Bad Grammar in Self-publishing: Please Stop!

“Use Grammarly to improve English grammar. Having bad grammar might get you a spot on Duck Dynasty, but the world only needs one Uncle Si.”

I will never forget the first time I saw an Advance Reader Copy, also called an ARC, of one of my novels for sale in a used bookstore. ARCs are not supposed to be for sale. They look like real books, but have stickers and artwork informing the reader that the ARC is for professional use only. Upon seeing my book in that store and in others online (It was impossible to buy them all up), I worried about what the average reader would think of all the errors. Would people think that my novel, published by Random House, was self-published?

It might sound judgmental that self-publishing was where my mind went, but many, though not all, self-pubbed novels were pretty bad in 2008 around the same time that my novel was released. A lot of self-published novels are still poorly edited, and today it might be worse than ever. In my case, since I wasn’t self-published, my publisher’s ARC did its job because lots of people got an early look at RUBY AMONG US. The attention helped my sales in the long run, but all I kept thinking at the time was that someone saw my mistakes.

Since I am a word nerd and it was my big debut, the ARC experience felt a little bit like a nightmare for me, even if not many people noticed. The problem wasn’t really the ARC, it was my vanity! At the time, Internet book marketing was really starting to take off, so my ARCs could be sent to a myriad of reviewers, including a crop of bloggers who only wanted free books. (Believe me, I get it. Who doesn’t love free books?) The result of my ARCs in the hands of non-professional reviewers  was receiving fantastic coverage for my debut novel (I am truly grateful for that part), but I also began to see a correlation with that coverage and an increased presence of my ARCs for sale on eBay and other Internet book sites. Free and bargain books have a way of proliferating on the Internet, just like free and cheap self-pubbed ebooks.  

I still occasionally see my ARCs for sale, but now it only stings a little. In a way I suppose it’s free publicity, but I always feel sorry for any discerning reader who gets suckered into buying them on eBay and in used bookstores thinking they’re getting a bargain on a real book. No one wants to read an imperfect copy of a novel, not to mention how embarrassing it is for the author. That’s why it shocks me when I see so many self-published novels containing errors on every other page. Writers of these novels need to slow down, and readers need to be aware that well-edited novels don’t come cheap. Sometimes you’re getting the generic version, even though it looks like the real thing. As they say, most of the time you get what you pay for.

Self-publishing these days has flourished and authors who cannot get published are seeing this time as an opportunity to get their books out there. It’s easier than ever to write a book, put it up online as an e-book, and tell your friends you’re published. Sometimes this works, but not very often. With self-published novels, there is often something missing. Readers are smart. It won’t take them long to realize they’re reading a novel filled with mistakes and that they’ve been cheated out of their ninety-nine cents.

Readers of poorly edited ebooks, like the readers tricked into thinking my ARCs on eBay are real, are being duped. I am not an expert, since I’ve never self-published a book, but when I think of all the work that went into both of my traditionally published novels by my editors (and we’re talking about the real book, not the ARC), I can’t imagine doing all of that work myself, and doing it well. Authors need a professional team, even if they have to hire one. 

I suspect that with the exception of self-published authors who were previously published in the traditional sense, most writers putting their books up on book sites have never been exposed to the publishing industry. Because these authors lack experience, they might not know when the editing services they are offered by their self-published presses are adequate or not, until the book comes out and a nerdy book reviewer points out that the book is riddled with mistakes. This is because, as most readers of this blog know, we writers hate bad grammar, but we aren’t always the best at seeing our own mistakes. 

I am not against self-publishing as a whole. There are many reasons an author, even one without experience, might go that route and it might be the right choice for them. All I am saying is that for the editing alone, authors need to consider hiring an editor before going the self-publishing route. At the very least you need to have more than one proof reader before your final manuscript is sent to press.

I have seen some really good self-published novels out there. Some of them have been published by my friends and I’ve read their work on my eReader, but those authors weighed the pros and cons, had a good marketing plan, and more importantly, hired a great editor. If that sounds like a bunch of hard work, it is. If you are thinking about self-publishing and have no experience at it, you might want to go back to the drawing board, in this case your keyboard, and work harder on your novel.

Self-publishing the wrong way is easy, which is why authors should be cautious. It’s one thing for my ARCs to be sold by knuckleheads on eBay, it would be quite another if my actual novels contained all those same mistakes. I’m happy to say they don’t, and grateful to have had a hard-working publishing team. I know it takes a lot for a book to be successful, and for that reason I haven’t yet taken the dive into self-publishing. I doubt I ever will.

Even with the advances of technology, the publishing industry is still a complex machine. Editing is only one part of it, but if a book isn’t edited well, the rest of the machine won’t work. If you want to self-publish and can’t afford editors and proof readers, then perhaps you should consider going old-school. Traditional publishing is still a worthy goal, and having a good editor just might be worth the wait. 

Disclaimer: I don’t have a big problem with Uncle Si, but every time I think of bad grammar, I do think of him!

6 thoughts on “Bad Grammar in Self-publishing: Please Stop!

  1. Bad grammar or any other editing mistakes is a pet peeve for me too, although I do get a lot of ARCs for review and can overlook some of them. ( I NEVER sell ARCs, for ethical reasons but also because I mark them up when reading.)
    One caution, and I know you do reference Uncle Si from Duck Dynasty, but when I first read the disclaimer I thought of Madeline Gornell’s book, “Uncle Si’s Secret” and thought you were slamming it/her. I know you weren’t – after I returned to the top and read the quote (which I had only skimmed when I got to your article).

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    1. I didn’t know about “Uncle Si’s Secret,” Jackie! You are right. I definitely didn’t mean that one, but thanks for mentioning it so I could make it clear.

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    1. I bet that your beta readers will understand Sherry. I suspect that Book Blogging has been around long enough now that those reviewers and readers are more aware of what an advance copy is. Congrats on your book!

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  2. I am interested in reading one of you books as I am always looking for new authors. Any recommendations on which one to read first? I will be happy to share my review with you.

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    1. Thank you, Sarvurbks! How kind of you. Rose House seems to be a favorite among my readers. Also, When I visited your blog I loved your posts. It’s always wonderful to see bloggers supporting fiction. 🙂

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