On Reading and Grammar-hawking

“I used Grammarly to grammar check this post, because mistakes can outlive their authors’ careers.”

The curse of the professional copywriter is that it becomes impossible to switch off the impulses to proofread and check grammar. Novels are the primary victims of this OCD-strength urge, but any written material may be caught up in the editorial violence of the mind.

Over the last two years, I have been schooling myself in all the ‘classic texts’ that somehow eluded me through my teens and university and in my twenties. This has been for pleasure and instruction. I confess it wasn’t until relatively recently that I read authors like Evelyn Waugh, Ernest Hemingway, W. Somerset Maughan and even James Joyce. (Forgive me; though for pride’s sake I must say that I had read the likes of Doris Lessing and John Steinbeck so I was not exactly narrowly read.)

These classic titles have benefited from having decades if not centuries of time for proofreaders and editors to refine inconsistencies in a way which aids a smooth reading of the text. I have become unused to finding mistakes in books. With the exception of human error creeping in at the design and layout stage of production, it is pretty unlikely that you will find out-and-out errors. Not so with some contemporary publications.

Interspersed with my reading of classics ancient and modern have been books which demanded my immediate attention for one reason or another, such as research for my co-authored book Building Bridges (Lion 2013) or newly-published books by friends and acquaintances in the writing world. This latter group has been mostly wonderful – Claire Dunn‘s Mortal Fire and Fiona Veitch Smith‘s The Peace Garden most notable among them – but the occasional book has irritated my grammar-hawking sensitivity.

There used to be a clear divide between traditionally-published and self-published books. Now this line is blurred, but one thing remains the same; publish and be damned by your mistakes. Whether you are an author with a multi-book deal from a major publisher or a self-published enthusiast out to make it on your own, the books you produce will last as long as your writing career, if not longer.

I know from talking with friends that I am not the only book-buyer who is also an OCD-proofreader and Grammar Hawk, so these things have financial implications.

A traditional publisher will invest money in authors, editors and proofreaders to make sure a book is as error-free as possible. Does the host of co-publishers and self-publishers make the same commitment? They’d better, if they want to avoid planting flags on every page which scream ‘Amateur! Amateur!’ because you can be sure there is a grammar hawk poised to swoop on the plump and feathery pigeon of your book and tear it to shreds.


About Rob Chidley

Professional copywriter, trad-published author and improvisational gardener.
This entry was posted in Author, Publishing. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to On Reading and Grammar-hawking

  1. Fran says:

    The post gets scarier and scarier! Good luck with getting people to leave comments! They might be worried about makeing misteaks.

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