We’ve all done it – typed “here” for “hear” or “you’re” for “your” – especially when we’re dashing off a quick email or meeting a deadline. I don’t know of an agent or editor who’ll reject a submission based on one or even a few typos, particularly if the material is so compelling the reader can’t resist losing the afternoon in your book.
However, not all errors are typos. This becomes apparent as a manuscript progresses. Some of us, never dreaming we’d be professional writers one day, slept through the “it’s vs. its” lesson in English class – or Language Arts if you’re under 30. And speaking of generational differences, grammar was one of my favorite subjects all through school. However, my daughters’ teachers insist that much of what I was taught is now considered to be wrong. Mrs. Hamilton and Mrs. Powers (who also taught my mother) would beg to differ!
Some grammar rules don’t change, though, and these are the errors I see the most frequently:
It’s versus its:
It’s means it is. It’s is not the possessive of it. Its is.
It’s strange that the turtle carries its house on its body. (How do you like the bonus its?)
When you have two parents who own a house and you are visiting them, the apostrophe is after the “s” in parents.
We went to my parents’ house.
If you are just visiting Dad, you can say:
We went to my parent’s house.
Affect versus Effect:
“Affect” is usually a verb and “effect” is usually a noun.
An error-filled manuscript will affect the editor’s impression of you.
The effect of a perfect manuscript is immeasurable.
A writer no longer needs to be a grammar maven to succeed in presenting a pristine manuscript to agents and editors. For instance, when I was writing books for publication, I read the manuscripts aloud before submitting. And now, I always run the review program on work leaving my office. While no computer program is perfect, running every manuscript through yours should greatly reduce the number of errors.
Better yet, make friends with grammar. Then writing nearly flawless manuscripts will be second nature to you. My cousin once asked me, “Do you proofread your emails before you send them? They never have any errors.”
Still, perfect grammar won’t save a manuscript the editor doesn’t want. I once earned a rejection letter stating that my work was “technically flawless.”
The above statements guarantee that I will send out a batch of letters with a glaring grammar error in the very near future.
“Enough about you,” you say. “What about me? How do I make friends with grammar?” I suggest you purchase and buy a copy of the 4th edition of Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style (originally published in 1918).
Since they recommended Strunk and White many moons ago, Mrs. Hamilton and Mrs. Powers would approve.
What is your biggest grammar bugaboo?
What errors do you see most often?