Ramona Richards started making
stuff up at three, writing it down
at seven, and selling it at eighteen. She’s been annoying editors ever
since, which is probably why she became one. Twenty-five years later,
she’s edited more than 350 publications, including novels, CD-ROMs,
magazines, non-fiction, children’s books, Bibles, and study guides.
Ramona has worked with such publishers as Thomas Nelson, Barbour,
Howard, Harlequin, Ideals, and many others. The author of eight books,
she’s now the fiction editor for Abingdon Press. An avid live music
fan, Ramona loves living in the ongoing street party that is Nashville.
having a bit of an ’80s flashback
there. And fully revealing myself as a grammar dork (as if you didn’t
already know), that’s what I thought dear Boy George was singing until
I got my first glance at the song title.
But you can’t blame me for the
flashback. I just spent an inordinate
amount of time putting commas into a manuscript. And I’m not exactly
thrilled about it.
Yes, I should leave this to the
copyeditors, and probably will in the future. I did force myself to
stop a few chapters into the book. But the truth is that I’m an editor
by inclination as well as by trade, and as H. G. Wells said, “No
passion in the world is equal to the passion to alter someone else’s
Preach it, Brother Herbert.
As a writer, I know how hard it
is to turn off the internal editor,
that whispery voice that clears its throat every time you type a
mistake. But to finish your book, you have to. You must! Otherwise,
you’ll waste a lot of time going over and over and over the same
passage, fretting over each word, each comma, each apostrophe.
Likewise, when I evaluate a book
for content and structure, I have
to put the grammar nerd in the closet. If I don’t, I can’t see the
character arcs for the commas. Normally, putting aside the virtual red
pen is easier than you might think for someone who’s been correcting
others’ grammar since 1972. (I was just a baby then; I promise.)
But grammar pet peeves live deep
inside almost all of us who make a
living with language, and those pet peeves will frustrate your editor
and bring that virtual red pen roaring from its cave. And they leave an
indelible impression. I still remember the last writer who continually
used “over” instead of “more than,” and I will always view her
submissions askance, as if waiting for her to mess up.
Don’t believe me? When I did a
Google search for “grammatical pet
peeves,” I got 173,000 hits. Yep, 173,000 red pens waiting to nip it in
So how do you avoid
inadvertently tripping over your editor’s pet peeve?
a regular basis. Several good ones are available, and they aren’t as
boring as it may sound. This is part of learning your craft. Some of
them do annual pet peeve lists that can also be helpful and reflect the
changing nature of our language. (I’ve listed a couple of fun things at
the end of the article.)
2) After you finish your first draft, go back and review for
grammatical gaffes. If you aren’t comfortable with doing it yourself,
find a friend or critique partner who is.
3) Run a spelling and grammar check. While spell-checking programs are
notoriously unreliable for some things, running the check (as opposed
to relying on the squiggly lines or AutoCorrect) will make the program
highlight passages for you to think about.
4) Set the manuscript aside for a few weeks, then read it with fresher
eyes. You’ll see things in your work you’ve never seen.
Grammatical mistakes will not keep you from getting
published, but they can get you rejected. While this may sound
contradictory, it’s true. If you have a fabulous story, most editors
can read over a few grammatical mistakes. But if they’re too numerous,
if you hit an editor’s pet peeve, or if your story isn’t strong enough
to overcome them, your manuscript is toast. I’ve known more than a
few manuscripts that hit the return stack because the errors were so
distracting the editor couldn’t get past them to the story.
On the other hand, if your
manuscript is spot perfect and your story
is strong, then you may go on to the next level. Editors love working
with midlist authors who are professional enough to have a polished
manuscript that’s easy to read without the distraction of the red pen
popping up every few minutes.
To bring this full circle, I
wrote a note to the production editor
to put a high alert on the comma problem with the manuscript, and I
stopped reading. After all, I like this author . . . and I don’t want
to hear Boy George in my head the next time we have a chat.
Grammar Pet Peeves