I’ve been ranting a lot here and elsewhere about the sorry state of ebooks from indie authors, relating to the (apparent) lack of editorial skills (paid or otherwise) applied to those ebooks. I decided to provide concrete examples from the book I’m currently trying to read. I say trying, because I want to read it, I want to enjoy it, but the appalling number of errors is really harshing on my serenity, dude.
I won’t name names or titles, or say where I got the book. I will say I’m glad I didn’t pay for it, though. If I’d parted with any money for this I’d be pretty upset. More upset than I already am. At least having paid nothing for it, I can’t bemoan the loss of money I could have spent on, I don’t know, food or gas or something useful. All I’m losing is time.
These, then, are actual errors from an actual book. I’m not making this up. Honest.
I will note that I’m only 25% of the way through the book, according to my Kindle. I took a tip from another editor and started highlighting errors as I came across them. What an eye-opener that was! I mean, I knew there were errors; I can’t not see them. Proofreading is hardwired into my brain. However, highlighting them makes them seem that much worse. Now I really can’t not see them.
Some of them I’ll explain, some I’ll let speak for themselves. By all means comment if you don’t understand why I’ve called something an error. I’ll do my best to enlighten. I will also state that I’m not quoting full sentences, but only the portions containing the error. It’s also important to know that the writer is from the UK, so some of the mechanics just drive me batty on principle and some of the word choices are unfamiliar to me.
no sights, no sound (For parallelism, I’d change that to “sounds” in this description of a setting.)
standing next to it, was M (Delete that unnecessary comma.)
lit up the lens of his glasses (Unless he’s wearing a monocle, he has lenses, plural.)
gunge (As an American English speaker, I didn’t know this word. It’s a UK term that I figured out contextually and then checked against a dictionary online. If I had been editing I might’ve queried it even after finding the definition. Therefore, this isn’t so much an error as a language issue–but I’m still pointing it out as something that can stop readers in their tracks.)
” . . . we can-.” (Oh, dear me. No. Not even in British usage. If the sentence/thought isn’t finished, there’s no period, no full stop, whatever you wish to call that dot at the end. Also, rather than a hyphen, I’d have used an em-dash to indicate the sudden breaking of the thought/speech. This particular mechanical error occurs throughout the book. I cheated and looked ahead, so I know.)
“Just one . . . at a time”. (Again, no. The period’s at the end of the spoken sentence, so it goes inside the closed quotation mark. I’ve read quite a few blogs lately about US vs. UK mechanics, and quotation marks with other punctuation is one of the most confusing things on both sides of the pond. However–no. It’s a sentence; it has a definite end; put the period inside the quote.)
alright (It’s not all right to use this. It’s all wrong. Two words. Always. All right? Thanks.)
small with a blue studs on top (It’s either a single stud, or perhaps this is a possessive missing its apostrophe and its object. I think it’s the first, and I’d delete that “s” on the end of “stud.”)
industrial sized Hoover (Adjectives made from two words–called compound adjectives–are often hyphenated. “Industrial-sized.” To a point this comes down to the editor’s preference in conjunction with a style guide, such as the CMoS. I far prefer the unambiguous hyphenation to an open version that in some cases leads to confusion or misunderstanding. That, and I like the look of the hyphenated form. So there. I suspect that in this case one might argue that “industrial-sized” is a temporary compound. I’ve not looked for the term in any dictionaries, so I can’t say. The concept is familiar to anyone who shops at places like Sam’s Club or Costco, though.)
give a once over (The idiom is hyphenated. “Once-over.”)
cotton weaved interior (I’m not entirely clear on the intent, here. I think the writer means the interior of this particular wig is woven from cotton. I’d have suggested changing it to “woven cotton interior.” On further discussion with the writer, I might have ended up with something more like “woven cotton cap,” since I believe that’s what the base of a wig is called–the part that fits the head like a cap, that is. I’m indulging in conjecture, of course.)
cheers and laughter . . . was a cacophony (I’d recast this, because while it seems a quick fix to say “were” and have the plural form for the plural subject, we’re also in that messy area of reciprocity. The sentence can’t be easily reversed using the same words (“cacophony” as the subject requires “was,” but “cheers and laughter” as the subject require “were”). I’d suggest recasting the sentence entirely to avoid the issue, and perhaps use the verb “created” instead of the form of “to be,” which is the heart of the problem.)
To the greying ice cream man, he couldn’t help but think . . (The greying fellow is the “he” following the comma. The sentence needs to be recast to eliminate the clumsiness. Perhaps “To the greying ice cream man the crowd looked like nothing so much as a cross between . . . .” Trust me, that’s where the sentence was going. I didn’t want to type the whole thing as it appears in the book, though.)
white-clothed (Again, this needs a hyphen.)
The driver slammed the breaks (No he didn’t. He slammed the brakes. A live proofreader would’ve caught this one.)
her inner thighs ran red raw from . . . (It took me a while to realize what’s needed here, I think because I was getting numb from the number of errors assaulting my editorial senses. Inserting a comma after “red” helps quite a bit, but I still would query the “running red” part. I know the condition the author’s describing, and I wouldn’t use the term “running” with it. “Were chafed and red,” perhaps. The way it’s written sounds like a hemorrhage.)
marine life getup (Another case here of needing a hyphen to create an adjectival compound. “Marine-life.”)
baggy (Pants are baggy. The plastic bag is a “baggie.”)
un-amused (Here’s one of the hyphens that was missing from the compound adjectives. It doesn’t belong in this word; “unamused” is a closed form.)
pre-occupied (Here’s another one. Delete it and close the space. “Preoccupied.”)
buy one get one free offer (Now we’re back to needing hyphens. “Buy-one-get-one-free offer.”)
collapse on to the floor (Usage problem. One could say “collapse on the floor” or “collapse to the floor,” but “collapse on to” is just poor usage.)
oxidisation (Aside from the UK s-for-z spelling issue, this just isn’t a word. The one the writer wanted was “oxidation.”)
pressed him for a minutae (sic) more (Just–no. No. One cannot have “a minutiae.” “Pressed him for more minuitae” preserves the author’s word choice and is grammatically correct. I had originally written another suggestion with a different word entirely, but I like this one much better. And I corrected the misspelling.)
spaghetti bolognaise (If you’re going to write about a food, know how to spell it. Particularly when the food is regional Italian, like “spaghetti Bolognese.” Capitalize the “B” because this is a proper adjective.)
That’s where I stopped taking notes for the time being. You’ll notice I’m not fussing about pacing, or characterization, or plot, or any of those bigger things. I’m not a story/fiction/developmental editor. I’m a copy editor and a proofreader. I see these little things that many people seem to consider “nitpicking.” They’re far from nitpicking, though. They’re signs of someone with an imperfect grasp of grammar and mechanics who would have done well to have hired someone like me–or any other professional copy editor/proofreader–to look over the work before publication. Then, readers like me wouldn’t find themselves becoming irritated and unable to enjoy the story because of the plethora of errors in the “nitpicky stuff.”
I’ll also say: I learned a new phrase from this book. “Keep schtum” means “keep quiet, particularly if you’ll get in more trouble otherwise.” While it sounds Yiddish, it apparently came from the criminal culture of the UK. It might come in handy someday, so I’ll tuck it away for later.
I would hope that this has shed some light on how a typical copy editor’s brain works while they’re reading. (I think I’m typical, anyway. I’m damned good at what I do, but I don’t think I’m all that special when compared to other professional copy editors.) That’s why I did it. Not to point at a writer and chastise his work. Not to complain for no reason. To point out the kinds of errors commonly made, to explain how I would correct them and why, and to provide an example of why writers really should drop some cash on professional editing and proofreading for their hard work. That’s all, really.
Thanks for reading.
20 thoughts on “I’m not making this up. Honest.”
Wow, there were some pretty intense grammatical atrocities in that piece. I’ve definitely read my fair share of unedited works, and it takes a trained eye to spot many of the errors you listed. I’ll admit though, I’m on the fence about “all right” vs. “alright.”
Even though style guides may disagree, I think there’s a pretty big difference between “Eh, it was alright,” and, ” Eh, it was all right (but I certainly didn’t enjoy it).” I know language is constantly in flux, but truthfully I’d never heard that there was a real problem with “alright” until reading this blog! I think I’m going to have to read a few more opinions on the subject before I make a personal judgment call.
Josh, I will now attempt to knock you off that fence. Don’t worry—it won’t hurt. It’s true that some dictionaries (mostly online dictionaries) and style guides say that “alright” is a variant spelling of “all right,” but even they are quick to note that such usage is informal at best and will still be pooh-poohed by most writers and editors. In my opinion (shared by the Chicago Manual of Style, among other sources), “alright” is not a word and should not be used in writing. The end.
As you point out, though, “alright” has taken on a new meaning of “acceptable” or “satisfactory,” so that saying a book is “alright” means that you sort of like it, whereas saying a book is “all right” means that it is completely correct. Maybe the language is indeed changing to allow “alright” as a synonym for “satisfactory,” but seeing that spelling in print still bugs me.
And then there’s the dialect of “a’ight.” I say it myself in jest at times, or to make a point in a light-hearted way. I swear, if I find it in a manuscript and it’s not clearly dialect? I’ll hurt someone. Badly. With a spoon, because spoons hurt more.
I will now admit to using the variant “arright” in a novel manuscript. It is clearly dialect, though.
Another reason not to trust grammar checkers in word processing programs: “cheers and laughter . . . was a cacophony “. Whatever was in the elipse probably looked like a singular noun to the grammar checker the author used. EEEESH!
“The cheers and laughter of so many children was a cacophony.” One could argue that “cheers and laughter” should be taken as a single entity, I suppose. I happen to disagree. Hence, my suggestion to recast the sentence entirely to eliminate the problem.
Alright just hold on a sec here. Why is alright a prob but not always? Is it not inconsistent? If all right then surely all ways? Phaps we need to move with the times.
It seems to me that alright is widely accepted in UK English and its the Americans who are having a problem with it. Which is funny because its usually the Americans who like to make things less laborious.
Personally I prefer to spell it shtum. That ‘c’ is unnecessary and confusing. I know it as a Yiddish term in South Africa from Lithuanian immigrants. The Yiddish shtum very possibly has its roots in German. So the UK schtum may have come from Yiddish or directly from German or some other Germanic rooted language.
I can see why the “c” might be confusing, because so many words that start with “sch” pronounce the c (like “school”). But I put “schtum” in the same category as words like “schlep” and “schtick” — which all seem to be derived from Yiddish, and which all ignore the “c” in pronunciation.
JP, I can’t comment on the popularity of “alright” in the US vs. the UK, but the word isn’t really accepted yet. You’re right that times change, and maybe “alright” will soon become as standard as “always” or “altogether,” but it hasn’t happened yet.
What a joy to find someone who agrees with me about alright vs all right!! Always is, of course, a completely different thing… and all right should only be compared with all wrong (or all together, I suppose). I get quite tired of being shown the dictionary, when I correct alright.
And I was quite interested to discover that spoons hurt more!
As always, not only enjoyable, but helpful. Thank you, Karen.
Well, there’s “all together” meaning “as a group,” and there’s “altogether” meaning “completely” (as in “he gave up altogether”). Those spellings and meanings/usages are well established.
All right? 🙂
Because I know you want to fix this, I’ll point out that it’s “minutiae” (two i’s), not “minutae.” (Singular “minutia.”) Also, I don’t see why a Brit author should follow US punctuation rules rather than the ones taught in his/her schools. I wouldn’t much like going through a piece changing all my punctuation to Brit style.
You’re too kind.
No, really. 😉 Thanks!
I realize this is no excuse for bad grammar and punctuation, but most of us indie authors simply cannot afford professional editing services.
You’re right, it’s no excuse.
My clientele is exclusively indie authors at this point. I set my rates very low on purpose, because I know no indies are made of money.
If you can’t afford an editor, I strongly suggest using a team of beta readers, at the very least. Get some who are well grounded in English. Use the spell checker built into your word processing software. Find one online. Same with grammar checkers. They’re mostly useless, but better than nothing at all.
I am positive that if someone other than the author had read the material I drew from in this specific post, most of these errors would have been caught. Positive. It doesn’t take a PhD (or even a master’s) to see them.
There ARE resources available. Honest. There are.
I’m no editor and these things can yank me out of a story. If they’re bad enough, or frequent enough they cause me to stop reading a work, and in some extreme cases, the author, completely.
I’m pretty forgiving mostly, but gross errors seem just lazy to me. I say this as an indie author. Have some respect for your readers people. More than one great story has been ruined for me by what I feel is just laziness on the part of the author.
How the heck did I stumble onto a 4 year old blog post? *shrug* Bet it’s all still true.
Hey, you! Nice seeing you here. I use a plugin to tweet a link to a post every four hours. It’s totally random, so some of them can be pretty dusty. (And yes, sadly, that’s all still true. I still see it.)
I’m not surprised, Rich. That’s why professional editing is so important.