While we’re pretty tolerant of sloppy formatting here at BDP, since we know we’re just going to remove it all anyway for the e-book conversion process, we’re much less understanding when it comes to basic abuses of the English language. You don’t have to be perfect, especially when it comes to debatable issues such as commas, British vs. U.S. spelling, or capitalization (though please try to be consistent!)–but there are some usage mistakes that show an author just plain doesn’t care enough about his or her craft to make the writing presentable. Here are a few tips on things that make us pull out our feathers (even when we’re NOT molting):
- Misspelling your own title. Or your own name. Seriously, WHY?
- Misuse of their/they’re/there.
- Misuse of it’s/its. There are only two forms, please get them right! (There’s no ITS’). Here is a quiz on both of these.
- Random apostrophe use. Did you know an Ig Nobel was awarded to a defender of the lowly apostrophe? BDP aspires to the IgNobel Prize in Literature!
- Subject/object issues. One of our editors studied Russian for 4 years and memorized many hundreds of case endings, so is rather annoyed when native English speakers cannot keep I/me, she/her, he/him, or we/us straight. (For the record, JK Rowling appears to have decided that “He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named” does not decline. Discuss… Would you say “I gave the wand to Him-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named?”) Here is a nice tutorial on this subject (object?).
- Misuse of your own technical terms/jargon. If you’re a physicist, please don’t mix up “magneton” and “magnetron,” or we will catch you and bite you with our bills. Similarly, in biology, please know how to format genus/species names, and please spell them correctly and consistently. Escherichia…. see, that’s not so hard.
While you may argue that the story should take precedence over the rules of language–which it does–we cannot focus on the story if we are quacking in pain from an abundance of errors. If you’re a great storyteller but a wretched grammarian, please have an editor–not your wife, not your mom, and certainly not your dog, unless he’s Russian–go over the entire manuscript. Yes, the whole thing. When it’s beautiful up until Chapter 3 and then turns into a morass of errors, it just shows even more.
Be kind to ducks: chek yer grammer.