Friday, October 16, 2015

So, about those typos in that query I just sent. You won't care, right?

After years of toiling away in writer jail and compiling every iota of information that could help me along my writer's journey, I have finished my manuscript and started querying (YAY!). 

However, days after sending out a round of queries, I looked back at my manuscript and started to see typos. Not many, and not to the point that a reader would be confused, but they were there. From reading your site, I know it is in bad taste to contact prospective agents that I have queried with revised documents, so I won't be doing that. 

But, I can't help but wonder how those typos might affect my chances of moving forward in the process.

(1) Do writers get rejections because there are typos in their work?
(2) If the story and the writing is great, are minor spelling/grammar errors overlooked?
(3) I feel I already know the answer to this question, but that writer paranoia is no joke.

(1) yes
(2) no
(3) you're not paranoid.

Your question arrived the same day I replied to a terrific query that was well written, had a great concept and very good writing. I replied "this ms has so many errors I can't request the full." 

Now, you'll notice that was not a rejection, but it was only one step removed. IF by some stroke of genius the writer replies "oh my gosh, silly moi, I sent you the first not the tenth draft, herewith the corrected pages" well, we've got ourselves a ball game.

But if the writer replies with "isn't it your job to correct the mistakes?" well, the ball just went flat and the Sharks are going home.***

You've also made one erroneous assumption: "From reading your site, I know it is in bad taste to contact prospective agents that I have queried with revised documents"

I'm not sure where you got that on this blog because it's simply not true. I want to see your best work. I'd rather have you email again saying "holy horsefeathers SharklyOne, I really screwed up, here are the revised pages" than read something that makes me think you're unfamiliar with the difference between retch/wretch; discrete/discrete discreet/discrete (ha! hoist on my own postard!); try and/try to; penchant/pension; past/passed; coarse/course.

And if you've got misspelled words that your spellcheck should have caught: AIEEEEE.

Every time you flub up on the page, it brings me out of the narrative. That's BAD in pages in a query. It's DEATH in pages in a novel.

If I see a bunch of errors on the pages you include with your query, I know for an ironclad fact I'll see them in your manuscript.

My job is not copyediting your manuscript. Not now. Not EVER.
If you find errors, fix them and requery.
NEVER hope that someone will overlook that stuff. Most of us do NOT.

***update. Writer did get in touch. Was deeply chagrined. Is taking steps to remedy. I'll be reading revised pages with high hopes.


Carolynnwith2Ns said...

god mourning al .

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Okay, so I HAD to be first again. Trying to be amusing, after only one cup of coffee, is obviously an affliction. Sorry.

Having said that, today's post is a stake to my heart.
I love to write, it is in my DNA, it is how I define my intellectual self BUT I come up woefully short in the spelling and punctuation department. Correct usage is another pitfall. I get the word right but the spelling wrong. My computer backs me up, most of the time, but often crap-speak leaks through.

Over the years I have worked very hard to pay attention to fuzzy words I assume are correct. Reading out loud helps but anyone with a reading-mind expecting excellence will see right through my abilities.

What's funny is that like a stick to the eye, I can pick up an error in someone else's work right off. Mine float by like a twig in a brook.

Certainly having our work professionally edited seems the solution but for those of us who cannot afford a pro, are we to lean on our cousin's kid, the English class phenom. I try, I pay attention, I continue to learn. If the intent is really, really, exemplary, do you ever cut someone some slack?

Like I said, this is a stake to my heart, and that's coming from someone who with a steady writing gig. (God bless my wonderful editor.) What's a girl to do?

Shaun Hutchinson said...

Carolynnwith2Ns: I'm right there with you. I have a terrible time catching errors in my own manuscripts (especially by the Nth pass when my brain just begins to melt). Some tactics to help battle brain melt and see the errors I use are: change the font, read it out loud, read it backwards, read the chapters out of order. Anything to shake it up and force your brain to view the manuscript with fresh eyes.

Lisa Bodenheim said...

There's a reason we furry woodland critters get paranoid. Opie just wrote that reason. Things happen. Good to know, if we catch our mistakes, we can email an oops, here's the correct version.

2Ns-would not non-writerly but love-reading, grammar-nerdy friends be of assistance at the point in time when the manuscript just needs (another) final go-through? And...don't underrate yourself.

I like all of Shaun's suggestions. I've also heard that printing out the pages and reading the story on paper also makes a difference. But if a writer struggles with not knowing correct spelling or homonyms, then that's a particular issue that needs another set of eyes.

Sam Hawke said...

I tell you I've always had a terrible time distinguishing between discrete and discrete. Even now, it's eluding me. ;)

(Don't send me to Carkoon Your Sharkiness, please!)

E.M. Goldsmith said...

All those discrete words crowding our pages, and no one agrees on comma usage, no one. So you are stuck with making that discreet edit and sending revised pages in hopes it's not some heinous indiscretion that causes your manuscript to be forever shunned or worse exiles you to Carkoon...

If you really love kale and Lima beans, there's hope for you. Otherwise, join me in this threadbare existence where you must live in constant fear of dangling participles, misplaced modifiers, rogue commas, homanyms that bite you on the backside, (did the writer really mean to attack the protagonist with a giant bare beer?) , and the occasional word that fails to appear at all. My latest editing ploy was to pull the book apart into its chapter components and as Shaun suggested, read and revise them in random order. I have done the editor route, workshops, beta readers, and still I find these dangerous little snaffoos. Especially on pages that I have revised due to editorial feedback. That rogue comma has spawned a most unfortunate run on sentence, or I changed vomit to wretch and that is just wrong. I think. I really should get some coffee... Or some Dragon Milk bourbon stout.

Jennifer R. Donohue said...

I saw your tweet when it went up, and felt very bad, both for you and for the writer. I do hope things turn out well for the both of you!

And, as I understand it, "discreet" is subtle, "discrete" is distinct.

Anonymous said...

Lol at Sam :D

I tend to do several things to catch mistakes in my MS. I run spell check. Then I read it over (several times) in Word Docx. Then I print out a hard copy and do an indepth edit and spell check. After that, I send it to Sis, who has an uncanny knack for catching the missing commas/full stops/closing quotes/etc that I miss. After that, I send it to my Kindle, where I catch MORE mistakes (usually by this point it's echoing words, bad word choices and missing full stops, as the typos are usually gone by now). And recently I've added a new step at the end of all this: listening to the MS read aloud by a natural voice text to speech program. That helps me catch clumsy and/or overlong sentences.

Then I run spellcheck one last time, and go over the MS in Word Docx format again. The whole process takes two weeks - one month in total. But then, I'm usually readying my MS for publication, not agent eyes. Still, if anyone gets any useful tips outta that lot, you're welcome :D
No matter what you do, looking at your MS in different formats/ways will always make you see stuff you didn't see before

Colin Smith said...

My last novel went through at least three rounds of edits with me, then a round with my wife, then another round or two with me. It was picked apart until I didn't think there was anything left to pick, like the Thanksgiving turkey carcass after the cats have had their way. Then I was shocked and horrified to find my beta readers finding the simplest typos. Did I send the wrong version? Did the file get corrupted somewhere along the way? I was sure those typos weren't there when I sent it. But thank the Lord for those good betas who caught them before I queried it. At least I know the rejections weren't because of spelling errors in the sample pages. That is comforting, right? :)

Opie--take heart. Janet has thrown you a lifeline. It seems we can, and should, be willing to retract and resubmit a manuscript (or query) we discover to be not our best work. We just need to be willing to eat some humble pie, and be polite and respectful in our communication.

Colin Smith said...

Oh, and for those interested, the third and final installment of my Bouchercon 2015 debrief is up on my blog.

Donnaeve said...

I've been astounded at the errors when I print the pages out. The stuff I thought for sure I'd caught. I can't explain this. How do pages look so messed up when held in your hands, versus on a computer screen? Beats me.

The thing with my work most of the time, Word underlines what it perceives as a problem and as ya'll know by the FF entries I do, I like to write in the vernacular. (ya'll right now is currently underlined in that aggravating red squiggly line - even here in the comment box.)

S.D.King said...

As a former school librarian, I told this story many times to students who longed to write, but felt inadequate. (I should tell it to myself sometimes). Pasted from Wikipedia - seems like "fair use" to me. See the whole article on "Where the Red Fern Grows" at reference below.

"In a talk given to a group of schoolteachers, Wilson Rawls related how he wrote the first version of the novel (along with five full novels, and hundreds of short stories and novelettes) during the years that he worked on construction in Mexico and Idaho. He rolled the manuscripts up and saved them in a trunk at his parents' home. When he met his fiancée, Sophie, he did not want her to know about his failed dreams of becoming a writer, so about a week before he got married he visited his parents and burned all his manuscripts. He then returned to Idaho and married Sophie. About three months later, he confessed to his wife that he had burned all his manuscripts and had always dreamed of being a writer. She encouraged him to rewrite one of his stories. He quit his job and wrote the novel in just three weeks. He said, "I had it memorized." [4] He would not let her read it until it was finished. He said, "I finished it on a Friday. I gave it to her Saturday morning and I went to town. I stayed in town all day. I knew she had time to read it. I called her on the phone. I just knew she was going to laugh at that writing...but when I called on the phone, she said, 'You get back out here to the house, I want to talk to you...this is the most wonderful dog and boy story I've ever heard in my life.'" [4] She encouraged him to lengthen the story, because she felt it was too short to be a novel but too long to be a short story. He went to work on lengthening the manuscript. He wrote it longhand with no punctuation. She then typed it up and submitted it to the Saturday Evening Post."

And let's not discount the incalculable (there is probably a typo combined with misuse!) value of a supportive spouse.

S.D.King said...

Sam, When my son signed up to take Discrete Math, I wondered why all the subjects could not be discreet! Especially History - always revealing secrets!

Tony Clavelli said...

My methods almost exactly match W.R. Gingell's, though I do not send mine to Sis, because that would probably be very strange for her. Reading your own work is HARD. Your brain likes to pretend everything is great. Those methods help to fight it!

The only other advice I have is to take some time to find out if you copyedit your own work well. You can test it out with ten pages or so and a willing friend. If they get back to you after you've given it a pass and they come up with an error total higher than zero, you might need to shop that out. (By the way, tell those red-dotted underlines that I'm quite satisfied with "copyedit" as it is. Also, videogames. One word.)

I had no idea that discrete had a homonym instead of just multiple meanings. Yikes. I hope I haven't used it in my stories! Google and gave me this helpful method to distinguish them:

"Although discreet and discrete have separate (or discrete) meanings, they are often confused. Remember that the 'ee's' in discreet hide together in the middle of the word, but the 't' in discrete separates them."

RachelErin said...

If you feel stuck between the not-wanting-to-ask-friends-and-can't-afford-a-full-edit, know that you can always go to a copyeditor with a budget and get a portion of your book done. This can identify major issues in that particular MS. Maybe you can afford ten pages, maybe 100. If homonyms are your beast, get a list of the top 100 most mixed up words, and use the search function to check every single usage. If it's semi-colons, commas, or whatever, you can still use the search function, decide which rules you want to follow and break, and check every single one.

Searching by category lets you analyze each instance out of context, and I often find it easier to edit by task than chronologically - in all diagnostic activities narrow focus give higher accuracy - looking for everything at once inevitably means something gets missed.

Or you can do what I did, and marry or BFF someone who is a natural copyeditor. =).

nightsmusic said...

Your query is most often, your first introduction to a potential agent. Sending a query/sample pages full of typos is like smiling with that green thing in your teeth. You don't see it, but the agent does. Others have mentioned ways to find your mistakes, but yes, make sure your spell check and grammar check is on, then find your spell check and grammar check buds to go over it and after you've been away from it for a week, do a word by word and go over it again.

All that said, I read a lot of blogs and it amazes me how many people use the wrong words, their/they're/there is a good example. I'm not sure if it's just being lazy or our education system or the fact that the younger generation texts so much that they no longer care because, hey! Text!

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

E.M. most of the stuff you mentioned, like dangling-whatevers, I've have heard about them and have no clue regarding their specifics.
Woe is me.

Susan Bonifant said...

First, thank you Janet for the update. My face got cold to think of OP's reaction to it.

And, OP, I can offer an example of agent forgiveness in a similar case. Upon request, I sent fifty pages to an agent and realized the next day, it was an earlier version. I freaked out, got a cold face, and ***wrote a 911 email to Janet who calmly suggested explaining the error, and re-sending.

"No problem," said the agent, "Just send your newest version."

***That is not to suggest that everyone should send 911 emails to Janet. Recall, I was freaking out and had a cold face.

Colin Smith said...

nights: I tend to be more forgiving of blog articles because of the informal nature of the medium. Though I will be a little more picky with writer blogs... :)

2Ns: I try not to leave anything dangling, whether modifiers, participles, or whatever else. I think there's a life rule there. :)

E.M. Goldsmith said...

I think errors creep into the printer when I print out my pages. But Donnaeve is correct, read those pages in hard copy. I am not sure what it is, but I catch things better in hard copy.

And Carolynn, I work for a school district surrounded by English teachers, I was an English major in college, and all those grammatical gremlins are still beyond me. But the good news is with Donnaeve now well on her way to author ecstasy, there is more kale to go around here on Carkoon. I really do wonder if Donnaeve would help me with my dread synopsis? Ah well, it's a process, a long torturous one.

Sam Hawke said...

Thanks Jennifer - I must confess, though, I am cool with the difference between discrete and discreet, just not with discrete/discrete - ie I was just joking about the typo in Janet's post (hence my hope that I not be sent to Carkoon for the cheek). But it show how easy these little errors disappear on the page when your brain knows what it expects to see!

nightsmusic said...

@ Colin

I guess I don't tend to be that forgiving only because once you put something out there, it, in most cases, might as well be written in stone and no matter what, I really want it to be the best it can be. That's not to say I don't make mistakes. Oh, the book I could write on those alone! But posting a comment on a blog or doing a blog post to me are two different things. One is on the fly, the other should be thought out, not that they always are...

I just know the netspeak makes my skin crawl and I had to constantly drum into my girl's heads that just because you use it in a test doesn't mean you can actually use it in oh, a college paper!

Kregger said...

I think I had a misspelled word in the first query I sent to the Query Shark. Even as naive as I was back then, I was mortified. Then I was told by a critter that since I didn't know the difference between taught/taut as it pertained to line on a sailboat, I wasn't ready for publication. *Sigh*
I'd like to say I've never seen an error in any book I've ever read, but I'd be lying. And it does knock me out of the story.
I shook my head at the discrete/discrete example. Maybe QOTKU meant Descartes?
But I did just find the business card on the cover.
Colin, please do your magic on the link.

LynnRodz said...

Like Sam, I was kind of wondering what the difference between discrete and discrete were? Is Janet pulling a fast one on us?

I’m really good at spelling so I don’t use spellcheck. If I doubt something I will look it up to be sure, otherwise I continue on. That said, when I’m finally through with my MS, I will use another program with spellcheck to see if there are any words that need to be corrected. I’m not that crazy to think I won’t make a mistake somewhere.

Then too, as Janet points out, spellcheck won’t correct typos that are spelled correctly, like click for clique. What can I say, you can comment drunk, but you definitely must edit sober!

DLM said...

A very slight case of dyslexia or something like it, a family filled on both sides with teachers and Olympic-status linguistic acrobats who are also literealists and will pin you down to any slip, and thirty years as a secretary - I have come away a self-correcting typist. My blog is published all but unedited, and it is a good indicator how my draft work tends to look grammatically: way over-wordy, but 95% correct. The older I get, the more I treasure this tendency to real-time maintenance, it saves me a lot of COPY editing so that my actual editing and revision can focus on the content rather than the mechanics (mostly).

This weekend - TOMORROW - begins the JRW conference, and I am excited and have re-researched the agent I plan to meet and strategized the discussion I'd like to have with her. I've picked out shoes and comfortable clothes.

And my MS Office has gone all 'splodey. Ees mortally ill, and ... I have nothing. No synopsis, no query, none of my work I can share.

I can't even share my typos.

I has ALL the bad feels.

Janet Reid said...

of course I had to have a typo in this post on typos! ARGH!
Thanks for letting me know.


PS if anything proves i'm NOT a robot, it's got to be my erratic spelling!

DLM said...

Janet, unfortunately I am aquainted with Teh Typoquen (she lives in Broklyn), and so you will not be able to take that throne. You will have to stick with The Known Universe and remain an amateur in the thypo deptartment.


(Man, that was hard to do! Emotionally and physically.)

Colin Smith said...

nights: Personally, I try to make my blog posts as polished as possible. In other words, I judge my own posts at least as harshly (if not harsher) than I would other writer blogs. The main drawback is I don't have the benefit of beta readers going over my articles, so there will always be errors and even some clunkiness that make their way in. But I don't think everyone can (or should) be held to the same standard, because not everyone blogs for the same reason, and not everyone who blogs to exercise their free speech speeks as good as wot I does. :D

kregger: Here you go:

Anonymous said...

Janet: Your posts inform and entertain. They always have, and I'm willing to bet, they always will. This is why you are the Queeniest Princessiest Empressiest Duchessiest Shark of All The Sharks in these Shark-Infested Galaxies. Now and forevermore, I bow to thee.

Unknown said...

Oh dear lord this strikes close to home. I have taken to cc'ing myself so I can catch the typos that are impossible to find until after hitting send. That way at least I won't replicate that error twice. Not catching errors until after hitting send seems to be one of those immutable laws of the universe, like the strange force that sucks socks off into the alternate universe.

nightsmusic said...


Just so you know, the follow-up comments emails I get already have the post formatted in them. I'm guessing you knew that, just sayin'...

And I admit, I'm a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad person because if I read a blog that has too many typos, I'm outta there never to read it again. It makes my head 'splod, Lucy, and I can't take that.

Typos, I've made a few, but then again, they're bound to happen
I've typed what I had to say, and saw it through, without exemption
I spell checked every line
Each word I typed, along the byway
I tried to do my best
Spelling the right way...

Colin Smith said...

Diane: OH, THAT'S who that is! I've seen her cave on Carkoon, but never understood the sign outside. I always thought it was some kind of code: Teh Typoquen. On a planet where spelling is optional, she's quite a celebrity. :)

Colin Smith said...

Funnily enough, it seems today is Noah Webster's birthday. Did you plan this, Janet? :)

Craig F said...

Last weekend was my better half's birthday. Since I am a pie guy and not a caker I looked for Cream Of Tartar in le'grocery. Couldn't find it, couldn't find it and couldn't find it. Finished the rest of the shopping and came back. It was right in front of me all the time I couldn't find it.

That is the reason you bury your query under a rock in Idaho by the dark of the moon. Come back and dig it up two full moons later and all of those typos will pop right out at ya.

While that magic is happening find some beta readers and have them read your ms. I admit I have a problem with beta readers. All eight of those I chose got too hung up. They stayed up all night and called the next morning. "Wow" was the sum of their critiques. They were too tired to interrogate but I now have a couple actually looking for problems. Perhaps you will have better luck on that front.

Ly Kesse said...

Eh, 'discreet' really threw me for a loop. Had to Google it and all. And reading through the definitions and comparison with 'discrete,' I suddenly realized I KNEW the root word, just in different clothes: discretion.

It sort of reminds me of the word 'ept.' Opposite of 'in--.' :D

Emrie Ann said...

Thank you for this! It was hard to read at first because, like so many others, I am in love with the story telling but am still developing a head for grammar, spelling, and punctuation. I am just at the beginning of they querying process (still perfecting my summary, thank goodness!) and was planning to start sending out letters next week. But your post has inspired me to put that process on hold. I'm going to hire a professional editor for whatever portion of my manuscript I can afford and then carefully studying their notes so that I can make the necessary changes to the rest of the work. Thank you!

DLM said...

Hee. Colin, I'm actually not kidding. I know a woman who has held the title of Teh Typoquen (self-anointed, but no less enthroned) for a good eighteen years. And she does have a place in Greenpoint, Brooklyn ... though a Carkoon residence would not surprise me.

I'm thinking about standard fonts now, too (never send a query or ms in purple Comic Sans, kids!). Working on some presentations for my job, I go to the standards handbook to look up our preferred fonts. Neither of the listed font families is included in our MS Office bundle.


Anonymous said...

Someone posted an article written by language guru Steven Pinker who had written a book on writing style. His article went on about how language snobs had crucified him on his imprecise use of language. It should be "woe is I" according to the snobs and he disagrees.

As much as I agree with him and will probably buy the book, I chuckled that there is a missing word and a misspelled word in the article. Crap happens to the best of us, it appears.

As for me, I read it over in a different font, run spell check (Spell check hates me because I write fantasy and have many words not in the dictionary. Seriously? Why do you think destrier is misspelled?), print it out and read it, read it aloud. Off to beta readers. A few more passes. Lately I have discovered Ivona. Having the story read to me fairly slowly in a British accent while I read long was an amazing exercise. There are several text to speech programs. I not only caught sentences that could be changed to sound more fluid, word repetitions, words that could be stronger, but also more typos all the other methods had missed for some reason.

My son's theory is when you read your own work you read what you think is there, what's supposed to be there. He volunteered to read and record it, saint that he is, but with school, work, and wee ones to take care of as a single dad, I thought he had enough to do. I thought his theory was still sound. I had been asking him about voice recording software to record myself reading it. That's where the search for text to speech software came up.

Typos in queries and pages do make a difference. I see too many agents remark about this in twitter comments. "Interesting query, but too many typos in sample pages. Pass."

Get someone to read over that query and those pages for you before submitting if you can. It's worth the extra time.

In other news, four days until I fly out for Surrey and still no passport. Life is always interesting in the Weathers household.

Colin Smith said...

Julie: I can do an okay British accent. Perhaps I could hire myself out as a manuscript reader? :) Eeek! I hope the passport comes through soon! :)

DLM said...

"Woe is--"


... I can't even say it. Grammar douches are smackworthy.

Colin, strictly amateur: I do *several* British accents. ;)

Elissa M said...

I combed through my WiP numerous times, catching every typo, every misused word, and every misplaced comma.

My beta reader's first comment was, "I wish my published manuscripts were as error free as this!" Then she proceeded to point out the errors I'd missed. (She also gave great feedback on everything else, but that's not relevant to today's topic.)

My point: No matter what you do, there will be errors. Try to correct them all anyway.

Anonymous said...



If the passport comes it comes. I would love to go to Surrey to see the crew in person as much as anything else. Beth Shope is in Switzerland now, so who knows when I would see her again? On the back cover of her best seller, I suppose.

I'm really looking forward to the classes with Robert Dugoni and Chris Humphreys. Heck, yes, teach me how to buckle that swash! It will be a great conference if I get there. If I don't, I'll hopefully get a partial refund and save some money.

Either way I win.

Colin Smith said...

Diane: Probably better than me. I can perhaps get away with a Scottish-y accent to the untrained ear. And I can feign a couple of others. But really, for a native Brit, I'm not very good. :)

D Writer said...

This definitely drives me crazy. You work for ages on something, run spellcheck a million times. Have everyone you know read it. Have a writers' group and beta readers read it. You read it again yourself. And everything looks perfect. The second you send a query out with sample pages, you immediately start seeing typos. MADDENING I TELL YOU!

Now, it is good to know that you can send a revision and that, even in this specific case, Janet was able to still move forward with the author. But now every time I hit that send button I will be paranoid of that one typo no one seems to be able to find accept my potential agent.

BJ Muntain said...

I use Canadian style in my writing. It's become ingrained doing years of writing for corporations and a charity. I like Canadian spellings.

I do, however, know American styles - CMOS and AP, mostly - and I know very well how to write to and follow a style guide (even if I disagree with it - you'd be surprised how some organizations prefer things done).

Will my Canadian spellings get in the way of publication? Should I mention that I follow Canadian spellings, but that I can edit to fit other styles? There are few enough differences between Canadian and American styles that this wouldn't take long, even in a full novel. I don't know if there are even any Canadian spellings in my first 10 to 50 pages... there aren't *that* many differences...

By the way, I do suggest everyone find their favourite style guide. A style guide isn't a bunch of rules you have to follow - a style guide helps you keep everything consistent. If you write fantasy, science fiction, historical fiction, or anything that may not have common words or names, I also advocate creating a style guide for your work. I use a spreadsheet (you can probably do a very simple one in Word), and all it really needs is the word/name/whatever and possibly a definition (for instance, maybe Cindy is a co-worker of your protag, while Cindi might be a henchman of the bad guy.) Your future editor will love you.

2Ns: A good critique partner can help you with that. Especially one with an editing bent (aka grammar nazi). If you'd like some help, let me know. As I mentioned above, I can work to style guides, and have the Chicago Manual of Style handy by my desk. I wouldn't put any Canadianisms into your work.

nightsmusic: I disagree that such mistakes mean the person doesn't know or doesn't care. If you're the type of person I am, and 'hear' the words as you put them on paper or screen, then you're typing/writing what you're hearing, which could be any spelling version of the word. You have to proofread to get those out - and as others have said, sometimes it's hard to proofread your own work. And I think part of that, too, is because you 'hear' it correctly in your mind, so your mind skips over possible problems (which is why all the suggestions for proofreading that people have given are such good suggestions).

Colin: You're right. Blogs, tweets, Facebook posts, texts... anything that's informal require informal reading. Now, when such things occur in books, on professional websites (like newspapers), in advertising, or even in memes... Grammar Nazi BJ takes the stage...

As for hardcopy vs computer screen - yes. Studies have found that your mind processes things differently when you look at them in different mediums. You can read things more clearly on paper than you can in an electronic medium. I always print my work out and proof it that way, whether it's fresh work or had an edit done to it... or if there's something not quite there that I'm trying to figure out...

Diane: Do you have these things in an electronic form? On a flash drive or something? If so, you can take that with you. Most hotels will have business centres where you can work on a computer and print something out.

Julie: Wishing you help with your passport! I still don't know if I can go, and today is the last day for pre-registration. If things work out in the next few days, I might try to go anyway and get registered once I'm there. Big if, huh?

Janice Grinyer said...

Oh, this topic just makes me want to curl up in a ball like a pill bug...because I will try to do my best not to do this, but it is MY WORST NIGHTMARE that this WILL HAPPEN. Heck, I even had to erase my first congrats to Donna yesterday because I was horrified to see all my mistakes!

Anyhow, I plan to use an Editor when I am finished with my WIP; it needs it and I am not above setting money aside to have this reviewed. I am college educated, I know better, try to review as I write, but *shrugs shoulders*. Well, at least I am smart enough to know I will need an editor :D

As for my blog, you can distinguish my persona/voice, which leans towards using slang. Okay, it doesn't lean - it plain sits on it. However, when I publish poetry or a short story, the corrections are there. At least I attempt to have them there...okay fine. Time to curl up now with the "solace" cat.

Everyone should have one, along with an Editor... :D

Janice Grinyer said...

And Julie W - You can tell you have worked with Horses a long time. Anyone who can remain that calm while the government holds the fate of you & Surrey in their hands... well, dang. You can ride my horses anytime :)

Anonymous said...


Let me ping Kathy and see how registrations are going.


I learned long ago not to pray for God to grant me patience. What I got were situations out of my control that taught me patience. Training animals who require patience is a joyful reward, but I had patience with them long before I learned patience with people, which I'm still working on.

Irene Troy said...

I am one of the world's worst spellers. It's just something my brain refuses to process. I run spell/grammar check active in Word and in my online browser. But this doesn't catch all the mistakes. So I use another piece of software specific for silly mistakes. In addition, for my manuscript I used a variety of beta-readers, my writer group and a professional editor. I hope between all of this that any huge gaffs have been caught. BTW: I used all but the editor for my query letters.

Considering the query letter is one of the most important documents a writer will ever have to execute, it seems foolish not to seek a set of outside knowledgeable eyes to proof the letter before hitting the send button.

Of-course, having said all the above, I recently committed a non-spelling mistake that still has been nervous: I sent a query to two different agents at the same agency by mistake! I never query two agents at the same agency at the same time. Somehow I didn't mark down the first query (yeah, dumb!) and the next week I queried the second agent, hit send and then realized what I'd done. UGH. I did follow up with an apology acknowledging I knew the agency policy, but...oh we imperfect beings!

S.P. Bowers said...

I recently received and R&R from an agent. Even though I had read it several times and had a very good editor read it, when I started the revision I was surprised at the handful (or two) of little typos and errors I found. At least I get the chance to fix them.

Pam Powell said...

Discrete - discreet. Ugh! I hate things that don't make sense.

Wouldn't it be easier to say "discrete" and "datmalta". Now, wouldn't it?

There's a true story of a writer [can't recall which and can't find the interview] who responded to his grammar school teacher's remark that no one should ever misspell "two," "to," or "too" as each was completely different. He said, "I can give you a sentence where you can't tell which way to spell it. 'How do you spell ...'" and then he said that word.

Anyway, in looking for the interview, I found a typo on my web site. Bad news - it was there. Good news - Found it!

angie Brooksby-Arcangioli said...

My French version of Word doesn't offer American English, they have British, EU and Canadian. Next time I'll buy Word in the US. Dyslexia makes typing hard.

I'm saving for a copy editor but two of my betas are editors, though one is Canadian the other American. Text to speech is excellent and I like the idea of using a British voice.

When I applied for Italian citizenship I had to return three times to one office so they could correct my name. Stupidly, I'd gone home each time before seeing the mistake. (Julie, check the info on your passport before they give it to you.) Another time, at the Italian embassy they misspelled "The United States" and corrected it by hand. I made them retype and print the document.

I like Shaun's suggestion, shake it up. Hard copy works best for me and limiting editing time. Rewriting longhand certain passages also works helps. I've taken to previewing my comments before hitting publish.

Andrea said...

As a non-native English speaker I'd love to know when it's o.k. to use "try and do" instead of "try to do". Or is "try and do" colloquial and not used in writing? (I'm guessing that might be the case because "try and do" sounds completely illogical to me and reminds me of Yoda - do or do not; there is no try. Something like that anyway)

Lisa Bodenheim said...

umm...Janet? I've never heard of postard! Here in the Midwest we say petard. Omigoodness, I double checked on google. What a fun history petard has.

Colin Smith said...

Andrea: You've got it. "Try and do" is incorrect, though people often say it. It might be okay to use in dialog, but you would never use it in your prose. "Try to do" is correct. :)

BJ Muntain said...

You're right, Andrea. 'try and do' is more colloquial. In fiction, it's fine for dialogue (because it's used most often in dialogue, and can be part of a character's... um, character). But in narrative, 'try to do' is the more correct.

BJ Muntain said...

Colin: As they say, great minds think alike...

Colin Smith said...

Lisa: I could be wrong but I think Janet was being funny. Her post is about spelling mistakes, and she made a spelling mistake in the post, hence postard, not petard. I could be wrong. But I like to think the best of people. Especially sharks... ;)

Anonymous said...

Learning French (or attempting to learn it) totally screwed up my ability to spell words in English. Years later, I'm still guilty of adding U's where *some people* say they don't belong. At least I've straightened out that whole -re/-er ending thing. Mostly.

For some odd reason, I'm excellent at catching typos in other people's work. Mine, not so much.

Janet, it's not really fair for you to use made-up words in a post about spelling. "hoist on my own postard"? *snort*

BJ Muntain said...

KD: What you're saying is, you normally follow Canadian spelling, with the Us in honour and such, and the re vs er endings...

Come to the dark side. We have chocolate...

Colin Smith said...

On the other hand, the American spellings are shorter, so you use less printer ink. Same word count for your novel, but you get more bang for your buck with ink cartridges. :) said...

Tell me where does the single quotation mark go? Maybe it’s easy for you, but it isn’t for me.

Is it? She said “skateboarding isn’t my ‛thing’.” or She said “skateboarding isn’t my ‛thing.’ “

The first example seems logical, but what I read is that in the U.S all quotation marks go outside the period.

Then, what about, “She said, ‛I’m not going’.” or “She said, ‛I’m not going.’ ”

Anonymous said...

BJ, it's mostly just the U's these days. All my Canadian friends, good neighbours that they are, have no problem with it.

number1texgirl: That's one of those rules I find so irritating (and confusing), I will turn myself inside out to reword a sentence so it doesn't end with a phrase in single quotes. Or I'll use italics instead. "Skateboarding isn't my thing." I know, that's not helpful.

Colin Smith said...

number1texgirl: My understanding: US usage is [words][punctuation][quotation marks]. UK usage is generally [words][quotation mark][punctuation]. I believe even with embedded quotes (either "''" or '""'--whichever way you use them), in the US you put the punctuation inside both, whereas in the UK you would put the punctuation outside the inner quote, not the outer. Hence:

"Janet said, 'He left for Carkoon ten days ago.'" (US)
"Janet said, 'He left for Carkoon ten days ago'." (UK)

However, I believe question marks and exclamation points always stay inside the quotes:

"Janet said, 'Get thee to Carkoon ye scallywag Brit!'" (US & UK)
"The Reiders said, 'Can we have a contest to celebrate Donna's deal?'" (US & UK)

Can I get a confirmation or correction on that?

Colin Smith said...

And yes, I know Elizabethan grammarians would have rapped my knuckles for using thee and ye to refer to a single person, since "ye" is plural. What would the Elizabethans have called a Grammar Nazi? A Grammar Spaniard? ;)

Her Grace, Heidi, the Duchess of Kneale said...

2nns et al.

Our brains have this notorious habit of being able to auto-correct. Taht's how erevenoe cna raed tihs snetnence. In our works, our brains will catch a typo, correct it so the brain knows what we meant, and then we go on. Unless we specifically train our brains to pause at that moment and not autocorrect without notifying the rest of us, typos will slip through.

I recently discovered this free tool, which points out several of the most common grammar and style issues in an analysed text, plus highlight homophones.

Might this be helpful?

I ran a ms through it--a ms I thought was clean and tidy. Boy, did my brain miss some doozies! I don't use as many cliches as I thought I did, but I am terrible when it comes to dangling participles. Who'd a thunk?

Granted, I also have a professional editor going through the ms as I've had too many rejected fulls. Am learning a lot from her notes.


I solemnly swear I am not a robot.

Lisa Bodenheim said...

Colin: of course! Why didn't I think of that? Guess this week's vacation is dulling my thought process.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

I think it's interesting that someone like Sir Paul McCartney could achieve such success musically and he could not read or write music.(Colin correct me if I'm wrong on this.) Why then is excellence and perfection required within the craft of writing even if the the content of story and execution shines? We all can not be Sir Paul but I wonder what magnificent work gets set aside because the genious of the writer is in the story and not the process.

Colin Smith said...

2Ns: You are correct that for much of his career, McCartney has relied upon others to write out his music for quartets and orchestras. But I believe over the last 15 years, working with the likes of Carl Davis, and using computers to help him compose, he has gained in his understanding of the written note. But he'll never be to the point where he can read music fluently, I don't think.

The literary equivalent of McCartney is the illiterate person who can gather an audience and captivate them and move them with the spoken word. The kind of person who can tell a story, and tell it well. And then you have the Aaron Copelands, Leonard Bernsteins, and Burt Bacarachs like Hemmingway, King, and Rowling.

As I understand it, it's not a question of written being better than spoken, reading music being better than not reading music. They are different approaches, and you take the approach that best suits what you want to do. If McCartney had wanted to be a classical composer, he would have learned how to write an orchestral score, and maybe had formal piano lessons. I believe that's what Gershwin did--he started out self-taught, but in order to do what he wanted to do, he was mentored in composition by a classical composer. If you want to be a novelist, you develop the skills with the written word necessary for the job. But if you want to be a stand-up comic, or tell stories on the radio or on a podcast, spelling and grammar are largely irrelevant.

Colin Smith said...

... Did anyone ever care whether Robin Williams could spell? Maybe just his agent when he was signing a contract... :)

Janice Grinyer said...

The process of Creativity demands that you KEEP learning. If you cannot read words or music, it does not mean that you you have reached your pinnacle if you become famous. It means you have a lot more to learn in your field to make it even better.

Your Grace - thank you for the link - I love resources I can use when I get stymied while writing.

Julie - Someone you know must have prayed for patience for you on this one - I will pray for them ;)

Janice Grinyer said...

And so I just noticed I doubled the word "you" in my last post. *sigh* I will never be able to write a query letter...

Colin Smith said...

Janice: Doesn't a double-you count as one letter?

I need more tea... :)

BJ Muntain said...

number1: You're right about the first example. The logical one is the Canadian (probably British, too) version. The other is the American version.

Example two would include the period, because what she said was a full sentence, which comes with its own period. So:

"She said, 'I'm not going.'"

Okay. Colin is making me go get out my Canadian style guide...

Okay. CP style follows the American style. Editing Canadian English says: "A question mark or an exclamation point should be placed inside the quotation marks when it is part of the quoted material; otherwise it is outside."

And the Elizabethans would have called Grammar Nazis 'clerics', because those are the only people who really knew anything about writing anything. I don't think anyone else would really care...

Unknown said...

Here is what I have researched, witnessed, and heard:

The first ten pages must be flawless and interesting. FLAWLESS. However, minor grammatical errors in the story can be forgiven- not overlooked. If you will notice, Janet only says they are not OVERLOOKED. You don't want an agent that overlooks mistakes, just as an agent doesn't want a client who overlooks mistakes. The agent has a stake in this too. That stake is electricity, water, food, clothes, etc. It is their livelihood.

If you were deciding on whether or not to buy a book, and you saw a typo on the first page or two, would you buy it? You might, but your chances of buying it would be greatly reduced. Strive for excellence.

If it makes you feel any better, I had a question for the blog that was trashed because I said "fiction novel". Truth be told, it was a revise and resend, but I wouldn't have that chance if it was a query. I got sloppy, and I saw how important effective communication was in ALL regards.

Unknown said...

Here is what I have researched, witnessed, and heard:

The first ten pages must be flawless and interesting. FLAWLESS. However, minor grammatical errors in the story can be forgiven- not overlooked. If you will notice, Janet only says they are not OVERLOOKED. You don't want an agent that overlooks mistakes, just as an agent doesn't want a client who overlooks mistakes. The agent has a stake in this too. That stake is electricity, water, food, clothes, etc. It is their livelihood.

If you were deciding on whether or not to buy a book, and you saw a typo on the first page or two, would you buy it? You might, but your chances of buying it would be greatly reduced. Strive for excellence.

If it makes you feel any better, I had a question for the blog that was trashed because I said "fiction novel". Truth be told, it was a revise and resend, but I wouldn't have that chance if it was a query. I got sloppy, and I saw how important effective communication was in ALL regards.

BJ Muntain said...

2Ns: I think the difference between Sir Paul and a novel writer is that Sir Paul's talent was music - you don't have to read music to listen to it. As long as all the notes are right (or are wrong in the right places) your music is good.

That's not to say that anyone needs to despair that their grammar/spelling isn't good enough. There's been a lot of tools given here to help make it as correct as possible.

And I'm sure you could find someone to help you out. If you belong to a critique group, they'll probably help. Or you can e-mail me at bjmuntain at sasktel dot net. I can help a bit, at least. Maybe find stuff the other tools might have missed? (Yes, I just called myself a tool. That's okay. It's almost bedtime.)

Dena Pawling said...

For all you language junkies, I'm reading a book right now [the audio version] called Between You and Me - Confessions of a Comma Queen, by Mary Norris.

The author is a long-time copy editor at The New Yorker. LOTS of grammar and spelling info, who/whom, which/that, semi-colons, dashes, etc. Quite a bit of humor too. Part of it is memoir. If language bores you, you won't like this book. If you're a language junkie, there's a good chance you'll enjoy it. I'm up to chapter 7 [out of 10] now.

And regarding writer paranoia, you're not paranoid if everyone really *is* out to get you =)

Jennifer R. Donohue said...

Ah, see, I missed "discrete discrete" in Janet's post and only noticed it in the comments.

2NN's, I think Hendrix also couldn't read or write music, though I couldn't say where I think I got this information from.

In my querying news (just kidding, no news), looking over my submission dates and names of agents submitted to, I discovered one of those agents is no longer agenting as of this fall. (the comment window tells me "agenting" is not a word. Fie, I say!)

Janice Grinyer said...

Colin - Okay, that one made me laugh...but then Ive passed up the tea and I'm having a glass of wine. These topics of Janet's sometimes require the harder stuff for me.

Dena - My husband uses that Paranoia line once in awhile. It still does not make me feel better. On a better note :D , I think I will check out "Confessions of a Comma Queen" by Mary Norris, your reference makes it sound like a good read, or "listen". I like listening to Audio books too; great way to multi-task!

BJ Muntain said...

Because Colin's probably in bed by now, here's Dena's link:

Ardenwolfe said...

Awesome advice as always.

Colin Smith said...

Jennifer: Agenting is a word because we said so. We are writers; we OWN the English language. :)

Stick that in the paranoia pipe and shove it where the sun doesn't fish. Mmm... that was a bit Douglas Adams... :)

BJ: Nope, I'm still up. But thanks for filling in. Good work! :)

BJ Muntain said...

The book Dena linked to does look interesting...

Andrea said...

Colin and BJ, thanks for clearing that up for me :-)

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Here I am, up and ready to leave for work. I had the last two days off so I could jump in first.
Colin, BJ and the rest I get what the difference is between writing, writing and music. I've always wanted to do stand-up, maybe I'll give it a try. Yeah right.
BJ I may take you up on you're offer.
On a personal note, I've experienced a lot of right hand pain (won't go into the specifics but not related to writing.) But, just how wonderful is it that we have two hands and lots of extra fingers. It's been a set back but does give me more time to learn and CONTINUING to learn is the key, in fact once one becomes the age called "certain" learning keeps you healthy.

Kate Higgins said...

Worse than being rejected by an agent is the fact that I, as a reader, just plain stop reading any book with errors. It's like finding a pit in cherry pie – all you can think about is biting into the next pit not the excellent taste of the pie.

AJ Blythe said...

I know I am coming in very late, and there's a chance no-one will see this, but just in case...

I've been recommended a newly published book: Oxford A-Z of Grammar and Punctuation by John Seely, revised second edition, with the recommendation I think it’s the most clearly explained guide to grammar I’ve ever seen.

I'm going to be buying it because I don't want any reason for an awesome agent to reject my writing.

Might help others here =)