Someone I sent a book to once said, “Love to read clean, well-written stuff for once. You wouldn’t believe some of the absolute crap people send to me.” While I appreciate the “well-written” comment, I want to focus on the “clean” part.
I am very proud of my fiction. I do a lot of work to make it the best it can be, both in terms of story and technical style. I fully admit that I break grammar rules from time to time — and the fact that I put spaces before and after em-dashes is also technically “wrong”. So too are my occasional placements of punctuation outside the quotation marks, although I can justify those, if you want me to.
Anyway, the point I’m trying to make is this: no matter how good your ideas are, no matter how good your story is, if it’s not well-edited people won’t read it. Or, if they do, they’ll cringe the whole time.
I’m currently reading a (non-spanking) sci-fi novel that takes place 500 years in the future. It’s funny, clever, and fast-paced. It also is rife with sentence fragments and misused words. Now I’ll admit that I am wont to use a sentence fragment every now and then, but this book has at least one per page (and for me a “page” is the size of my phone’s screen). Sometimes more than one in a row. (See? I will occasionally use a sentence fragment, but I do it for effect, not because I don’t know what I’m doing.) But you can handwave that away as a stylistic choice, if you really want to.
What gets me more than that, though, is misused words, especially when I can tell what they’re supposed to be. The most egregious one in this book (so far) is “stalk”, as in “standing stalk still”. It’s “stock-still”. Errors like that aren’t caught by spellcheck because there are no words misspelled. It’s all about usage. The same as peak vs. peek, dominant vs. dominate, and aww vs. awe. Use the word you mean to use.
And if you aren’t sure, hire an editor. I don’t mean “just give the book to your friend”; I mean go out there and find a professional editor to review your work before you publish it. (I will do this for you, for the same length prices as my custom stories.) This sci-fi novel I’m reading is probably only going to get three stars because the grammar and usage issues are so distracting that they keep pulling me out of what is actually a pretty good story. Had the author used a professional editor, they might have gotten four or even five. (My baseline for a book I enjoyed is four stars, because I know that anything below a four has a seriously-detrimental effect on the book’s search results, much in the same way that car service centers continually hound you to give them all fives on their ratings and if you don’t they will call you and hound you to change your ratings — can you tell this has happened to me before?)
If you need an editor, hire an editor. And if you don’t think you need an editor, you really need to hire an editor. Don’t let a great book get poorly reviewed because you were too proud to admit you needed help.
And everyone needs a little help sometimes.