I read this and went, Huh?

Do NOT read this post if you are a girl-editor or don’t care for swearing. You’ve been warned.

So Susan, in the comments to another post here included a link to this Writer’s Digest article entitled 5 Tips to Polish Your Fiction by G. Miki Hayden. The tips given in the article, while definitely useful, don’t fit the kind of thing I do when I’m polishing. I would even say I don’t think any of those things really qualify as polishing but there’s some good stuff there. Number 5, however, threw me for a loop. Like this:

This sheep is named Thirsty. She looks puzzled

Thirsty the Sheep Looks Puzzled

5. Limit your use of possibly offensive language.
Reasons exist for characters to swear. But remember that, nowadays, most books are bought by women and many women don’t like swearing for swearing’s sake (even in gritty or naturalistic novels).

WTF? (Um, that stands for What the FUDGE, okay? It DOES NOT mean What the Anglo-Saxon-word-for-copulation.) Oh, all right. I meant What the fuck. Sorry. Okay, I’m not really sorry.

Number one, that is not advice about polishing your novel. That is advice about what you should consider doing to sell your soul novel.

Could we please dispense with stereotypes like this? It’s not even true. I am reminded that someone over at some review site said of my RITA finalist paranormal My Forbidden Desire, something along the lines of (paraphrasing) my hero was foul-mouthed. She actually hated the book for that reason alone. In fact, she did not touch on one single plot element of the book. She just hated my foul-mouthed hero. But she was a reviewer. Not an editor. And not my editor, who happens to be a woman.

It’s true that most books are bought by women. But “many women don’t like swearing for swearing’s sake” — But men do? Is that what the author means? And even if it’s true, what does that have to do with buying a novel? “(even in gritty or naturalistic novels)”


In other words, women who acquire books will impose their personal moral dislikes on a book and make their buying decisions accordingly. The subtext, of course, is that a male editor would not do such a thing and that books, as a result of this this imposition of feminine delicacy, are in danger of too many rainbows and unicorns. And cute kittens.

Here’s a rejection letter such an editor might send:

Dear Author:
Thank you for sending us your novel THE WEREWOLF’S BAD HAIR DAY for consideration. This is one of the finest novels I’ve ever read. Even Marketing agrees this book will sell millions and that the publisher stands to make millions more from licensing and movie rights. Unfortunately, your delicious and tortured werewolf protagonist says “fuck” 37 times and “bullshit” 50 times. Also cock, penis, petaled folds, and asshole. Sadly, for this reason, we cannot offer you a contract. Best wishes for your future success.

Ellen Editor.
P.S. Please let us know when your novel is published!

Oh, for fuck’s sake. That’s really stupid advice. If your characters are the swearing type, they should swear. If your book is great, an editor will buy it.


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8 Responses to “I read this and went, Huh?”

  1. Dayna/Rowan says:

    I call bullshit on 4 of those tips.

  2. Susan says:


    Oh, Carolyn. You make my day bright! You articulate my own fury so well (and so much better than I can).

    And, I’m glad to see you’re pissed off too. Truly, that Writer’s Digest article is a WTF? for more reasons than just #5.

    Thanks for sharing your response with us. 🙂

  3. Natascha says:

    I agree on every aspect of this post. Go Carolyn!

  4. “Use only one name for a character.”

    Oh gosh, it’s too bad nobody has ever told this to Dorothy Dunnett. I mean … Lymond?

    “Don’t use slang unless you clarify it.”

    Indeed. Pooh on Georgette Heyer. She not only used dead slang, but also invented dead slang of her own. It’s not to be born. Thoroughly confuses poor, dimwitted readers who also won’t be able to distinguish between a Stan and a Steve and will, to make matters worse, think a Francis, a Crawford and a Lymond to be three different people.

    Now please excuse me while I go and rest my poor, pea-sized brain for a while. Merely thinking about such weighty matters has thoroughly exhausted my intellectual capabilities for today, if not for the whole week.

  5. angie says:

    Guess I’m a masochist. My stories have sex, violence, and lots of swearing, so apparently I’m constantly offending myself as I type the words.

    This lady needs to watch the late George Carlin’s 7 Words so she can be cleansed in the spirit!

  6. cjewel says:

    Well, Sandy, you see? Female editors would be very confused.

    Angie: what can I say except keep it clean? ish. Sort of. I mean, I imagine there’s no problem with the sex and violence. It’s the swearing. Obviously.

    I suppose it was just something the author threw together at the last minute, but really, that kind of lame advice is why I tend to stay away from Writer’s Digest.

  7. Oldbitey says:

    Nowadays women don’t like swearing. Is this 1879 nowadays WD is talking about?

    I’ve had this similar WTF *nowadays* experience with a contest entry. Nothing was said about plot elements or characterisations in the book The judge’s one comment was, “I found your repeated use of the word ‘crap’ offensive. I marked you down and gave you a low score because of your language. A heroine would never swear.”

    Well, dang. Forgive me. I forgot women are too pure to poop too.

    As Kathy Bates said in Misery, cackadoody!

    • Carolyn Jewel says:

      Seriously? About that contest entry. Did you complain to the coordinator? That should have been grounds for a re-judge of your entry.