What’s New, Buenos Aries: an open letter to publishers

Written by Donna

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May 14, 2013

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.

Grammar.

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.

Please.

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7 Comments

  1. Rosary

    There are not enough like buttons in the world for this post!

  2. DrMM

    Amen.

  3. Ginger

    the misused apostrophes; the run-on sentences; and the incorrect forms of there, their, and they’re?
    (Use semicolons when a series contains commas and/or conjunctions.)

    I used to make it clear to my students that while it was certainly important to have good, solid ideas supported by solid evidence, the best ideas EVER wouldn’t be much use if no one could understand them because he was hacking his way through a forest of grammatical errors to get to them. (Fixes a number of singular-plural inconsistencies.)

    • donna

      The first item you list contains commas only in the final item in the series; in your correction, the semicolons are not only unnecessary, but incorrect.

      As to the second item, there were no agreement errors as written. You assumed that “the best idea EVER” should read “ideas”. Now, I will admit that the plural “their” is, in more formal writing, the incorrect antecedent for the singular “it” pronoun. In more informal writing, such as a blog post, using “their” to refer to “it” is acceptable, and, in fact, current thinking allows that its use is even acceptable in more formal settings as it is less awkward than “he/she”.

    • Rosary

      Grammar has become a lost art. The use of apostrophes has become disastrous. I don’t know what grammar is taught in schools these days, but I know whatever method is used has not been working. All I have to do is ready my COLLEGE student essays. On the other hand, my students all know the sexist use of the generic “he” pronoun is no longer accepted.

  4. Anya

    Amen!

  5. Tony Ford

    Well said! Apart from falling educational standards here in the UK, we have academics telling us language is a living thing that will change. Most changes, in reality, reduce precision in expressing ideas.
    “The person who I met.” What happened to whom?
    Some transatlantic usage jars with me: different than? different to? I was taught it should be different from.
    Best wishes to you.

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