An Open Letter to Publishers:
Hi there. You don’t know me, but you’ve certainly taken a lot of my money over the last 45 years—ever since I was old enough to receive an allowance and smart enough to spend most of it on books instead of candy at the corner store. You can think of me as a long-running repeat customer. I read. A lot. And I want to talk to you about a growing issue in the books and other printed material I read.
That’s right. You remember grammar, yes? Punctuation marks, spelling, things like that? You used to hire people as copy editors and proofreaders to catch mistakes and correct them before unleashing your books, magazines, and newspapers on the general public.
I realize that publishing has taken some financial hits lately. People get more of their news online, for example, instead of on paper. Is this really an excuse for allowing your standards to go to hell in a handbag? Do you think that your online audience is less likely to notice the misused apostrophes, the run-on sentences, the incorrect forms of there, their, and they’re? Sure they’re all on their social media sites, where internet-speak is more lenient and the audience more forgiving. That doesn’t mean they don’t want to see things done right elsewhere. I’m not going to recommend an article or opinion piece full of typos. And I certainly am not going to finish reading one either.
As a writing teacher, I used to make it clear to my students that while it was certainly important that they have good solid ideas backed up by solid evidence in support of those ideas, they could have the best idea EVER and it wouldn’t be much use if no one could understand it because they were hacking their way through a forest of grammatical errors to get to it. You might keep that in mind the next time you rely on spell-check, auto-correct, and Microsoft’s execrable grammatical suggestions.
I can’t be the only person annoyed by missing quotation marks around paragraphs of dialogue in a novel I’m reading. Or by newspaper headlines where half the letters of a word are missing or transposed. Or by an article headline that reads “Improvements Okd at Twon Meeting” (that last one appeared just like that in my local paper). Or a published novel filled with random typos ranging from “teh” for “the” to my current favorite, “Buenos Aries” for “Buenos Aires”. I paid money for a pleasant reading experience, not for the experience having to sit and mentally correct typos or grammar in order to actually understand what I’m reading.
I think computers are amazing things. Mine certainly makes my life easier in so many ways. But to rely on an algorithm to catch and correct very human errors is foolish and cheap. My computer doesn’t know the difference between to, two, and too. It only knows whether or not I’ve spelled them correctly. It has no means of figuring out if I’ve used the correct form in that particular instance.
When these types of errors are passed on to the public for consumption, it makes the consumer mad and the publisher look lazy, sloppy, and unconcerned about the impression being made on the consumer. So I implore you: give a recent English graduate a job and hire real people to proofread your product. Consider it your contribution to boosting the economy if you like, but take my word for it—you’ll boost your sales, too. I know I’m not going to repeat a bad experience with a product that I’ve repeatedly found to be shoddy. If nothing else, have some pride in what you’re sending out to the public.