Forewarned is Forearmed

A little linguistic advice

This tomato simply did not exist in medieval pre-Columbus Italy.

Since Kirkus Indie reviewers have critiqued thousands of memoirs, novels, mysteries, thrillers, etc., we thought we’d call on them occasionally to share insight and advice from the front lines of self-publishing. In this issue, several veteran reviewers note the recurring errors they spot on their sojourns through Indieland.

Ivan Kenneally, who also writes for the Los Angeles Review of Books and Open Letters Monthly, bemoans the rampant misuse of the semicolon, which is “apparently a great grammatical mystery,” he says. In a meta moment, he notes, “the em-dash is used too promiscuously—it’s a punctuational epidemic. And pronouns...don’t get me started on the practice of starting a paragraph with a pronoun without an antecedent referent.”

Fuzzy details plague reviewers. Hannah Sheldon-Dean, who reviews nonfiction, says, “Authors of books on self-help and spirituality in particular tend to offer vague advice that often just repeats things we’ve all heard before—‘have faith,’ for example.”

Sheldon-Dean says that, while reviewing, she looks for concrete details that explain how to implement the suggested self-help strategies or systems of belief. “For authors, a good test of this is to read over the advice you’re giving, and then ask yourself: What exactly would it look like for a person to follow this advice? If you can’t get a clear picture, then you’re not being specific enough.”

Stephanie Cerra has reviewed hundreds of Indie titles, and anachronisms drive her batty. “Nothing destroys the illusion of historicity like seeing tomatoes in medieval pre-Columbus Italy or a Regency hero with a first name like Brayden,” she says. “This applies to behavior also: a well-brought-up Victorian girl would not defy her society without a second thought. Anachronisms make a book appear sloppy, lazy, and underresearched.” —K.S.

Karen Schechner is the senior Indie editor at Kirkus Reviews.

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