The Zero Tolerance Approach

eats shoots and leavesI am pretty much a Stickler with a capital ‘S’ for grammar and punctuation. I studied linguistics in my Masters and started my working life as a copy and line editor. So obviously, I care about where a comma, apostrophe and question mark goes. I also care about correct tense and various other things. A. Lot.

Someone who shares my obsession is Lynne Truss, whose book, pictured to the left, Eats, Shoots and Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation, is one of my all-time favorite books. I can actually cry with laughter reading it, and have, many times. Truss writes with such humour and dry wit about the minefield that is grammar and punctuation, I often pick it up and reread it for fun, even if I don’t need to check a particular grammatical rule.

But that brings me to my point. I read a self-published book yesterday that was so fraught with misspellings, grammatical errors and incorrect tense changes, it actually beggared belief. However, I went into it with my eyes open. Almost every single review for the book on amazon made the comment it could do with some editing. For some, this was a total turn off, for others, they enjoyed the story enough that they were prepared to accept the errors, although they did feel the need to mention it.

So I thought I’d buy it and see just how bad the grammar and punctuation was. What would people be prepared to accept if the story was good enough? It appears they are prepared to accept a lot. Not just the odd problem here and there that was overlooked. Every sentence. Every. Single. Sentence. And BECAUSE I was prepared for it, because it was an experiment of sorts for me, I actually found I was prepared to accept it, as well.

I think if I’d picked the book up expecting a well-edited, properly proofread novel, I would have asked for my money back and deleted it from my Kindle in disgust. But the story really was pretty good. And the same price as my historical novel, Daughter of the Sky, which was rigorously edited and proofread until you could hear the pages squeak.

What am I to make of this? On some deep level, I feel grammar and punctuation are the tools we use to convey information clearly, and to disrespect them is to disrespect the recipient of our words – our reader. But it seems under some circumstances, readers aren’t that concerned about being dissed.

What about you? Are a large number of punctuation and grammatical errors a deal-breaker for you? Or if the story is good enough, are you prepared to turn a blind eye?

(PS The last advance reading copy of Banquet of Lies is up for grabs. Details are here – contest ends 30 September.)

About Michelle Diener

Michelle Diener writes historical fiction and fantasy. To find out more about her and her novels, you can visit her website.
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8 Responses to The Zero Tolerance Approach

  1. Edie Ramer says:

    I always read samples of books before I buy or download them, even if they’re free. Last week, on the first page, one author used an incorrect word for a dialogue tag – a word that wasn’t even a verb – and I stopped reading it. I don’t have time for it.

    And now I want to read Eats, Shoots & Leaves. I got it from the library once, but never got around to reading it before the return date. I’ll try again.

  2. marilynbrant says:

    I *love* Eats, Shoots & Leaves. LOVE it! As for punctuation/grammar errors…those bother me a lot. I can overlook a couple of small issues in a full-length novel (a missing word or two, a typo or slight inconsistency, etc.), but if I spot them, I can’t forget that they were there, and I do keep a mental tally. Whether a book is indie or traditionally pubbed…it’s PUBLISHED…which, in my mind, should be synonymous with “professional” and “polished” ;). Lots of errors in a book mean it’s an amateur work, IMO.
    marilynbrant`s last blog was …Goodreads Giveaway!

    • Dale Mayer says:

      Hi Michelle,

      I don’t mind finding a few errors in books. I’ve hired editors upon editors and not only do they make a lot of mistakes, I often can’t get two to agree on specific issues.

      I’ve also seen NY Bestselling traditional authors with books that have errors so I’m a more tolerant type of personality as I find those funny. I guess the qualifier for me is if the errors detract me from enjoying the story. I’m much more critical about stupid heroines, thin plots, unbelievable motivations etc.
      Dale Mayer`s last blog was …Promo, deals and more promo

      • Dale, I think that is probably the point I’m making. That a good story gives an author more leeway to get away with shocking grammatical and punctuation errors. I really am not exaggerating about this book. Every sentence needed work. If they had sent it to an editor, it could have been outstanding. As it is, the potential is obviously there, but it won’t get as high as it could because of basic errors that can easily be rectified.
        Michelle Diener`s last blog was …Contest: Last Advance Reading Copy of Banquet of Lies Up For Grabs

    • Marilyn, I feel the same way, but our standards are obviously a lot higher than others 🙂
      Michelle Diener`s last blog was …Contest: Last Advance Reading Copy of Banquet of Lies Up For Grabs

  3. Liz Kreger says:

    Weeeeeell, I’m not as huge a grammar guru as you, Michelle, but if I were to find multiple errors that even I would notice, then yes, it would be a deal breaker for me. As you mentioned above, to push out a poorly edited book is (to me) a sign of disrespect to the reader.

    (And please don’t edit my comment. 😛 )

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