My wife and I have each read hundreds of books by Indie authors over the last 18 months or so, and there are three recurring problems. These problems appear in some “professionally edited” works as well, and even the big publishers aren’t immune from them.
- Improper use of the first person personal pronoun is common. This one offends my wife and me every time. If you think I made a mistake in the last sentence, you’re most likely an offender on this one. “I” never serves as the object of a preposition. If you think the sentence should have been, “This one offends my wife and I every time,” then you need to work on this. If you have trouble with this, look it up in your favorite grammar reference. Don’t depend on grammar check for this one. Study it until you understand it. You’ll be surprised at how often otherwise literate people mess this up in speech or in writing. It’s easy to fix; there’s no excuse for it to appear in your written work if you want to be taken seriously.
- The use of dangling participles is a second common problem. “Sitting on the porch, the bus went by,” was the grammar school example that stuck with me. That one is obvious and comical, but less obvious ones often seem to slip past editors. Writing this post, the answer to this problem is the use of a good reference. There – that’s a less obvious example. If you can’t see anything wrong with that sentence, you may be an offender. Reach for that grammar reference and study it until it’s clear. This is a problem that will make careful readers laugh at what was meant to be a serious passage in your work. Again, there’s no excuse for a writer to do this.
- Incorrect use of the lowly comma is a major problem for all writers, and it’s something over which we all should agonize. There are actually only a few rules to learn about the use of commas. One of my standard proofing routines is to look at every single comma in my work and justify it based on one of the rules. If I can’t make it fit a rule, it comes out. This exercise often points out flawed construction and leads to rewriting. The result is always more concise and coherent. I have a tendency to insert a comma in my writing whenever my thoughts pause, and apparently a lot of other people do this. That almost always results in an improper use of a comma. Get that grammar reference out and learn the rules. Try the exercise on a paragraph or two of your own or on someone else’s writing. You’ll produce better work for the effort.
Please post the errors that you catch most frequently, and let’s clean up our writing.