Writing and publishing

Do readers care about grammar?


“Surely if incredibly high sales of authors who don’t close edit their books teaches us one thing, it’s that in some parts of some genres editing is less important to readers than other factors…..the point about self-publishing is that every type of reader can find books that are for them so long as we stop putting actual or implied pressure on authors to conform to some kind of fictitious paradigm”

Dan Holloway, of the Guardian, wrote this in the comments thread here.

I confess I’m rather staggered.  The conclusion appears to be that paying close attention to one’s grammar, among other things, is a fictitious requirement if we’re selling books ourselves; something we ought not worry about unless the readers we’re reaching for tell us otherwise.

But what self-respecting writer looking to self-publish would consciously take that chance?  Furthermore, what writer could possibly know they do not need to close edit their work without the input of an editor?


I may well end up self-publishing Snakewood.  As my first novel, I’m hoping it makes as positive an impression as it can, leading to as many potential readers as it can get.  It would seem remiss of me to publish it and never know if there are any readers out there who might have bought it and subsequently recommended it had it been better edited.

Crucially, for those readers who couldn’t care less, they won’t know any different.  Is the cost of an editor, or getting better at it oneself, going to outweigh the potential lost virality?

I did my very best to edit my novel for submission.  Then I was fortunate enough to have a couple of professional readers look at it.

One ran it through ‘PerfectIt‘ while the other gave a close edit to the first few pages of both the main narrative voices.

The results were eye-opening to say the least.  I still don’t think I’m rubbish at grammar (ha, you tell me!!) but the feedback on inconsistencies of expression, naming, capitalisation etc. (no doubt born of the years it took to get the novel written) as well as the close edit pointing out inconsistencies in register and other minor grammatical errors that muddied meaning or ascription, all seemed utterly and blindingly obvious in retrospect.  My work was materially improved, it flowed better, with greater internal consistency.

What I’ve now submitted is hopefully free of the snags that would hit an agent’s windscreen and spoil their drive through my world.

Surely it’s not controversial to posit that grammar, while an evolving organism, exists to facilitate the reader; it works so as to make itself invisible and leave only the right sense of the story.  When we have to re-read a sentence because it looks like a word is missing, or it’s too long; or if a character says something that clearly jars with the person your mind has synthesised them to be, the jolt breaks the immersion.  Many of these jolts lead to a mounting frustration, you’re now trying to read the novel and navigate its form.  You no longer have flow.

Perhaps I’m an antique, perhaps many readers either skim or otherwise skip over the inconsistencies with a sturdy polyfilla like filter.  But with about 150,000 books published each year and god knows how many self-published vying for the attentions of the book-buying public, readers might not care about close editing, but unpublished writers bloody well should.

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