In the past few months, I’ve tried to read a few dozen novels. Most of those novels contained so many errors that I stopped reading. Aside from one I read because the author asked me to, the furthest I made it through any of them before giving up was about fifteen percent. At least one of those novels was written by someone who really should have known better, and it wasn’t the novel I read the most of, either.
In each of those novels, punctuation errors (commas, mostly — are you surprised?) were the most common. The most recent one I tried to read (just a few minutes before starting to type this post) also had a serious problem with dialogue tags (you can’t sit down and drink tea a line of dialogue!), and I got fed up with it after three pages. (“But the rest of the book might be really well written!” Um… Statistically and logically, the beginning of a book gets more editing than later chapters. If the first three pages blow goat, it’s likely that the rest do, too.)
If you think I’m being unfair to the authors of these novels (it could be worse — I could mention their names in this post), consider how this string of Very Bad Writing is affecting the reader. I just want something to read. I want to be able to enjoy a work of fiction without having to re-read each sentence in an attempt to figure out what it’s supposed to mean because the author doesn’t believe in punctuation. I’m not as rabid about what I read as you may think, either. Last week, I read a novel that contained a lot of wonky capitalization and some problems with commas, but it was still readable, and the plot was decent, so I kept reading through to the end. (Also, I wanted to fill my head with crunchy, tech-heavy sci-fi before writing about elves.) Because the author didn’t do anything stupid — in the grand scheme of things, comma splices are far from the worst punctuation offense a writer could commit — I was even briefly tempted to contact that author and offer to fix the errors. (When I like a story, but the writing itself has some errors, I want to fix it. That’s just how I am. I don’t feel such an urge with stories I don’t like, though, so consider it a compliment if I offer to do something about your story’s punctuation glitches.)
There are many days when I wish I could turn off my “superpower.” (No, not that superpower — I mean my knack for understanding how all those marks on the page work together.) There are days when I wish I could go back to the time when I could overlook missing commas, when a disagreement between noun and verb didn’t throw me completely out of whatever story I was reading. Ah, to be a young teenager again…
Anyway. If you think editors are heartless rat-bastards who delight in finding errors where no such errors exist (I think you’re confusing editors with Amazon reviewers, by the way — false accusations of ‘This book has a mistake on every single page!’ are disturbingly common for indie-published novels), you may be pleased to hear that knowing all this stuff means we (editors, or readers with a clue) find it difficult or even impossible not to notice errors, which does make reading for enjoyment somewhat awkward at times.