Tuesday, September 1, 2009

DQ'd for Low Literacy

Yesterday I made the comment that we sometimes disqualify slush submissions for multiple spelling errors or egregiously bad grammar. I want to clarify that we're not talking about simple typos, which can happen to anyone. I don't ever expect to get a manuscript which is 100% typo-free. This is because I live in the real world and know how it operates. Fingers can be clumsy, and eyes can miss details.

Just to give you some idea of what I mean, here are some creative spellings I've encountered in recent memory.
sex seen

I could go on. You get the idea. One slip like this won't count against you. I'll just assume your fingers slipped and you missed it in the proofing stage. But imagine reading a letter something like this:

To whome it may concern:
Dear editer,
Hi my name is Susan and I'm 23 year old and I love books ever since I was a kid I've been reading allot. Please read my novell its about a heroe who goes up in a space, ship and then he crashes the planet is full of beautiful woman. One in particular. And so they don't know because woman rule this planet. But he's not like that. There are lots of great sex seens, as I'm sure you can geuss!!!!!!!
Please let me know soon k, thx.

This is not an actual query letter, but mimics problems we routinely see on the "egregious grammar" end of things. Run-on sentences, multiple spelling errors, incoherent statements, incorrect word usages, bad punctuation, text-style phonetic usages, and so on. They're not all this dreadful, of course, but maybe you begin to see what I mean about signs of low literacy levels.

And yes, I have absolutely seen people spell their own names two different ways. I hope this means they're still debating about pen name choices.



Edittorrent said...

The one I always cheer for is "writting". "I've been writting for three years, and this is my first novel."

I just know that's going to be a clean read.

JewelTones said...



I think I'd stab myself in the eye with my Bic pen.


Steven Levy said...

If the author is using a computer and not a typewriter, it has a spelling checker. That doesn't help with grammar, or wrong-but-in-the-dictionary choices such as its/it's or who's/whose. But there's no excuse for writting, geuss, whome, editer, and sew fourth.

Noww wil yew rede mine qweery? Pleas?

Iapetus999 said...

Uhh, these aren't misspellings, these are new words.

queery-Query for more "alternative" content
manuskript-A ms for a Vampire story
manuscrip-A very short ms.
novell-A story about a software company.
storey-A story with a higher elevation
storie-A story about Faerie
heero-A truly masculine hero
heroe-A pregnant fish hero
erottic-Watch out for bed bugs
aventure-A story about a sex business venture
sex seen-I've seen it already

Hope this helps.

Natalie Murphy said...

That's insane! I can't believe people actually think that will get them an agent/editor. It makes me weep for humanity.

Edittorrent said...

LOL, iapetus! I love "Storie" as a story about the Fairie. :)

Edittorrent said...

Natalie, I often remind myself that these submitters are probably quite young, and good on them for being so brave... but let's hope with age comes some spelling education.

Wes, yes, it is strange. I'm a really good speller (I have finally realized that it is not a moral virtue, but more a particular visual ability), and I still always have the spellcheck on to catch typos. If I were NOT a good speller (and didn't spend time argue with "traveler" single L and other annoyances), I'd for sure run spellcheck on everything I wrote.

You know, there used to be tricks in spellcheck that the designers put in (or is this an urban legend)? You know, you'd check "Bill Gates" and the spelling would be "Master of the Universe." I remember there was some combination you could put in and get a computer game.

But you know, Dr. Johnson started that-- in his dictionary his definition of lexicographer was a "writer of dictionaries; a harmless drudge," which is actually more droll than "Bill Gates, Master of the Universe."


Edittorrent said...

Arguing! Something spellcheck can't fix is putting the wrong word form there!
Oh, and the q mark should be inside the parentheses and following should be a colon.
I should edit before pushing send!


rachelcapps said...

Oh, the simplicity of spelling "sex seen" tickles my fancy! And then I read the comments. ROFL, lapetus999!

Theresa and Alicia, your comments on spelling and a "clean read" raise a question. Do I go through my MS and change the spelling to American if I choose to submit my MS to the US? I'm from Australia and, as I'm sure you're aware, our dictionary is quite different. Likewise, this would apply to anyone submitting from the UK to US.

Patience-please said...

Being a good speller is not a moral virtue?


Strange Fiction said...

Great post-lol!

I spell in ‘Canadian’ so I’m interested in seeing your response to rachelcapps.

Iapetus999 said...

Strange Fiction--
It's "about" not "aboot" eh

Leona said...

These comments are all great. I hate it when I've checked and rechecked my manuscript, hit the send, and found like three spelling/grammar errors. Happens all the time on the blogs because I don't generally check these as these are the fun part of my research :) If I continuously worried about my spelling on blog comments, I'd probably quit blogging.

Dave Shaw said...

OCD can be your friend...

Strange Fiction said...


Tell me aboot it. I geuss awl jus go crawl back into my eegloo, eh. :)

Edittorrent said...

I'd like to think I'm sophisticated enough to recognize that other English speakers use other rules, and those rules are perfectly valid. Of course, I doubt the breadth of my learning after reading lapetus's list. Thanks for filling me in. I feel all smart and vocabulicious now. lol

We've got a number of writers from overseas, and though my copy editor is known to flag the ever-loving crap out of British slang terms, we tend to let the slang stand (where appropriate) and Americanize the spellings.

I'm nowhere near as concerned about that as I am about spellings that are nonstandard in any dialect. I want a writer who respects the language!


Glynis said...

Oh mi, wat a problim u must enkounter.
It is reassuring to know we are allowed a little tipow now and then.

My sister-in-law is a teacher and sent me an email of a new word I might like to introduce into my novel. One of her students aged 14 wrote it in an exam and wondered why he had failed.
Miskylaneearse, is a wonderful word!

Interesting post, thanks.