Comma, give me a break!

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I think we all realize that whether or not a person likes a book is highly subjective. I’ve read (or tried to read) books with numerous five-star reviews that I didn’t like and couldn’t get through. Some were well-written, just boring or populated with unappealing characters, while others were poorly written and/or edited. I’m a bit of a grammar/typo Nazi myself so I hide my head in shame that someone put one of my books in that category.

I’ve heard that no literary agent or publisher takes an indie book seriously until it has a few three-star reviews. Thus, when I got my first one as an untimely present for my Christmas birthday, I had mixed feelings. I now had the obligatory mediocre review and, to be perfectly honest, the reason had been noted by a previous reviewer, i.e. the lack of commas. I acknowledge this as a valid complaint and have it on my to-do list to rectify. Sadly, at one point I’d actually taken several of them out because they seemed to slow the story down! How ironic is that?

Okay, you may have already guessed that I have a couple confessions to make. First of all, I edited my own books, which I realize is a major no-no, but let me explain. First of all, there were various times when this particular book, which was admittedly my first novel, was set aside for years. When I would get back to it, I could read it like it wasn’t my own and, for the most part, edit effectively. Like I said, I’ve been accused of being a grammar Nazi with other people’s work, and I definitely fixed a lot over time.

Another factor was finding an editor I could trust to do the job. I mean, really do the job. I’ve seen too many acknowledgements in various novels where authors extol and thank their editor while I, nonetheless, find a plethora of things they missed when I read the work in question. Call it pride, if you must, but it was hard not to feel I could do as good or better of a job than some of the supposed pros out there.

And the coup de grace was that I was on a budget. While I don’t mind paying for services that are done correctly, cost combined with not being sure I could find a competent editor resulted in doing it myself. Oh, well, my bad.

The second one is that, even though I have a minor in English, I am not that well-versed in grammar. Seriously. Most of what I know has been learned through my mother correcting me as a child, reading, and, heaven forbid, intuition. I’ve been an avid reader all my life and been writing since I could hold a pencil, yet never liked English classes or understood some of the rules. Diagramming sentences to me was worse than algebra, which made more sense. I really don’t like to point fingers, but in this case I’m going to point one at a prof I had in college who taught the obligatory grammar class for those majoring or minoring in English. That class was, like we say here in Texas, as useless as teats on a boar hog.

The prof, who is probably now dead and gone, couldn’t find a textbook that he liked so we had none. He would lecture, but with no logical order or continuity that I could recognize. All we did the entire term was–you guessed it–diagram sentences. Punctuation was rarely mentioned. One thing I remember him (or perhaps someone else) saying was that English, unlike Latin, was a living language that evolved, that such things as punctuation styles changed over time, and things like comma usage was becoming somewhat optional. You can bet I jumped on that like a duck on a June bug!

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But for purists who were more astute at learning the rules than I was, it was a major faux pas. And apparently the person who left this three-star lambasting was one of them.  I must say that the reviewer was generous in giving it three-stars since s/he didn’t even finish reading it.

Back to the subjectivity of what we like, science fiction is certainly one of those genres that everyone doesn’t care for. (Oops, ended that sentence with a preposition! OMG! Let’s correct that to “one of those genres for which everyone does not care.” Right? Right.) Even with proper punctuation it’s likely s/he wouldn’t have liked it. That I understand. And I do admit s/he has a point and I will fix the problem because, believe it or not, I really am a bit of a perfectionist, but that doesn’t mean that I know everything by a long shot. I’m teachable but, as noted earlier, I never had a decent English teacher or at least one I could follow. Math is much simpler to me with its concrete, easy to follow rules and black and white answers. Equations make a lot more sense.

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So what have I learned that I can pass on to other writers? If I had this to do over, it would be to do a beta reader exchange with someone who has equal editing skills to my own. Fortunately, for subsequent books I was able to find such individuals. And that is what saddens me the most, the other books in the series are in much better shape. I’ve actually received compliments on the editing of at least one of the others. This was my first book and I’ve heard it said that everyone’s first novel should go in the trash bin labeled “tuition.” My problem was that it was the start of a series with so much more to tell! The characters evolved and so did the plot to the point that it took four full-length novels to complete the story. I’m a much better writer now, as all of us become, the more we write.

So, bottom line, I’ll go back eventually and correct the comma situation. I don’t know all the rules, but at this point I’m reasonably confident that I’ll be able to do so in a competent manner. The worst part, as most indie authors know, is that there are so many different formats to deal with, i.e., both print and electronic versions, which complicates the process considerably. Nonetheless, I’ll have the satisfaction of debunking that uncomplimentary review when it’s corrected, unless, of course, those who would appreciate a properly copy edited work are turned off by that seething diatribe, which is actually so excessive that it’s downright amusing. Fortunately, most geeks and nerds, who are my primary audience, anyway, aren’t quite so concerned, though there are exceptions, of course, many of whom I met at NASA.

<Sigh.>

Rant over.

Thanks for listening.

P.S. If you’d like an ecopy of the book in question, “Beyond the Hidden Sky,” for free, join my mailing list, which qualifies you for a free download. You can do so here.

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8 thoughts on “Comma, give me a break!

  1. Well said, I completely sympathize. Though I’m not the grammer nazi I should be. I find when I’m less excited I can read it objectively, though that never happens. Even with proofers flaws seem to sneak by.

    As a writer, these are my personal set backs, & seemingly less common among my writing peers. I am dyslexic, despite being hypersensitive of mistakes, I still make them frequently. Ideally the story was worth it. You’re an artist and a mentor.

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    • Being dyslexic would be a definite problem! I guess the one thing I’ve learned is that it doesn’t pay to put something out there that’s less than your absolute best work. I was aware of the comma issue and ignored it so in a way deserved it. Luckily most people don’t seem to be so put off. Like Jeanne, I try my best to judge a story on its merits as a story first and foremost, but I also know that typos, grammatical faux pas and punctuation do yank you out of the story, which is the last thing any author wants to do.

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  2. I, for one, do not leave a review unless I have finished reading a book and I have only given one 3 star review, but it had nothing to do with commas – confusing POV, bad plot points, boring and an unappealing love interest were why I gave a less than stellar review… for poor editing and typos, IF the story and characters are still good, I give at least a 4.
    I assume the review was for Hidden Skies, and I loved that book – the whole series, actually… Thryon is one of my favorite characters, ever.
    Realize that people are motivated to give bad reviews for several reasons, Did you ever wonder why the woman chose to review your book? Did you check out what other books she has reviewed? One of my books once got a really bad review by someone who admitted they had not read it, and when I checked out their other reviews, I discovered they had never given any book better than a 2 … I realized the review was not about my book, it was about the reviewer’s need to lash out and while I don’t know why, I can only assume that the writer felt better when they felt as if they had knocked someone else down. Poor soul doesn’t realize that doesn’t work.

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    • I haven’t looked for any more of her reviews. I’m quite sure it was the woman from the book fair. Obviously it really bothered her and since it wasn’t the first time I’d heard that, I can’t argue. Some people are just like that. And it does fill the slot for at least one lousy review, which could have actually been worse. She just didn’t like it. There are a few I just haven’t liked, too, even when the writing was good, but for those I didn’t bother to post a review. Reviews are SOOOO subjective. Whenever I see one of my Goodreads friends give Hemingway or Dickens a 3-star review I laugh. But all it says, really, is they didn’t like it. Can’t please all the people all the time. Now I just need to find the time to put those commas back in. LOL.

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      • Often, good things come out of bad.
        Actually, I wasn’t particularly fond of Hemingway, though I don’t know if I’d dub his books a 3.

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      • Clearly the writers of the classics had less competition than we do these days but there’s still a reason their work survived. It would be great if we could grade stories on their different elements rather than an overall rating. It’s interesting how Amazon will ask about certain story elements in addition to the review but I’m not sure where that stuff shows up.

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      • I agree with you that Amazon’s grading system is more telling than a simple star rating … I, for one. don’t like horror or porn, so automatically, by genre, I am pre-disposed to avoid books of that type. HOWEVER, I have read a couple horror novels because they were highly recommended as having excellent characters and intriguing plots … have never had any porn get that sort of recommendation.

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      • LOL! Plot and characterization clearly isn’t part of the criteria for porn. I’ve read at least one romantic suspense that was probably in the erotica category that was pretty good plot and character-wise. I won it at a Facebook party so felt obligated to read and review it. Most novels in that genre are pretty predictable, which it was, but still an entertaining read. I’m not a big horror or vampire fan.

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