Why Grammar is Important

A.P. Atkinson
A lot of hopeful new future authors ask the same questions on the writing forums. They ask, is grammar, spelling and syntax important? Well, that’s an excellent question, so let’s explore it.

The presumption many of them make is that an editor will simply get all of their weaknesses corrected for them when their novel gets published. They seem to think that their first book will be so absolutely overwhelmingly amazing that a traditional publisher will invest tens of thousands of dollars into it, including editing and proof-reading and the print of a first run.

That probably isn’t going to happen.

You see, submission to any publisher requires that your work be completely edited, proofed and corrected, with proper spelling, grammar and syntax, all in advance. No publisher will consider a novel with glaring errors on the first few pages, no more than a reader would. They know the truth, that if you’ve not made the effort to learn the absolute basics of writing, then you certainly haven’t mastered the more advanced stuff. If you can’t spell, you can’t create characters, use metaphors, foreshadow, lay out a plot, develop engaging settings or compile a satisfying ending.

What does it all mean? As an author, it's your job to know.

They know that you’re not worth investing in, and they will move on to the tens of thousands of other applicants.

Think of your own experience. If you were sat on Amazon and you opened the first page of a novel you were thinking of buying and it was littered with errors, would you keep reading? The answer is that of course you wouldn’t.

A lot of new hopefuls argue that it’s not fair, they had good ideas and it’s not right that they’re judged on their weaknesses before they get to their strengths. Well, life isn’t fair, and some people really need to wake up to that.

But, in many ways, it is extremely fair. You are judged on your presentation, and that’s an accepted part of reality. We all know that if we dress in black leather, people will treat us quite differently to the way they would if we were wearing a tailored suit.

And of course, this is reasonable. If your ideas are really worth expressing, if your book is really worth reading, then it’s not the responsibility of the reader to look past your flaws. It’s your responsibility to move beyond them.

The mentality of blaming the reader for expecting your book to be of a bare minimum standard is incredibly immature. Of course the reader expects your work to be of a saleable quality; why would they not? Would you buy a car that had been shoddily assembled by monkeys and had four dinner-plates for wheels? No! Perhaps you’d reconsider if it had a nice engine? Well, if your answer is still no, then you’ll understand why the audience isn’t interested in your ideas if your spelling and grammar is all over the place.

Without proper spelling and grammar your book will make as much sense as a political rant on Twitter. Your job is to present polished, readable work.

If you think readers are harsh, wait until you try your luck with publishers!

So, to finally illustrate the point, imagine yourself going to a job interview. You turn up, dressed in your best suit, looking your absolute smartest. This is a job you really want, you’re excited about it, and you know you’re ready. You’ve researched the company, you’ve got evidence of your experience and you’re ready to impress.

You sit in the chair and the interviewer smiles knowingly, taps his glasses and gives you a thoughtful look. ‘Tell me about yourself,’ he says.

By way of reply, you spend five minutes making cat-noises. At one point you pause to fart, and then laugh loudly to yourself. Once you’re done, you add a little growl under your breath, and bark like a dog.

You smile and think to yourself, ‘This is going well!’

You see, if everything else is right, the line of communication will still make everything look wrong. Your book might have brilliant ideas, it might be full of messages that will change the nature of literature, but unless you can express it clearly in the way your audience needs you to, then it will never find a readership.

Spelling, grammar and syntax are not important, they are vital. They are the way you demonstrate to the audience, or potential publishers, that you have mastered your craft. Those skills are the first you need to master before you can even think of moving on.

Grammar, spelling and syntax are the most important part of writing that you will ever deal with.

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