Sunday, February 08, 2009

Dammerung vs. The King

There is a (rare) misconception among would-like-to-be-published writers that you don't need to sweat spelling, grammar and punctuation because that's what editors are for. These days, it just isn't true. Copy-editors catch the typos, but you don't get one of those unless your work has already impressed an agent and at least one (acquiring) editor. If you want to be a professional writer, you're expected to be in control of your craft. That means your manuscript should be relatively clean of errors.

This week provided a fun illustration of why presentation matters, and why you're unlikely to be taken seriously if you don't show a grasp of your craft.

First, an explanation: The weird symbols you see in the following post are meant to befuddle Google's dreaded web spiders so my hit counter doesn't go berserk again.

Second, I admit I'm endlessly amused by the Tw!l!ght books by St*ephenie Meyer. They seem so over-the-top (vegetarian vampires who sparkle in the sun? Yay!), and the fans of the books--mostly teenage girls--are so wrenchingly passionate about the story.

St*ephen King caused an internet stir this week by saying St*ephenie Meyer "can’t write worth a darn." If you read the whole article, you'll note that's the harshest thing he says about her abilities, and the context of that phrase softens its criticism considerably. He also has some balanced and complimentary things to say about Meyer's books, and he dings the writing of heavy hitters like Dean K00ntz and James Patters0n also, so Meyer is in good company.

Now. Remember I said the fans were passionate? Here's a sampling of some amusingly-extreme reactions.


TNMEBDmelony17&lovless wrote:
(Note: Yes, the commenter is unclear both on who insulted Ms. Me*yer (Ste*phen King, not J. K. Ro*wling) as well as J. K. Ro*wling's gender.)

Sarahh. :) wrote:
personally, i think everyone is entitled to there own opinions…
but i do not agree with Ste*phen King.
it takes a lot for me to like a book, and i havent quite liked the books he wrote(at least the ones that i have read), but he is a good writer.
J.K. Ro*wling is also a good writer, im not a fan of harry potter at all, but she writes well.
I think Ste*phenie is a pretty amazing writer if i do say so myself, but thats just my opnion. but i sorta think Ste*phen King is crazy…
come on, have you read his books?
kerri wrote:
wow, has he got it wrong. Im 32 years old and the whole thing about twil*ight is that edwards cersion of intimact is so sexual it’s heart pounding. Thats what makes it hot for us females. Not all of us have to jump in the sack, get it over with, and bam…their done. No, i perfer edwards intimacy…and ste*phen king, im a mom of three boys, so im plenty practiced in the sexual stuff.
kezzerz wrote:
i LOVE Twi*light and i think the guy was jst a bit jealous. i think that the scenes with the touching and more were really cute!! i think Edward and Bella r cute full stop!! im such a fan of Harry Po*tter bt now its like Twi*light all the way!!! ive read all the books twice. as soon as i was finished the last one i began the first again!!thats how much i love it!! i agree with Juliee that because twi*light is a big part of our lives, it hurts when somebody who does NOT understand this feeling comes here to tell that stuff. we protect what is ours, and twi*light its part of us. and its almost as if people are insulting us for saying crap things about the books.
As an aside, I think all this is adorable. I would love to be able to write books that trigger so much fervour with readers! I also think the reaction is hilariously misguided, but that's another story.

Now about presentation...

When someone with almost no ability to spell, punctuate, use the shift key or proper grammar tries to convince you they know better than St*ephen King what constitutes a well-written book, how seriously do you take them?

Exactly. So it's not surprising an agent or editor who sees a manuscript riddled with errors reaches for the form rejection letter. Just as there may be a valid point buried in a misspelled internet post, there may be a great story buried in the typo-dripping manuscript, but the agent/editor assumes if you're not able to write a competent sentence, you're not able to write a competent story.

That isn't fair to people who speak English as a second language or have a reading disability, but I would hope such people are already aware they need to work extra hard to produce a clean manuscript and query letter.


Aerin said...

I don't know if you meant for the post to be funny, but I am giggling still. Nice Monday morning post - thanks!!

McKoala said...

"with almost no ability to spell, punctuate, use the shift key or proper grammar"...LOL...

Some of these things are, sadly, now considered 'cool', particularly not using caps and SMS-style spelling. Hopefully that's a phase that will wear off in a year or two, or I'll have to turn into The Koala every time I read anything. (I'm thinking The Koala is my version of the Hulk).

writtenwyrdd said...

The brouhaha is waaaay over the top, I agree; but it started because a certain well known author decided to rant about certain other well known authors. I think dissing others publicly like that is a bit unprofessional; but I haven't read his comments at this time (nor do I plan to)so I might be off base in that opinion.

At any rate, the crazy responses to the comment are not so unusual from the immature and passionate perspective of a tweenie. I said something on a blog once about Eragon being a lousy book for me as a reader because of the Tolkein/ Star Wars ripoff, and I got pretty much the same 'sworn enemy' riff.

That said, there is something good in all these books that sell so massively, even if I don't get it myself. I rather liked Eragon because it made me like the characters and want to see what happened next. Likewise Twilight. But they also bugged the heck out of me, too!

Sarf's Travels. said...

Worst speller on the planet reporting in.

Spell checkers are a god send, not that I am religious in there use.

Yes if I an writing something that is for publishing I tend to go over it 3-4 times to make sure it is as good as possible.

Even then there are mistakes that I just don't see. To me some things look correct when they are not.

"A man that spells only one way, is a very narrow minded person" - Martin L. King.

I am not sure I got the quote just right.

jjdebenedictis said...

Aerin: Oh, thanks--I find it all hilarious, so I'm glad to hear I'm not the only one giggling!

McKoala: Is the inner hulk-Koala green like the inner Goblin is? :D

I can see 'netspeak' spelling being really handy for things like texting (less fiddling for buttons) and online gaming (no time for proper English), but otherwise, it's just distracting to try to read. I too hope it all goes away and the people involved grow out of it.

Writtenwyrdd: I agree that teens are particularly (but not exclusively) prone to this kind of passionate ardour and/or defense of what they love.

Mr. King's comments were anything but a rant, however. They struck me as frank but well-thought-out criticism.

Then the press siezed on the one line that could inflame people and used it as a headline. That part wasn't Mr. King's fault.

I think if a writer offers a book to the public, then every member of the public has a right to comment on the book, and to do so in public. If another writer does this, s/he runs the risk of seeming petty/jealous, but that's his/her call. I still think they've got the right to say, "[X] can't write worth a darn."

Sarf: Hee! At least your comments are filled with solid insights and careful thought. The first comment I quoted in the post was all flailing rage; even if I completely ignore that person's horrible grammar, they didn't say a single thing that would convince me to change my mind.

You've always got good arguments. Even if I didn't know you, I wouldn't be so snobbish as to ignore what you say just because you don't have every word correct. Substance does still count for more than style!

Sarf's Travels. said...

Hey sis i remember you liked this game, and here is a funny review of it.

jjdebenedictis said...


Um. I had already discovered the joys of Yahtzee's reviews, and OMG he did the Dark Project?! *flails in happiness*

Of course, I have to wait until I get home from work to watch it. :-/

pjd said...

Then the press siezed (sic) on the one line that could inflame people and used it as a headline.


Really? The press do that?

(Sorry, I just had to throw that "sic" in there and note the irony. I'd not have known it was spelled wrong without the little red squigglies in the comment typing window. :-)

pjd said...

By the way, I had to slap myself about proofreading the other day. I have not published the Unlucky 26, but I have done a personal POD version and bought a few through just for me and some close friends. After I received it, I went through and found that I had misspelled "cemetery" in an illustration. Can you believe it? Oh, dear dog. Maybe some day I can claim it was done on purpose to make these first 10 copies true collector's items.

jjdebenedictis said...

siezed (sic)


...found that I had misspelled "cemetery" in an illustration.

Oh, that would drive me buggy. I'm one of those people who, when I spot an error in something, cannot stop seeing it. It's like when someone has a piece of spinach caught in their teeth and you don't hear a word they say because of it.

Pageloads since 01/01/2009: