One of those ever-interesting posts about “reasons I passed on your query,” over at Janet Reid’s blog.

1. You’re using the memoir format to make a political or domestic point.
I’m not interested in being lectured to in any form, and particularly not in 300+ pages.

A good memoir is so brutally honest that it’s painful. That means you’re exploring yourself, not pointing fingers at someone else.

Wow, yes. I mean, definitely no. Cannot think of anything I want less, personally, than to be lectured at for 300 pages.

Not that I read very much memoir.

Let’s see, what else … okay, here’s another:

4. Misused/wrong words
I’ve steeled myself to overlook your almost universal inability to properly conjugate the verb to lie.
I’ve shut my eyes to consistent its/it’s errors.

But honestly, words are your tools. When you get them wrong, it’s just painful.

Oh, no no no. I have definitely not steeled myself regarding misuse of “lie” versus “lay.” I don’t care how universal that error is. It’s a hill worth dying on. That’s before we get to the even more important hill involving “it’s” versus “its.”

Interesting to me that an agent would make herself read past that kind of error. I think that would be a dealbreaker for me, if I were an agent. It’s very nearly a dealbreaker for me as a reader. Not quiiiiite. But very nearly.

I’ll tolerate confusion about “may” versus “might.” And I will also tolerate, under protest, errors regarding “effect” and “affect.” Those two just about exhaust my tolerance of misused words, though.

Oh, fine. I can just barely stand to read a book where the author thinks that “alright” is a legitimate word. Ugh. Like fingernails on a blackboard. But if I really, really like the story, I will tolerate those awful scraping fingernails.

Click through to read the whole thing if you wish.

But before you click away, is there any misuse-of-words thing that you WILL overlook, if you like the writing in other respects? Or are you even tougher than I am on things like that?

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6 thoughts on “Pass”

  1. I quote from a review I left on a professionally published book: “However either the author or the copy editor or both really needs a refresher in English. Lie and lay were mixed up as were rein and reign. Example: “kings eldest son being too young to rein,..” Sorry, that’s for horses. Reign is for rulers And lines like ‘laying out .. bricks for his feet to trod upon..” should be tread; “logic will dictate she slayed the king..” past tense of slay is slew or ‘had slain’. Or “her slippers trounced lightly upon brightly woven rugs” That ‘trounced’ just hurts, it’s so out of place, as it means a thrashing, a curbstomp, massive knock out sort of fight.
    This sort of thing jarred me right out of the story. The rest was good enough that I went back, but it’s a shame such a talented writer is so poorly served by editors (or grammar teachers, I suppose).”

    If the story is good enough I’ll put up with a lot. I’ve walled samples with no such obvious errors, but that had more subtle things wrong.

  2. One occurrence is a typo — no amount of proof-reading will catch them all. I think it’s systemic issues.

  3. When I see a grammatical error, I generally like to assume it’s simply a typo and not intentional. As Mary said, no matter how many different people proofread and no matter how many times the work is proofread, something will still slip through. I only get annoyed if there are a lot of errors because that suggests a real lack of knowledge or care. But a typo or two won’t affect my enjoyment of the work.

  4. Oh, yes, I agree with everyone that ONE error is just a typo and YES THOSE ARE SO ANNOYING THE WAY THEY JUST APPEAR in an innocent author’s work. Not that I would know anything about that, of course.

    I’m talking about continual errors where the author consistently makes a particular mistake. That’s where an editor ought to help, but then the editor apparently makes the same mistake and doesn’t catch it for the author.

    Reign and rein are so extreme that either the author needs to hire a copy editor or, perhaps, a different copy editor.

    I must admit, I would probably read right over “capital” vs “capitol.”

    My favorite personal mistake so far is when I meant Cyprus, but wrote cypress — and didn’t catch it until the very last minute.

    Elaine, I couldn’t read a book in which the author said thing like, “Her slippers lightly trounced.” I just couldn’t stand it.

  5. I almost couldn’t stand it either, but the story kept haunting me so I went back. I haven’t ever reread it, or checked out anything else by the author, though. If I could hold the publisher in mind (it was a branch of Abrams, but named something unmemorable) I’d definitely be wary of any other fiction they put out. There’s no excuse for all that getting through editing.

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