On the job site Upwork, I recently saw a job posting by a gentleman from France. As part of the qualifications to bid on his book project – which he did not describe in any detail – he wanted all bidders to take the Upwork “English sentence structure” test.
I also noticed that he had only five bidders for his project. Normally, book editing jobs attract up to fifty bids.
I wrote him this note:
“I’ve noticed that you have very few responses to your project posting. Most similar jobs have from twenty to fifty bids. Perhaps this is because most professional editors – like me – don’t think that particular Upwork test is relevant to real-world job success. I looked at the first few questions, and they were highly academic. They want you to be able to identify the various parts of sentences. While this skill is of theoretical interest, it has very little to do with the art of book editing. You want an editor who can help you engage, captivate, and even thrill your reader.
“May I ask you the subject or genre of your book? Is it a novel? A self-help book? A business book? This is an important question. Every book is different, and every genre has its own style and attributes. What works in a novel may not work in a business book. Even the use of grammar can be different across genres.
“You may be worried that if English is your second language, you may not be able to differentiate good editing from bad editing. I understand this. But In the USA we don’t have an equivalent of the Académie française. There is no judging body of language or grammar. There is only the requirement that you communicate with your readers, no matter if they are kids in farm country or CEOs on Wall Street.”
In a novel, you can break the established rules of grammar as much as you like – as long as you know what you’re doing! This is particularly true of what a grammarian would consider an incomplete sentence – one without a verb or a subject. Such as, “He stood in the rain. Freezing, alone. His mind dull. Devoid of rational thought. The cruel sky, black, brooding.” Etc. You get the idea! The bottom line is always communication.
• Thomas Hauck, editor and ghostwriter, serves independent emerging authors and major New York publishers.