Avoiding Stet

In chapter 3, “Working for the Reader, through the Writer,” Saller discusses the delicate art of querying and how not to sabotage yourself when engaged in it. Her mantra of “carefulness, transparency, flexibility” resonates throughout the chapter. She reminds us that the writer is “a trove of knowledge” when it comes to the subject matter and probably has a pretty good take on the reader as well. She explains that style is style, not grammar; it’s a convention to make life easier for the reader, not an inflexible battering ram, or even a universal set of rules that are generally agreed upon.

Chapter 4, “When Things Get Tough,” finds us facing “the difficult author.” Saller reviews the stereotypes—”assistant professors…take editing personally; red marks on their manuscripts are like little stab wounds”—before sharing several anecdotes illustrating how to and how not to deal with writers who are more sensitive to having their work edited.

Saller takes aim at some people’s fixation with being “correct” in “The Misguided Martyr, or Laying Down Your Life for the Serial Comma.” She gives the very good advice that if you are hung up on outdated grammar rules, the best remedy is to read new things and catch up to what’s current. She mentions Garner’s Modern American Usage, which I was thrilled to learn of, being the owner of a 1979 reprint of the 1966 edition of Follett’s Modern American Usage. There are mentions of double spaces after a period (a bugaboo), the Oxford comma (depends), and whoever versus whomever (yes, it matters). The main take-aways are (1) look it up, but not on a stone tablet and (2) you can break the rules, but use your head and make sure you understand the reasoning behind the rule before you break it.