The Perils of Outsourcing Your Writing

Every community has its spelling vagaries. Here in Sarasota, we have two community “secrets” that, if you don’t know them, will immediately expose you to laughter and ridicule.

The first is that Michael Saunders is a woman. There’s that old story that goes around about a guy at a cocktail party who brags about how well he knows “Mike”: “Yeah, he and I are real tight.”

The second is a spelling thing. It’s St. Armands. Plural. Don’t ask me why; it just is.

Here are two headings from a realtor’s website that demonstrate that his or her writer just ain’t from around here:

The St. Armand’s Office Virtual Window

Luxury downtown living close to beaches & St. Armand’s Circle.

I got this off one of those pay-per-click ads, which I clicked on, called the realtor, and informed her of the mistake.

Those ads aren’t cheap! Don’t be cheap! Hire locals who know how to spell!

And, writers, when in doubt about a spelling issue, go to some authoritative source, like a chamber of commerce.

Never edit an editor.

Listen, when someone proclaims that he or she is an “editor” of any stripe, give that person a little credit. No matter what, we give you carefully considered writing.

Let me put it another way: If you find a mistake in my writing and tell me, you are my new best friend! I mean it. I’ll heave a sigh of relief. I’ll be so happy and grateful!

But don’t take my writing and (I really hesitated there and successfully resisted using the F-word) make mistakes in it. You know, like (oh! I almost used it again!) make a mess of it by introducing your own mistakes into my polished prose.

I promise you, I’ll be livid.

Here’s what I wrote.

Liz Coursen is an award-winning author, editor, and book coach from Sarasota, Florida, where she owns Liz is the author of 17 books, including The Book Tourist: Seven Steps to a Wildly Successful Book Tour; Self-Editing for the Modern Author; and Shade in the Sunshine State: Reflections on Segregation in Florida. In 2017, in addition to speaking engagements in the US, Liz presented editing and writing programs in Milan, Zurich, and in five different cities in India. In November 2018, Liz presented editing workshops at WordPress conferences in Portland, Maine, and Seattle, Washington, on back-to-back weekends.

That’s it. That’s what I wrote.

Here’s what they printed:

Liz Cousens owns Liz is the author of 17 books, including The Book Tourist: Seven Steps to a Wildly Liz Coursens is an awardwinning author, editor, and book coach from Sarasota, Florida, where Successful Book Tour; Self-Editing for the Modern Author; and Shade in the Sunshine State: Reflections on Segregation in Florida. In 2017, in addition to speaking engagements in the US, Liz presented editing and writing programs in Milan, Zurich, and in five different cities in India. In November 2018, Liz presented editing workshops at WordPress conferences in Portland, Maine, and Seattle, Washington, on back-to-back weekends.

I have a couple of questions, but I guess the obvious one is simple: Does my host not know my name? There are two incorrect spellings of my last name in this bio, so someone deliberately altered the text from what I sent, and was not even consistent in the mistake.

And then there’s the jumbled hash at the beginning. It makes no sense. How the hell did that happen? I’ll tell you: sloppiness.

And what in the world is going on with all that downright incorrect use of italics? Mine was perfect! Perfect!

I know this rule, too, damn it: Always double-check what your host is doing. Another way to phrase it is never trust a host. Another way to phrase it is that no one will ever mind your business like you will. And, should. That’s the thing. I assumed competency, and everybody knows what they say about “assume.”

Who makes these kinds of mistakes?

NEVER EDIT AN EDITOR UNLESS YOU ARE RIGHT. And even then, ask for permission. Lots of times, you’ll be wrong.

Discouraging Writing

It really is discouraging to read writing like the three examples below. I’m just going to paste and comment.

Members of the organization that have attended these conferences in the past know what a great learning experience the writer gets from attending.

  1. I just cut the sentence in more than half, but if you have the original, you’ll know who wrote this.
  2. Here’s my problem: “members” are not “thats.” A “member,” to my mind, should be a “who,” like so: Members of the organization who have attended these conferences in the past know what a great learning experience the writer gets from attending.

Specify length (example: full-length novels (this means over 80,000 words); short novels (under 80,000 words); novellas (under 50,000 words)

Yes, this is a fragment, and it’s totally acceptable because this is an item in a list. But what’s not acceptable is falling behind in your parenthesis count: Where’s that last parenthesis, hmm? (I saw that right away. Not to toot my own horn.)

Speaking of “not,” not to trample on the writer’s feelings, but you never put a colon after “for example,” “include,” “includes,” or “including.” I thought everybody knew that.

In addition to her work as a literary agent, she also has a new publishing imprint to work one-on-one with authors. where she acquires books that tell literary and compelling stories with a focus on writing about place.

Trust me, this is the way this looks.

First of all, folks, it’s one-to-one. Okay? One-on-one is a basketball strategy; it’s also an expression for having sex. In a business use, 1-2-1 is totally acceptable, and that’s actually my favorite way to express this concept–it’s short and impossible to misinterpret. I don’t like 1:1, which is architectural. Anyway, that’s not what really bothers me about this sentence.

What really bothers me about this sentence is the period after “authors.” What comes after “authors” is a sentence fragment, so what the writer plainly meant to do was put a comma after “authors.”

(Well, hang on. We have no idea of the frame of mind of this author when writing this horrible sentence. There are no excuses.)

Don’t go away, there’s more! That period (regardless of right or wrong) meant that the “W” in “where” should have been capitalized. But, it’s not. In my Word doc, there’s a red line under “where.” Which means we’re in what I call “red-line Word” territory, when Word is right (and that’s not always the case!) and saves your bacon.

That’s why this kind of sloppiness infuriates me. If I copy/paste into Word, the first thing I see is a red line. I go to investigate. Why didn’t these authors?

I am a professional editor, but, gimme a break! This is Editing 101. Who is so arrogant that he or she doesn’t take that last look? Many’s the time I’ve been grateful to Word!

Takeaway from this post: Use Word!

What horrible writing. You bet there’s more, but it’s past time to get on to other things!

Worst bio ever!

As the kids say, OMG. I’ve seen a lot of jaw-droppingly bad writing coming out of WordPress WordCamps. A. Lot. But this, this takes the cake.

Just cast your eyes over this amazingly, appallingly bad bio from the Miami WordCamp site. I’m not sure if it’s a joke, but I don’t think so, because one sentence missing its verb I could sort of understand, but THREE? Three seems to be a deliberate style of sorts, kinda in the “Me Tarzan, you Jane” sense of the barely literate. It makes the fact that he alternates between his first and last names, a huge no-no, not even worthy of discussion.

Four sentences out of five are either missing their verbs or use the wrong verb form. Un-bee-leevable!

Take a look:

James Tryon is the lead ambassador of, co-founder of among other things. James is married with 3 kids. He also helps organizer of WordCamp Orlando & the WordPress Orlando meetup group. He has been in the creative industry since 1998. Tryon has an eye for design and usability, and also possess the know-how to plan, design, and dev it all if needed.

An avid collector of random awesomeness and unique creations, James always finding something interesting to spark his creativity. When James not working, he is more than likely making something, playing with toys, or hanging with friends and family.

Lordy, don’t you love it when…

Man, I just love it when I get an invite to connect through LinkedIn and (since my mamma didn’t raise no dummy) I go to that person’s profile and find that this invite is a thinly veiled come-on to buy something. It’s just too fun when that happens, and it puts me in such a really fine frame of mind!

In this case, the guy is an “author” and a “speaker” and a book coach, and he’d be happy to sit down with me, remotely, of course, and speak to me for an hour for the small sum of $500.

Only $500! Wow, what a stupendous bargain! Why not, say, four hours? Cheap at that price! What an incredibly exciting opportunity!

So, there I was, just about to pick up the phone and plead with this guy to please, please, please, allow me to pay him for his undoubtedly superior services when, suddenly, like a bolt from the blue, I saw this sentence:

Well, now you can schedule time with Bryan and I to help you to find the solution(s) you need to take that next step in your business.

I read it. I read it again. Oh, no! Just when I thought I’d found my grammar guru and was prepared to worship at his feet, there’s this stinky sentence! Dang, there went his credibility, circling the drain.

Friends, if you want to charge $500 an hour, first spend a lot less and hire an editor.

For the many people who might not know this rule, let me explain. This is that horrible “me” versus “I” thing, which can assuredly trip you up when you’re speaking, but should never confuse you when you’re writing. Okay, ready?

Well, now you can schedule time with Bryan and I to help you to find the solution(s) you need to take that next step in your business.

Me or I? Take out the “Bryan and” part, and what do you have?

Well, now you can schedule time with I to help you to find the solution(s) you need to take that next step in your business.

Doesn’t that make your ears bleed? Ouch! That can’t be right, and it’s not. It’s Bryan and me, Bryan and me.

Too many people think that “I” sounds better, so all this means is that this guy is a bit on the pretentious side. Or maybe he’s a good guy. I don’t know. What I do know, my friends, is that he ain’t no author!

Funny Franchisors, Part II

I met some very nice people at the Franchise Expo, sincere people who are sincerely committed to their concept and sincerely convinced that it’ll make them (and you!) a million bucks or more.

A lot of these sincere people have very snazzy, big-bucks websites (as opposed to modest editors whose modest websites look like tattered refugees from the ’90s), with lots of splash, flash, and color.

So why, my friends, should anyone have to read stuff like this on an otherwise lovely website:

At our franchise, we take frozen acai berries, strawberries, bananas and a splash of soy to create a our perfected smoothie like puree that centers every acai bowl.

This is the sentence that came up #1 with a bullet when you Google this company on your phone, and my phone had plenty of space so I could read the mistake. It was the first thing I knew about this company. The fact that this mistake has been up on the internet and stood uncorrected since August of 2018 was the first thing I knew about this company. Not good.

Shoot, let’s break some more rules while we’re at it!

Pitaya, is a super fruit native to origins of Central and South America and Southeast Asia. Also known as “dragon fruit”, pitaya is rich in vitamins and is known for its vibrant pink hue.

Back after back after back sentences featuring basic American English mistakes. That first sentence has two mistakes! It’s like wearing a pretty dress but not taking a shower: you look good from a distance, but, up close…phew!

A whole can of worms is opened when you have mistakes like these on your website. Is your fruit fresh? Is the fruit washed? Are your employees washing their hands?

When a company has obvious mistakes on its website—and especially in its kick-off sentence—I doubt the sincerity of its management.

Truly sincere people put the best of themselves out there.

Truly sincere people pay attention to details.

Truly sincere people are trustworthy.

The Number One Rule of Good Writing

As an editor, people ask me all the time about the number one rule of good writing. That’s easy. It’s so easy, in fact, that it’s the very same rule for the millions of striving attorneys as it is for the lonely (but optimistic!) Zamboni repair service. No, it’s not about knowing that it’s is not the possessive of it, though “its versus it’s” is the number one punctuation mistake people make. And it’s not forgetting that a singular noun requires a singular pronoun, though that’s the number one grammar mistake people make. It’s not about the fact that compliment is the number one misspelled word in every Multiple Listing Service from sea to shining sea (no offense, all you realtors). And no, good writing is not about using earthshakingly grandiose words.

Nope, the number one rule of good writing is simple: Review your work. Take the minute or so you need to double-check what you are emailing, printing, or publishing. Take the minute or so you need to double-check what is being emailed, printed, or published on your behalf. Does what is written make sense? Any words MIA? Are you really sure of the spelling of that name? Did you run the writing through spell-check? Are all your I’s dotted and your T’s crossed? Hmm?

Just those few seconds can save your bacon.

We are in such a rush nowadays that too often we don’t stop, go back, take a breath, and just read. How hard is that? Answer: not hard at all.

Because if there’s one rule in life, my friends, it’s this: You never know when you’ll need to know how to spell Zamboni.

Funny Franchisors

Welllll, when I say “funny,” I really mean the opposite. There was nothing funny about the writing I observed at this weekend’s Franchise Expo in Ft. Lauderdale. I suppose it was a good thing, since it proves my point—as if I needed any proof!—that business people can’t write. But it’s sad—so sad—because these are supposed to be some of our best and brightest. If that’s the case, we are doomed.

Just look at this!

I am the principal author of the IFA’s Statement of Guiding Principals. 

Do you really think that the IFA has a “Statement of Guiding Principals”? It might have a “Statement of Guiding Principles,” but “principals”? I doubt it very much.

Maybe you’re like, chill, Liz, it’s just a typo. But why? Why is there such an icky, stinky, obvious typo in biographical information about a supposed industry leader? Answer me that.

LinkedIn “Learning” stinks!

LinkedIn “Learning” stinks. LinkedIn “Learning,” at least as far as American English goes, is jaw-droppingly horrible. I think I already said that—somewhere, sometime, and if I didn’t, I meant to!—but I continue to get emails from LinkedIn, and those emails continue to have nails-on-the-chalkboard mistakes.

Like this gem:

Have you ever pored over a beautifully-written article and wished you could write with the same kind of flair?

If you write with the “same flair” as this supposed instructor, you’re writing with something other than “flair” because everybody knows that you never, under any circumstances, hyphenate an -ly adverb.

My most recent post is about an online education provider called Schoox. Schoox is out of Texas by way of Greece. In Greece, people use British English, which ain’t what we use in Texas. Or Florida. Or California. Or New York. Or anyplace in the States. The Schoox voice-overs are by British English speakers, which means that the word “schedule” is pronounced “shedule” every other word in a podcast on behalf of BNI, which, last time I looked, is an American company.

It’s a sin and a shame that major providers of so-called online education can’t write their way out of a paper sack, even when these providers are supposed to be providing education about…wait for it…writing! LinkedIn is a company that should be watching out for its users and ensuring that all its online learning is, at a minimum, correct, yet much of LinkedIn’s online English writing material is full of mistakes, typos, and out-and-out sloppy writing.

Who is teaching whom? Worst example of corporate inconsistency ever.

There are three C’s to good writing: you have to be correct, you have to use compelling language, and you have to be consistent.

Consistency is the big bugaboo for businesses. It’s amazing to me how often I’ll come across a business whose very name varies from page to page to page, a business whose business name is different online and -off, a business whose business name is not the same from one employee bio to another.

I’ve never seen a worse (or, I suppose, better) example of this kind of sloppy writing than I saw yesterday on behalf of a company called Schoox, a company that—get this—provides online training for many different industries. The writing itself is pretty awful, and that’s no big surprise: these people can’t even figure out the name of their business, so why expect them to know how to spell!

Here’s how its name (a stupid, made-up name) is spelled by its employees; notice that a couple of sentences contain other misspelled words in the same sentence:

Spelling #1: My goal in Schoox is to create a delightful, meaningful mobile experience putting people first nad making learning a pleasure

Spelling #2: Every problem has a solution, here in schoox we find it and solve it via cooperatation, communication and fun.

Spelling #3: Working at SchooX provides an awesome environment with great people that changes the way people learn.

And here’s how BNI International, an entity that doesn’t have any employees (you heard me) who can write their way out of a paper sack, spells Schoox:

Spelling #4: Your registration has been confirmed. Please click here to enter schooX

Since neither the employees nor its customers knew how to spell its name, I went on to its “legal page” and discovered that the name seems to contain an uppercase “S” and then lowercase for the rest: Schoox.

This kind of top-to-bottom confusion about something as basic as how to represent the name of a company in print is less than impressive, and, for a company that claims to be focused on helping other people learn, it’s laughable.

Looks to me like Schoox needs some schoolin’, which makes its online offerings…suspect.