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About Writing Right: The Blog


When someone online asked my opinion regarding using Grammarly rather than hiring an editor to clean up his book, I couldn't resist responding. Here's what I said.

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I can't understand all the divergent responses and comments to respondent Michelle's reply, which was right on target: If you can't afford an editor, you're not ready to publish. To elaborate on her response, here are a couple more points.


First, Grammarly is marginally effective software that is often more damaging in the hands of the uneducated than it is an effective editing tool. I'm a grammarian who has taught analytic grammar at the college level for more than fifty years. I have also conventionally published more than ninety books in all genres, along with tens of thousands of articles and short stories. I've used Grammarly as an adjunct to MS Word's Spell Check to help me catch obvious mistakes, such as misspellings, for years. I ignore seventy-five percent of Grammarly's suggestions because they're incorrect. I mean, they're grammatically incorrect and often take perfectly acceptable syntax and turn it into unreadable gibberish. So, unless you don't need Grammarly except to see if you omitted a word here or there or have an unnecessarily long phrase or a misspelling, don't use it. It is no substitute for a qualified editor. Let me repeat: Grammarly is no substitute for a professional editor—not even close.


Second, you don't have to hire an editor. And, no, I'm not saying that, if you're a writer, you're capable of doing your own editing. Right. And if you own a car, you're qualified to rebuild the engine. If you have a heart, you're competent to repair a ventricular aneurysm. Ridiculous. Anyone can write. Not everyone can edit. You don't need special training to write. You do need special training to write well and to edit professionally.


With that nonsense cleared up, you have an alternative to hiring an editor. It's called learning. More specifically, learning about grammar, punctuation, syntax, construction, and structure. Numerous courses exist to aid you. Some cost nothing. This is obviously not a quick-fix alternative, and you won't be publishing your book within the next week or two, but it is an option.


Third, since you can't rely upon Grammarly or any other editing software to substitute for an editor, and you still want to know how publishable it is, why not find out? Submit your work to literary agents or publishers who accept un-agented submissions. I'm talking about conventional, advance-paying publishers and reputable literary agents who make a living from selling writers' books to publishers. While this isn't a foolproof test of a book's worth, it's a benchmark against which you may be able to judge your work. If you self-publish your book instead, you'll never know what conventional publishers may have thought about it and whether or not they believed it was marketable.


If, after spending six months to a year pitching your book, you haven't gotten any offers, you'd better think long and hard about finding an editor somewhere and somehow because chances are, you're going to need one.


Oh, and one more thing. In her targeted response to your question, Michelle didn't sound mean; she sounded realistic. And that's more than some other respondents and commentators did.


Smoke if you've got 'em.

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D. J. Herda is author of the new ebook series of writing advice, About Writing Right, available at Amazon and at fine booksellers everywhere. You can check out his weekly column, "The Author-Ethicist," at Substack.com.

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