C is for Commageddon #AtoZchallenge

C-buttonThere 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).

Instead of…

Punctuate this sentence correctly:

We’re going to learn to cut and paste kids.

We get:

Onions are to rednecks, as harmonicas are to:____

(if you guess the answer, you win a free eBook of my choice)

Or if you need a visual cue, how about this?
MjAxMi0xZDBiNTM0NGNkNjg1ODk1 - Copy1336075413637_9450087 - Copy

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:

  1.  I don’t mind a few errors if I can get lost in the story
  2.  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.

Vappingo posted a great collection of these examples/bloopers

Look at it this way: if you go to Target/Walmart and purchase a blouse, which one will you bring to the counter?

This one?

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?

7888688_orig - Copy

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.

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Author: Nya Rawlyns

Crossing boundaries, taking no prisoners. Write what’s in your soul. It’s the bass beat, the heartbeat, the lyrics rude and true. Nya Rawlyns cut her teeth on sports-themed romantic comedies and historical romances before finding her true calling in the wilderness areas she has visited but calls “home” in that place that counts the most: the heart. She has lived in the country and on a sailboat on the Chesapeake Bay, earned more than 1000 miles in competitive trail and endurance racing, taught Political Science to unwilling freshmen, and found an avocation in materials science. When she isn’t tending to her garden or the horses, the cats, or three pervert parakeets, she can be found day dreaming and listening to the voices in her head.

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  1. Onions are to rednecks as harmonicas are to folk/country musicians. (Or recycle bins, depending upon the skill of the user and the temperament of the listener.)

    I happen to love my editor, and so does my inner grammar nazi.

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    • Woot, somebody took the SAT pill this morning. Mercy, you must be wicked good on those comparison tests. Thanks for commenting 🙂

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  2. Commageddon, when I read that I thought of myself. My rule has always been; when in doubt, use a comma. A good editor is my lifeline! As for the new no-child-left-behind riddle . . .Onions are to rednecks as harmonicas are to my butt 😉 Great article, and a good reminder that nothing can hurt you more than a bad first impression.

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    • Exactly right about that first impression. Even if a reader clears the hurdle of the blurb, that all-important first few pages are critical. Thanks for commenting.

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  3. I will definitely have to look up that blog post you’ve mentioned in this.

    I love my editors. Without them, I’d be lost.

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  4. I was having this discussion with Megan just the other morning. We were talking about the glut of Facebook posts and memes that are meant to be funny, but are not, simply because they are riddled with grammatical errors. Now, the LOL CAT ones I’ll accept – that’s people doing it on purpose to make a joke that cats can’t spell. But the rest? How hard is it to remember the difference between “your” and “you’re”? The worst of it is, you have two camps – people who are nodding in furious agreement, who suffer migraines every time a comma is misplaced (this according to the members of the SECOND camp) – and people who insist “it’s Facebook. Why should it matter?” Why? Why should it MATTER? Because it makes you look uneducated! If you are going to write that way on your public profile, why should I believe you even know HOW to write properly when it comes to other areas of your life?

    As for eBooks, I’m guilty of not having had an editor. I like to think I have a fairly firm grasp on punctuation and spelling (when I’m not misusing “blonde’ where it should be ‘blond’) but Desire didn’t get to have a professional editor look it over, because I haven’t the financial resources to pay editors what they’re worth. One of these days, I’d like to correct that. (Just like I’d like to have a new cover, too. Eventually.) But I did my best with it.

    And I agree that SO MUCH out there (even though I’m not the voracious reader of all things ebook that some others are) is terribly edited, if the author even bothered at all.

    This was a wonderful article – definitely worthy of being shared everywhere.

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    • Thanks so much for your thoughtful response. It is so true, when you present a public face, you need to think, and write, like a professional.

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  5. If it works, don’t fix it. I guess that goes for both technology and punctuation rules >:)

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    • Thanks for commenting, Anna – and I love the @!

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  6. Good stuff. Poor punctuation will make nonsense of the snappiest sentence. I know it makes me sound like an old git, but young people often seem not to be too bothered by the need for correct punctuation. I have worked in newspaper offices where some – not all – new recruits struggled with basic sentence structure. Harrumph etc etc. Anyway, I enjoyed your post and look forward to more on the A to Z Challenge.
    I’m doing the challenge at http://olivegroveview.blogspot.gr/ Please feel free to come and visit.

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    • Thanks for stopping by, Mark. I visited your A-Z Challenge. I especially liked your Neil Diamond/vacation retrospective. 🙂

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  7. Thanks for the post, Nya. People tend to forget that the only purpose for punctuation, yea, its higher calling, is to make the written word not just readable but understandable. Improperly placed punctuation makes it impossible to enjoy a piece because the reader can’t make heads or tails out of what the writer is attempting to say. But the thing that really makes my stomach clench is the number of “professionally-edited” things I’ve been reading that make me want to yell to the author, “Hey! Ask for your money back! Your editor doesn’t know jack shit!” Pathetic. These days, anyone can throw up a shingle and call themselves an editor. Discretion is definitely necessary on the part of the author. But if the author doesn’t know better, well, we’re all doomed.

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  8. I totally agree with you that clearly unedited work isn’t readable. I have twice used Calibre to convert an ebook to a pdf and then Word doc so I can redline as I read. Made me feel so much better. And once I contacted the author and ended up getting an editing credit on his book. Don’t know where it ended up as far as all my suggestions, but reading it twice was enough!
    Great post btw!
    Marlene at On Writing and Riding

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