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Saturday, January 12, 2019

Grammar Sex (How Dangling Your Participle Can Hurt Your Book Sales) by Robert Germaux

Okay, I got your attention with that grammar sex thing, right? I’m sure you already know that in the wild and crazy world of eBooks, getting people to look at your work is often more difficult than it was to actually write the thing in the first place. And I’m sure you also know why. It’s because there is an inordinate amount of simply awful writing out there, so much so that the sheer volume of it can easily overwhelm the relatively few really good books, books like yours. The best way to keep your artfully-crafted masterpiece from drowning in that sea of mediocrity is to do everything you can to separate it from those thousands of other books. Research shows, and here I’m talking my made-up research, but I’m sure actual research would back me up on this . . . anyway, research, real or otherwise, indicates that once you’ve grabbed your readers’ attention (by, for example, throwing the word sex into your title), the best way to keep them turning those pages is to present them with prose so superbly written, so free of errors in spelling and punctuation and syntax, that they simply lose themselves in your wonderful narrative.

So how do you go about guaranteeing that your book lands in the can’t-put-it-down category? There are several potential paths to that goal, a few of which I’ll list here.

1.     You can follow my example and spend thirty-one years as a high school English teacher before beginning your writing career. Frankly, unless you’re at a total loss about what to do with the next three decades of your life, I’d skip this option.
2.     Find out where the retired English teachers in your area hang out and pay them a visit. It wouldn’t hurt to pick up a couple boxes of donuts along the way and put them on a table off to one side of the room. The retirees might think they’re at yet another faculty meeting, and you could give them your manuscript to proofread while they enjoy the free pastries.
3.     Join a writers group and identify the best writer there. Then befriend that person (praise, pastries, whatever) and be completely open to every comment, suggestion or criticism that individual has to offer.
4.     Go Google crazy. The problem here, of course, is that you’d have to at least know what was wrong and then Google a solution. Plus, contrary to what you might have heard, you really can’t trust everything you read on the Net. (True story: The Wikipedia entry for one of my college roommates, who went on to become a best-selling author, says he was born in 1951, which would have made Richard twelve our freshman year. I’m pretty sure I would have noticed.)

In the end, the how isn’t as important as the what. One way or another, get help. Even the best writers occasionally hit a literary speed bump, and it’s nice to have someone around to pick you up and point you in the right direction when that happens.

A final word of advice, something I used to tell my high school students. There’s no such thing as good writing, just good rewriting. So good luck with your writing and, especially, your rewriting.

About the Author
Robert Germaux has written several mysteries, one book of humorous essays and a love story, The Backup Husband, which includes a chapter or two explaining that whole grammar sex thing. You can find information on both Bob and his books by going to his Amazon Author Page.


Margaret S. Hamilton said...

fun essay! One of my best friends is a high school English teacher.

Grace Topping said...

Thanks, Robert, for your excellent tips. I've reposted them on Facebook and Twitter. I frequent a Facebook group called Writers Helping Other Writers. It makes me want to scream when I read the questions that are so often posted about how to do this or that. When you respond that they should get some good reference books and read them, they don't want to hear that. Probably why you see so much dreck being self published. I would like to see English teachers start the first class every year by spending the first day of class telling the students that how well you do in this class and every English or writing class you take in the future will help determine how successful you will be in life. Because if you can write and communicate well, you will open doors that others won't be able to go through.

KM Rockwood said...

You are so right that poor grammar can be the thing that pulls a reader out of a story. We can all use some help to improve our writing skills.

Gloria Alden said...

When I got older I went to college and took English classes and when I graduated from college, I became an English teacher for about twenty years. Now I belong to two writers group and find them very helpful.