A couple of days ago, I visited a creative-writing class at Montana State University Billings, invited by an instructor who is kind of enough to have me come up once a semester to meet with her students.
The instructor, Sue Hart (so complete a repository of knowledge about literature of the West that she ought to be a national treasure), told me that this class, in particular, was lively and engaged on the topic of writing.
She wasn't kidding. In a rollicking 90 minutes, we covered a huge range of subjects related to writing and publishing. Of those, two stood out as particularly salient in this time when those who aim for traditional publishing are facing intense competition and those who lean toward independent publishing confront a huge marketing challenge.
To protect the innocent, I'll identify the question and not the questioner:
Since a publisher provides editors, how much do I have to worry about grammar and punctuation?
An honest question deserves an honest answer: You should worry about it greatly. In fact, if you don't worry about it, your chances of having an agent or a publisher or an editor are heavily compromised.
Now, this doesn't mean that you need to be conversant in the dative case or be able to fling cognate objects around. Generally speaking, the good, solid grounding in grammar that most of us received in the middle school years will serve you well. If that level of proficiency eludes you but you're still interested in writing, get help. Freelance editors stand by, ready to assist you in elevating the quality of your manuscript. A writing group, particularly one with some editorial-minded members, can be of great assistance.
The bottom line: If you're writing with the expectation that you'll submit the material for publication, you need to have grammar and punctuation locked down.
I'm reluctant to turn my work over to an editor because I worry about the lack of control. What can I do?
The good news: Self-publishing has never been easier, so if you want to lone-wolf it, go right ahead.
The bad news: Your work is likely to languish among the hundreds of thousands of other half-baked self-published titles, and all the while you're promulgating the biggest stigma on self-publishing: that it universally sucks. Those who most assuredly don't suck and in fact are making a tidy business out of it will not be particularly pleased with you.
The landscape is changing quickly. Established writers, ones who have successfully placed books with traditional publishers and built readerships, are in many cases migrating to independent publishing. If you want to compete, you'd better be damned good.
It's simple, really: Good editing is a vital piece of the publication process. If you have the do-it-yourself spirit, go forth and prosper.
But be warned: You have a better chance with an editor in your corner.
Craig Lancaster's first novel, 600 Hours of Edward, was a 2009 Montana Honor Book and is a finalist for a 2010 High Plains Book Award. His second, The Summer Son, will be released in January 2011 by AmazonEncore. He's also the owner and editor of Missouri Breaks Press, a boutique literary press in Billings, Mont., and offers editing, typesetting and design assistance. Learn more about him and his services at CraigLancaster.net.