There was quite a kerfuffle a couple years back about Oxford dumping the serial comma. When I read that, it brought to mind visions of well-dressed fifty-somethings prissily deciding on the fate of the Western World, and how best to list its assets. An alternative image involved serial killers, but I digress.
Yes, people, specifically Oxford grammarians, do pay attention to trends, people who care about punctuation and the evolution (devolution?) of the English language. Try writing that mouthful without a comma…
Sidebar: Linda Holmes wrote a very amusing essay about this “issue” in Going, Going, And Gone?: No, The Oxford Comma Is Safe … For Now.
I’ll leave it to you to look up “kerfuffle”, but what I want to talk about is the woeful state of editing … oops, let’s make that “non-editing” that I’m seeing in both eBooks and print, indie published/indie-authored, and from the Big Six (cue *facepalm*).
Yes, ’tis true, even in this day of Word underscoring bits and bobs of your text with red lines for “Word suggests a different spelling, did you realize you have the UK option turned on?” Or perhaps you’ve been ignoring the blue lines indicating a grammatical misstep. Not that Word is omniscient, but if you hie over to File:Options:Proofing, you can click on any number of helpful boxes to act as guidelines—at least to get started. You can also turn them off, if and when Word clearly does not understand your creative instincts.
Here in the US, in the No-Child-Left-Behind teach-to-the-test educational approach, I hear far too many teachers screaming foul because basic skills are falling by the wayside (translating to every child left behind, political rant: off).
Punctuate this sentence correctly:
We’re going to learn to cut and paste kids.
Onions are to rednecks, as harmonicas are to:____
(if you guess the answer, you win a free eBook of my choice)
But is it important?
The number of errors (typos, grammar, punctuation) in digital-format books is egregious, and the problem appears to be getting worse. While this issue is acknowledged across the board, it seems to fall in one of two camps:
- I don’t mind a few errors if I can get lost in the story
- I stopped reading at page 2 because the book needed an editor, it was sooooo bad I returned it and I will NEVER BUY ANOTHER BOOK FROM THIS AUTHOR AGAIN! (emphasis mine)
Writing is a craft that relies in no small part on how an author makes use of the tools available, to wit … the English language. And that language has rules, rules that—if broken—can result in sometimes hilarious results, in others a total mishmash that destroys the meaning of a sentence.
Look at it this way: if you go to Target/Walmart and purchase a blouse, which one will you bring to the counter?
Frayed hem, misplaced or missing buttons, mismatched pattern, seams misaligned
Or this one?
Buttons/holes aligned (spare button included), neat hem, generous seams that won’t fray the first time you wash it
You buy books with that elusive “disposable income”. Why would you buy a product with missing parts, inexpertly produced or missing elements (sentences, paragraphs), and confusing or contradictory meanings brought about by the inability to apply correctly the rules of one’s native tongue?
In short, why are you spending money when there’s Some Assembly Required?
I say again: writing is a craft. It’s not magic, and the punctuation fairy is alive and well on the internet (magic is to fairy… nevermind). Google “use of comma” and any number of helpful tutorials pop up, all geared to the ADD generation so you no longer have to wade through complete style guides.
Here’s a fr’instance – Punctuation Made Simple
For most of you, I am preaching to the choir. But for the rest—I’m looking at you, Ms/Mr Author—remember these words, writ often in Amazon reviews and on Goodreads…
I will NEVER buy another book from this author again.
‘Nuff said. Now go forth and punctuate correctly, or hire an editor who knows his/her shit.