Thursday, February 7, 2019

Editors: We Are Not the Grammar Police!


We are a long way from what most people think we are. We are not the bossy know-it-alls who glory in telling authors how bad they suck. We're not J. Jonah Jameson, shouting at the writers who hand us their copy with trembling hands. We're not inflexible about THE RULES and how they should be followed.

We're not even the people who correct everyone's Facebook posts, believe it or not.

We're people who just enjoy polishing words and phrases. People who help to clarify meaning by adjusting structure. People who like to make sure the image a writer wishes to create is the image that comes across in the narrative.

One of the things that grows old fast for an editor is when someone calls us the grammar police. (Worse yet, a grammar Nazi, because only the Nazis were/are Nazis, and it's an abhorrent term that should not be tossed about lightly, comparing someone who corrects text with someone who committed genocide. But I digress.)

The term "grammar police" implies that editors lie in wait, hoping for someone to mess up so they can publicly shame them. Even the real police don't do that. Well . . . maybe the state troopers who ticket speeders on the highway do that.

But back to me.

I mean, other editors.

Okay, me. AND other editors.

We love a well-turned phrase, but honestly, the feeling of the fix and polish is more of a feeling of accomplishment for our own skills, not a feeling of superiority over the person whose work we're reading through.

I can't tell you how many times I've had acquaintances make a comment to me along the lines of "I'm so paranoid to write anything on your Facebook wall without rereading it a dozen times" or "Gosh, you're probably cringing as you read my post" or any number of variations on that theme. Let me set the record straight:

  • I don't correct someone's writing unless they're paying me for it, or have specifically asked me to do so. 
  • I don't always use proper English when I speak—just like everyone else when they talk. 
  • I don't use proper punctuation (other than for clarity) when I'm typing in a private chat window or text with a friend.
  • And I never EVER correct someone publicly on social media, especially strangers.
Those people who take joy in that type of overzealous behavior are jerks, plain and simple. Half the time, they don't even know the real rules (or the change in language that makes a certain style now obsolete) but simply want to show someone (strangers? and why?) that they're smarter than someone else. Quoting what we call "zombie rules," i.e. habits or styles that are/were popular but not actually rules that must be followed, is almost always done by those who have no basis for what they're insisting on. And yet the drive-by editors still do it with regularity.

Denise Cowle has a great blog post about why the grammar police aren't cool. When it was recently shared in an editing group, almost every editor in the group agreed that they don't like being viewed that way and don't behave that way. Again, it's always those who don't actually know what's what who shout the loudest. Where she reminds us that we need to be kind, she says, "If you're lucky enough to have benefited from a good education, and you don't have to wrestle with a learning difference such as dyslexia, be thankful and be gracious."

Graciousness and kindness never hurts. You never know when someone is writing in their second language, or with a disability, or whose speech-to-text program doesn't quite catch everything.

Another terrific post that addresses this is "4 Reasons Why Freelance Writers Shouldn't Be Grammar Police" by Linda Formichelli. It might be more aptly named "Why Grammar Police Make Boring Writers," because that's what inevitably happens when rules (or supposed rules) are adhered to without nuance or voice being considered: it's sterile and boring.

Grammar police? I think I'd rather be known as the Shiny Word Fairy or something like that. Since my goal is not to sterilize anything, but to make someone's work sparkle, I think it's fitting.

Thanks for listening, folks!


Lynda, the Shiny Word Fairy

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Writing Misconceptions: We Don't Want to Steal Your Book

At least once a month, I see a question on writing or editing forums that sounds roughly like this:

"I am almost ready to hire an editor for my manuscript, but I'm scared of someone stealing my work. What legal measures do you all have in place to make sure this doesn't happen?"

I'm going to generalize quite a bit here, so if you don't feel this way or haven't run into this before, please don't get indignant. I understand that every writer doesn't think like this. However . . .

I've found that if there are only writers in the group, there are always at least a few who "have heard of this happening so often" and that's why they either self-edit only, copyright their work beforehand, or have a recommended editor sign a nondisclosure agreement.

If there are a lot of editors in the group, the general response runs more along the lines of this:

  • I have never considered stealing someone's work.
  • I have been in this business for over twenty years and have never heard of this actually happening to anyone.
  • I have never met anyone who can give me a real name of someone they know who has had this happen to them.
  • The people who need the NDA the least (e.g. new/inexperienced authors) are usually the ones asking about theft, and those who have the most experience typically don't ask. Those who insist are also the people who are generally difficult to work with and don't deal well with changes or criticism.
  • I already have a confidentiality clause in my contract and if that's not good enough, I don't want to work with that person. An NDA request from an indie fiction author is often a red flag that they don't understand how the publishing process works.
  • I'm a writer myself and have my own story ideas to worry about, and don't have the time or energy to redevelop yours . . . OR
  • I'm not a writer. I'm an editor. Editors are not "frustrated writers" who need to steal ideas to feel validated in the writing world.
I saw it pop up again just the other day as I was working on this post. This time, the author was asking about beta readers and how a writer can feel safe, sending their work off to strangers who might steal it. Yet, he was having trouble getting friends and family to beta for him. (The whole "friends and family" thing is fodder for another post. No worries, you'll read about it here.)

The general concensus among experienced writers and editors is that some authors spend a lot of time on author-only pages, and the misinformation they come away with in regard to publishing is astounding. It reminds me of the Yahoo Answers boards where a bunch of people "answer" a question with "I don't know," or "I've always thought [fill in the blank]." There are no legitimate answer-givers and no one to contradict anyone with actual facts.

Here are some facts—from real editors I interact with—that will hopefully reassure any skittish writers:

  • If I stole people's work, I wouldn't be in business very long.
  • Anyone who knows anything at all about copyright and intellectual property laws knows it wouldn't be worth the risk.
  • No self-respecting professional would even think about it.
  • Most of stolen books are stolen AFTER they're published. They are stolen by people who have never had contact with the author, and who don't care about copyright.
  • Even if you are the next Stephen King or J.K. Rowling, we would still not steal your work, but we'd be very happy to make your acquaintance and be your editor. VERY happy.