Saturday, 10 September 2011

Boy was I in for a shock!

If you're following my blog, you are aware of my opinion about making your book as good as possible and don't publish before you have been through editing and proofing several times. I've been banging on about my book being spotless -- I'm a perfectionist and not to practice what I preach would make me a big fat hypocrite, wouldn't it? Yes. Now I've had three people telling me that my novel No Wings Attached is riddled with awkward sentences that don't make sense on top of the usual errors (spelling, typos, etc.). I was gutted! Of course I was, because I know my grammar needs attention, hence I asked around who can help me smoothing out my Germish, as I call it lovingly. I'm writing in second language and though I'm pretty good, it's far from perfect. I know I need someone native who fixes the syntax. And of course, after correcting the corrections, I know I need someone to pick up the errors that sneak in when you take a sentence apart, add words, delete others, etc., plus the usual errors like quotes, commas, spelling and punctuation. So I've had help for both, but when I received that review, I was in for a shock and quite frankly I was more than annoyed.
Please don't understand this as a post to blame, it's not. It's about my experience and to share what I've learned and what I would advise others, especially if you write in second language. I'm extremely lucky to have friends who kindly offered to help me, both natives and absolutely wonderful people. The first went through my book eliminating my Germish, she told me I would need someone to go through the book afterwards, to which I replied, yes, I've got someone who will do that. The mistake I made was to assume she's done ALL the syntax/odd phrasing, which she didn't. That had a snowball-effect: I went to the next person and said, please only look at spelling or typos, missed commas, etc. A clear instruction which she followed. After that was done, I went through the ms in a 7-hour-session and found some more things (missed quotes, capital/lower cases, spaces, etc.) Then, I was sure the book's perfect. But one reader, a German friend, found about twenty more things, which I gratefully accepted and corrected. Finally, I thought, my novel is error free!

As the recent review shows, it's not, the reviewer said, "as there were a lot of spelling and grammatical errors. If I weren't reading it on a Kindle, I would have taken a red pen to it myself. The phrasing and conversation structure was awkward". I first assumed it's the BE spelling, which concerns a lot of Americans, but after checking with her, that was not the case. I wasn't very happy as you can imagine, neither was I about the 'editor' comment, since I'm only editing plot, pace, voice, characters and steer well clear from grammar, except dialogue attributes or the odd comma, for the obvious reasons. I will explain the process of publishing, editors, proof-reading, etc in a different post as there are still some misconceptions of who is doing what.

After I've re-gained my calm, I'm working with another friend on the issue. This time, I made very clear what I wanted/needed. Since I'm writing in second language I can't control things as I could with editing. I have to trust blindly. If I cook a bolognese and ask someone else to season it, I would be able to say if it's overly salted or needs a bit more. That, I can't do with English. If I knew how it's done correctly, I would've done it myself. What I'm trying to say is to be clear with people, tell them what you want, ask them what they have done and where they think it needs more work. I don't support the need for a professional editor/proof-reader for those things, every educated native English person is able to pick up on awkward sentence structures. I know this because I've done that the other way round. But please make sure you get your book double checked, either by another beta-reader or another friend. And if you have someone who's really good with grammar and knows something about dialogue attributes, that's enough, too.

One person said, just put a note on the book that it's written in second language, which I argued against. I'm trying to sell my book for hard money, and that's not the solution. Same goes for the comment another person made, "What are they complaining about? They paid a low price," to which I argued, that's no excuse! As soon as I sell a book it has to be free of errors. I want my readers to enjoy the story and not to feel tempted to pull out a red pen -- let alone the effect it has on my reputation. For the time being, I've stopped promoting No Wings Attached as I'm rather embarrassed about the whole situation. I can't unpublish it without losing all the reviews; readers love the story, the characters, the romance and the twists and turns. I think I can call myself lucky that someone had the heart to point out the mistakes so I can fix them and give readers the reading experience they deserve: being lost in a world I created witout being pulled out of it by errors.


  1. Brave post. I think many people will benefit from this and learn through your hard experience. I look forward to following you through the process and seeing how the novel turns out.

  2. Thank you, Lindy.

    Well, it's not really brave, it's just what happened. It's nobody's fault, just a chain of misunderstandings and that can happen easily. The novel will not change one bit, apart from getting those errors removed. :-)

  3. Oh good sweet Lord, Stella. Bless your heart!

    First of all, everyone needs to settle down. The industry standard used to be the that professionally published books be 97% "clean and free of grammatical errors". With the cuts in standard publishing, mainly due to the houses letting editors go to save money, that standard had decreased to 93%.

    Should indie writers have their work professionally edited? Of course. Should it cost hundreds if not thousands of dollars? Of course not. I'd be more than happy to send you the name of a wonderful line editor that is reasonably priced (not more than a few hundred dollars). He catches just about everything and is an all around great guy!

    Whatever you do, please don't stop promoting your work. Any indie writer can tell you that it is embarrassing when someone points out a mistake, but do what the rest of us do, learn from it and move on.

    The first edition of Asteria had 23 homonyms errors alone. And that was after I had everyone and their brother read it before it went to print. It's been professionally edited now, and has a shiny new cover, better publisher, etc.
    But the first edition is listed on some sites as selling for several hundred dollars.

    Seems like people think that my mistakes might be worth something someday :-D

    Take heart, keeping plugging away, and never stop writing!

  4. Oh Beth, my favourite self-commited stalker ;-)

    You're such a sweetheart. Not to worry, I will not stop writing, neither will I stop plugging, but I will put that on hold for the time being, until the errors are fixed. I know that trad pubbed books have errors, too, and I've even seen them *nods*, but I want my book to be perfect, well at least near-perfect. Such reviews are bad for my reputation as an author. As I said a few errors are fine, but my friend, who's now going with a fine-toothed comb through it, finds a lot and that's not acceptable by my own standards. I would have pointed it out if I would read in German and found that many mistakes. It's a learning curve and as I said, nobody's to blame, I've posted this to raise awareness, to double and triple check by different people to avoid such reviews. I could have lived with someone telling me they hated the story and the characters, but grammar and spelling?

  5. Error in a published manuscript is every author's nightmare. Proofreading - even when it's your first (and only) - language is hard. When you're Indie, it's harder still.

    You do need to find professional assistance. Friends can HELP, but they can't do it all.

  6. Hi, Cara

    Thank you for popping by. I have to respectfully disagree. If you read a book, written by a foreigner, you will pause every time when you see something's not quite right and, in your head, you'll form that sentence correctly. That's what basically everyone can do. No special skills required. I'm not so much worried about the odd misplaced comma or a typo, I'm mainly concerned about the awkward phrasing.

    Anyway, it's a steep learning curve and that will not happen again, I've recently learned that my short stories have the same problem and I'm not happy about it. Plus I have the faint feeling that the low sales of the novel might have to do with it.