Saturday, January 21, 2012

A question

QS - A question: Sometimes I see errors in punctuation or grammar, or awkward sentences that could easily be remedied. Are these issues you expect the author to figure out on their own, would you expect them to have someone proof it before sending it in, or would you overlook errors if the query was otherwise compelling? 

The answer is yes and no. How's that for clarity!
When I chomp on queries here, I can't point out every single mistake on the first bite or it would be overwhelming for both the writer and the Shark.

I do expect the writers to be able to identify and fix errors in punctuation or grammar.  I expect them to develop an ear for awkward sentences.  I think each writer has to be able to do this without help (for the most part.)

That said, it's always a good idea to have a proofreader.  

If we're talking actual queries I don't overlook those mistakes AT ALL. They are HUGE red flags for the project being queried.  If you make mistakes in your query you'll make mistakes in your novel.  I can't submit an error-ridden novel to an editor. Well, I could but I flat out refuse to do so.  My clients understand this and turn in manuscripts that may need revision and editing but generally have all the spelling and grammar correct.

For entries to QueryShark, you really REALLY want to have it as perfect as possible.  I don't want to waste your time (or mine) telling you the difference between rain and reign. 


GalaktioNova said...

Thank you very much!

For writers who are not sure whether their queries are error-free, a great place to proofread them is Absolute Write Water Cooler. At their Share Your Work forum, they critique queries and synopses, as well as actual pages.

(Eh, I hope this one is error-free... I'm not at all sure about a couple of commas... :))

Nathan Rudy said...

Wait, there's a difference between rain and reign? DAMMIT!

Susan Spann said...

And "rein."

As in: The reigning monarch reined in her thoughts and wondered whether the servants had fixed the roof. If rain dripped onto her bed again, heads would roll.

Writers' groups are also a great way to make sure work is grammatically correct. Spell-check is a lousy excuse for live eyes where some errors are concerned.

This was a good question to answer, though - schools don't stress good grammar enough, which puts younger writers at a disadvantage unless they work hard to pick it up on their own.

Judith said...

Don't worry, Nathan, rein and reign are the same...oh, wait...


Julie Frayn said...

The reign in Speign falls meignly on the pleign. Oh wait, that's not right...

Andrew W. Douglass said...

@Julia et al: Now this is interesting if tangential: Rain, reign, and rein are homophones and may be each used as either verb or noun. At least two are given names as well. Who can come up with the most annoying sentence using all three?

E.g., King Rein did reign in but not rein in the rain.

Sorry for the digression ... I'm too distracted to write at the moment. :)

On topic: I would take the query letter every bit as seriously as a resumé or job application. Any error is like ketchup on your nose—maybe not decisive but very distracting, and definitely embarrassing as hell.

OK, I feel safe sending this after proofreading it eight times. There's always something. For example, I just now corrected homophones, whereas I had typed homophobes. Not sure what happened there. Better go read my MS again.

Joseph S. Ramirez said...

Ditto to what Andrew said - if one is serious about publishing, it only makes sense to be absolutely certain that you do dang well on the grammar. I like to have other writers read over mine.

Kelly Robinson said...

So reigning cats and dogs better involve some furry royalty, huh? :-)

Rebekkah Niles said...

I don't know about your homes, but in mine, the cat always reigns. Yes, your majesty, I will certainly change your litterbox now...

Theresa Milstein said...

When I first wrote seriously, I knew there were awkward sentences, but wasn't always sure why. I soon realized I needed to brush up on grammar rules in order to stop making the same mistakes. It took work. I've read grammar books and taken a grammar class. While I still make errors, my manuscripts are cleaner--that's what my critique partners tell me.

Kristin Laughtin said...

Thirding Andrew. Treat your query letter as seriously as you would a cover letter for any other job. The statistical odds of getting an agent are probably less than most other careers, and you don't want to make your letter easy to pass on because of simple mistakes that a professional writer should not be making.

(Of course, I doubt most agents will freak out too badly over a minor typo, but try to make your letter as perfect as possible anyway. Don't give them the chance to notice something wrong.)

Angie Ledbetter said...

Boy, when it reigns, it poors.

Andrew W. Douglass said...

reign, rain, goe aweigh; cum agin anuther daigh

Andrew W. Douglass said...

Oh my, I just realized my last comment begs context. The notice of it arrived in my inbox and I wondered: what the heck is wrong with that person? OK, too many things; but wait for the memoir. Having just chased my boys to school with a sharp tongue, I'm back working on a long-delayed essay on tardiness and I see a connection.

Punctuality, like spelling and grammar, is one of what I call the bastard virtues, that is, a really very important thing that not even the perfect practice of which will ever, ever get you into Heaven, let alone a publisher's contract. Any of us would probably choose handing in a brilliant, late, misspelled, dog-soiled, seminal (sense 1) manuscript over beautifully typeset drivel; but the choices are not usually not so extreme, so go with the prettier option, for which are most likely to be paid. (The hack who cares *only* about being paid has probably stopped reading at this point.)

The practice of the bastard virtues implies but does not prove that you are getting the true virtues right. My immediate and minor point is that I'm not insane, though my kids might disagree; rather an elliptical thinker. Note that this explanation it is spelled reasonably well but plays loose with the grammar. I would proofread an actual query letter much more carefully, but then I’d have more time.

Peace. Andrew

Reese said...

Just gotta say thanks for this question. One of my biggest Grammar Nazi quirks is reading on some forum or another a query or prologue or whatever rife with spelling and grammatical errors and the author takes offense at having these things pointed out because, "It's just a writers' forum and not a real query."

Well don't post it as being agent ready if you haven't proofed it, then! Where is the dignity and integrity? Makes me embarrassed to call myself a writer and be in such company.

Harsh? Well, yes. Maybe little. But, in my world, literacy rains supr ... reins su ... literacy rules!

Steve Stubbs said...

Well, with that comment about reign versus rain you have me going. I am beginning to wonder if what Professor Higgins REALLY said was: "The reign in Spain stays mainly on the plane." It makes as much sense that way as did my original understanding, which tells you how much sense my original understanding made.

Andrew W. Douglass said...

Speaking of rein ... an error that bothers me is the idiom "to give free rein," as in a horse, often written "free reign." The latter is so common that maybe it's accepted by now. But the confusion nicely illustrates the problem with clichés - people don't even know what they're saying, and neither does the listener. The expression loses its symbolic force. No one cares. Rather than get the cliché right, probably best to smother it.

Hope Welsh said...

I believe most people that have been out of school more than a few years need grammar work.

I taught high school English--after just beginning a teaching career when I was forty.

Let me tell you, I'd forgotten a lot. Still, I question myself about grammar and punctuation.

In a novel, a lot can be forgiven. Rarely to people talk with perfect grammar.

In a professional letter, it's imperative it be as perfect as you can make it.

It makes sense to me that an agent would be leery of a query rife with mistakes.

I've gotten so obsesed, I try to grammar check my Twitter tweets. No one wants to be thought illiterate.

One reason for the poor grammar issues in writing is that it's simply not really taught after sixth grade or so.

When I taught, I had to argue with my department head because I actually taught grammar in my high school level classes. I actually had to first re-teach myself some of the basics I'd long since forgotten.

At that level, English is more about analizing literature and writing book reports.

Perhaps that's not the norm in schools in other areas. If schools encouraged writing more, it would help quite a bit.

Rachel6 said...

For me, grammar was easy because I was homeschooled and my family placed a high importance on grammar. (Little things like professionalism have come later.)
One thing that irks me about books is lack of grammar. What usually comes to mind when I say that is things like "snuck" versus "sneaked" or "go and do" instead of "go to do". Mixing up homonyms? Oh dear.