. Excellent editors have been assigned to help me with my books, and I continue to learn from them. Because I did not pay attention to English in high school, and took technical classes in college almost exclusively, my writing was quite lame when I wrote my first book. That was eight novels and one short story ago, and I still make many mistakes. I make no claim to exclusive knowledge of any kind.

I am just an author who looks to the Internet for guidance when he’s not sure how to structure a sentence. And that’s the point of this blog. Many of you need to BE MORE VIGILANT when it comes to your writing. It is a shame when I review a good story that is destroyed by senseless mistakes and bad editing. Such stories are hard to read and frustrating to review. In my humble opinion, if I feel that way, and I’m just a hack, then real reviewers MUST feel the same way too. Want good reviews? Then make it your goal to write well. Don’t just shove something out the door. A couple of pointers I hope will help are provided below.

Point one. When you finish self-editing your story, sit on it for several weeks, and then read it again. At a minimum, the passage of time will help you find missing words because you won’t remember “how the sentence should read.” You need to forget what you meant to write, and read what you did write. Use a different media for your final self-edit pass. If you read your manuscript on a PC the last time, then print it or transfer it to a Kindle or equivalent this time. That will help you catch “wrap around” errors, the errors that crop up at the end of a sentence.

Point two. A semicolon is not a comma, a colon, a period or a dash. A semicolon can be used to join two independent clauses, where each clause has its own subject and verb. On the other hand, a comma is not a semicolon, so don’t use it like one. If you join two independent clauses with a comma, that is called a run-on sentence or comma splice. Don’t do that. I recently read a book with over 100 run-on sentences. How can such a thing be published? Arggggg!

Point three. Proper hyphenation is difficult. Don’t be fooled. Those little hyphens can tell a reviewer a lot about the author. The bottom line is this: when in doubt, look the words up. For example, take the words, “bottom line.” Are those words supposed to be hyphenated? Is it one word, or two? I’ve given a few hyphen rules below. You might be surprised; the rules are not easy.

     a. Hyphens and Nouns: To check whether a compound noun is two words, one word or hyphenated, look it up in the dictionary. If you can't find it, treat the noun as separate words. Examples: eyewitness, eye shadow, eye-opener. These words had to be looked up in the dictionary to know what to do with them.
     b. Hyphens and Verbs: Compound verbs are either hyphenated or appear as one word. If you do not find the verb in the dictionary, hyphenate it. Examples: To air-condition the house will be costly. We were notified that management will downsize the organization next year.
     c. Hyphens and Adjectives: Generally hyphenate between two or more adjectives when they come before a noun and act as a single idea. Examples: friendly-looking man (compound adjective in front of a noun), friendly little girl (not a compound adjective) brightly lit room (brightly is an adverb describing lit, not an adjective.)
     d. Hyphens and Adverbs: When adverbs not ending in “ly” are used as compound words in front of a noun, hyphenate. When the combination of words is used after the noun, do not hyphenate. Examples: The well-known actress accepted her award. Well is an adverb followed by another descriptive word. They combine to form one idea in front of the noun. The actress who accepted her award was well known. Well known follows the noun it describes, so no hyphen is used. A long-anticipated decision was finally made. He got a much-needed haircut yesterday. His haircut was much needed.

Hope this helps. I’ll provide more pet peeves in subsequent blogs. If you would like to read a few of my reviews, please stop by http://cookinwithmisshavana.blogspot.com/. If you scroll down a few posts, you will also find my own self-edit “checklist.” I make a point to read the checklist before each edit pass, just to remind myself what I’m supposed to look for.

I announce book releases and review postings on my Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/pages/James-L-Hatch/122349661172963. Please stop by and “like” the page so we can keep in touch.

Thanks for reading,
James L. Hatch
Author for: Solstice Publishing, xoxopublishing.com and Eternal Press


Tina Donahue said...

Great post, James. I have never been able to get commas 100% correct. I tend to use them when I feel there should be a pause. Sometimes my editor leaves them in. Sometimes she takes them out. That's why we have editors, right? :)

I know what you're saying about poor grammar/punctuation driving you batty. It bothers me too. However, I sense that a lot of the general public doesn't notice. Have you read any online news stories lately? I'm talking about the ones on msnbc.com, abc.com and the like. These are supposedly legitimate sites. The spelling/punctuation/grammatical errors are unbelievable. And if you read the comments section - my god, some of what's written is so hard to understand. Their used for they're. Sun for son. Words that don't even exist. However, if you sound them out, you sense what the person was trying to say. It's as if people are learning to spell phonetically these days - or maybe they just never learned to spell and no one noticed.

James L. Hatch said...

Yes, Tina, books with sloppy grammar are frustrating. Frankly, I didn't notice much until I began reviewing books by others. By that time, my books had been slammed by numerous editors, and I had started to catch on. Once I "got it", my writing improved dramatically. I suspect being careful with words and grammar is part of the maturing process all authors go through at some point. The lucky ones probably start out as English teachers.

Anonymous said...

Semi-colons. Some houses forbid the use of them or tell you to limit them to only two in the book. It's frustrating to those who want to use a semi-colon properly.

James L. Hatch said...

Hi Anonymous. Thanks for the comment. I have yet to run into a restriction on semi-colons, but I suppose that's one way to stop the abuse ... as long as authors don't just replace them with commas. Sometimes shorter sentences are best.

Sarah J. McNeal said...

Good imformation, James, and an excellent reminder to all of us to be more viigilant about grammar and punctuation.
The best reference book I have ever bought for this purpose is The Handbook For Writers by Prentice Hall that I bought from the Writers' Digest book store. It has saved me from many embarassments.
I have to agree with you that some books I've read have put me off due to grammar and punctuation errors. I feel that editors with some publishers seem to be doing less and less to clear up these errors but, as you said, the author is ultimately responsible for what they write.
I see you've found that doing book reviews is very helpful for improving your own work. What you may have missed in the past, you are more attuned to now.
My downfall is spelling. LOL
Great blog, James.

Toni V.S. said...

Thank you, thank you! So glad to hear someone else say these things. Please bring up the uses of pronouns, too, such as "him and I" and "it is me" and the spelling of homonyms. It's not just the writers who are at fault. What about the editors who let these things get by?

James L. Hatch said...

Hi Sarah. What I've read of your material has been excellent. I look forward to our review exchange. I'm sure I'll love your time travel work. Thanks for stopping by.

James L. Hatch said...

Hi Toni.

I think my self-edit list has some of your prior comments in it. Yes, I will cover more of my pet peeves next month. Now that I am reviewing such a variety of works, there is no shortage of errors to point out. Yes, I have wondered many times why some editors let obvious errors slip by. I can only imagine they get paid by the book, and are more interested in pushing things out the door than in making them right. I can honestly say the editor who demands the most from me is my BEST editor (Cheryl Nicholas). I have learned much from her, and am eternally grateful for her patience with me. On the other hand, there are some editors (shudder) who might not know better. I've only had one like that, and it drove me nuts (more than usual). Still, the author is responsible; the editor's name isn't on the front cover. Thank you for your comments.


Tim Smith said...

James, loved your post and hints. I also review books and share your sentiments. Sadly I've found that the worst offenders are the self-publishers. I've read things in some of these books that no editor or legit publisher would have allowed.

Tina, your comment about the online media is also accurate. The same goes with many daily newspapers. You'd think these publications would proofread their product, no?

James L. Hatch said...

Hi Tim:

Sad, very sad indeed. Even worse, I believe many authors don't realize they are putting out inferior quality, even to the point of ruining their own stories. I believe I will start rating books in two categories now. One for grammar and editing. One for the story. Story consistency is another pet peeve of mine, but I didn't get to it today. Authors need to read what they write carefully. Thirteen children in one chapter doesn't equate to twelve children in another.

Thanks for visiting, Tim. Great to hear from you.