11 April 2022
I often read the work of fellow aspiring writers who need honest opinions. When I read for other writers, my chief priority is looking beyond typographical errors and grammar mistakes, searching instead for themes and content. In early drafts, criticizing technical errors only muddies the waters. Many amateur writers and critics mistake proofreading for feedback, missing the underlying gem of the story.
That being said, mechanics matter. When a writer is seeking publication and representation, technical mistakes are key to separating the wheat from the chaff. A manuscript tarnished by typos, missed words, and formatting errors, doesn’t stack up well. It faces stiff competition from authors who have gone the extra mile polishing their pieces. Those writers submit grammatically flawless stories, judged solely on the merits of their content. For serious consideration, aspiring writers need to meet these standards.
Some are born (or believe they’re born) with a gift for good grammar. Those with that privilege can stop reading. For the rest of us, there’s much to consider. In my early stories, I did my best with foggy memories of high school English. With that, I managed two or three acceptances with small (unpaid) online journals. But it left me wondering how to improve my work to catch the eye of more prominent markets. “What am I missing?” I asked myself.
In search of an answer, I discovered an online editing software I could try for free. Curious to see how my most recent story would measure up, I uploaded the first 500 words (the limit allowed by the free version) and waited to see my scores. I expected to make my English teacher very proud. He was crestfallen. A C+? Oh, man. At that moment, a light flickered on.
I’m now a subscriber to the full version of that online editing software and my ratio of acceptances to rejections is steadily climbing. Every piece I write, including multiple drafts of every story, passes through the software before I submit it. I proofread my query letters, blog posts, book reviews, and office emails using software designed to remember every point of grammar, correct diction, and find repeated or missed words. It suggests concise language, calls out unnecessary adverbs, and even finds split infinitives (whatever they are). It makes you the best former student your English teacher ever had. The old rules reemerge; lessons learned long ago become second nature again. My rough drafts achieve higher scores. And I’m confident I’m submitting A+ work.
Most publishers are hoping to find those diamonds in the rough. They’re looking for content that is unique, insightful, funny, or tragic. They’re looking for our stories. But with limited time and resources, they can’t afford to proofread pieces for us. We must send them our very best work, presented in its best light. It’s the only way to know that whatever reason an editor might give for a rejection (if any), it’s not careless proofreading. You may choose not to use editing software, and nothing works for every writer, but consider your editing process before you decide. Make sure you’re giving your stories their best chance to succeed.