Saturday, February 2, 2013

Different words for different folks?

Yeah, I know.  It doesn't rhyme.  In a way, that's the point.

My day job involves work for major insurance companies, and about ninety percent of it is auto claims.  I've heard a lot of excuses for why and how people get into accidents, and most of them are pretty much bull shit.  A few weeks ago, however, I worked on a claim that involved a 16-year-old driver in a nighttime rainstorm on an unfamiliar road.

First of all, let me explain that I'm disguising the details lest my employer think I'm revealing any confidential information.  I'm not.

Second of all, let me assure all readers that the claim in question did not involve any injuries to any parties.

Here's what happened:  The inexperienced driver was on a two-lane road he'd never driven before.  The posted speed limit was 35, but the left hand curve warning sign included a 25 mile an hour limit.  Caught in heavy rain in the dark and with all his attention focused just on seeing the road in front of him, he didn't see the warning sign.  When he saw the guard rail reflectors directly in front and realized he was heading into the curve, he turned the wheel too sharply and veered across the double yellow line into the other lane. 

The driver of an oncoming vehicle in the other lane was traveling extra slowly because of conditions and also because he had seen the approaching headlights.  Experience told him it was quite possible that someone might not see the warning sign or might be driving too fast or might not have their car completely under control.  When he noticed that the approaching car had in fact gone into his lane and was now coming toward him head on, he was able to slow even more and safely turn to the right, thus avoiding a direct hit. 

Both cars sustained substantial damage, with the young driver's vehicle having to be towed from the scene.  He was also given several traffic citations, among them driving too fast for conditions and crossing the double yellow line.  As a result of the multiple violations, his license was suspended until he completes a state-mandated driver education course, and he will not be allowed to drive without another adult driver in the car with him until he reaches the age of 17.  Any subsequent violation will result in automatic revocation of his license until age 18. 

The young driver and his father did not dispute the facts surrounding the accident.  Both of them admitted that he was driving the speed limit of 35 miles an hour, and that such a limit applies to optimum conditions which was not the case at the time of the accident.  Both of them admitted that had he been driving slower he might have seen the curve warning sign and been able to slow down sooner.  Both of them admitted he lost control and didn't have sufficient experience to regain control in a timely fashion.  Both of them admitted he panicked and stepped on the gas rather than the brake at the last second, which sent his vehicle into the other at an even higher rate of speed.

So what's the point?  They're admitting it was his fault, right?

Actually, no, they're not.  Both of them said that the 16 year old driver with barely three month's driving experience should not be held to the same standards of driving safety as the more experienced driver and therefore he's not to blame.

The claim representative, however, points out that other drivers on the road would have no way of knowing that.  The young driver is granted exactly the same driving privileges as other drivers, so why should he not be held to the same driving standards?

To (sort of) quote the father:  "The citation was for driving too fast for conditions.  But he's only been driving for three months and this is the first time he's ever driven in the rain.  How is he supposed to know what's too fast for conditions?"

To quote the claim rep:  "If he doesn't know how to drive in the existing conditions, he shouldn't be driving in them."

To quote me:  "ARGH!"

With privileges, of course, some responsibilities, and I don't think anyone would argue that point.  Nor would most people argue that putting an inexperienced driver behind the wheel of a full-sized automobile is much more dangerous than publishing an unedited manuscript on Amazon or Smashwords. 

But being an inexperienced writer does not excuse one when readers complain about the shoddy product.  The reader who invests her money and her time reading your book deserves a quality product.

If you think it's okay to put your unedited manuscript out there with all the other books but that it should receive special consideration because you're a new writer without any experience and you really aren't sure if your grammar and spelling are as good as that of a professional writer and you can't afford to hire a professional proofreader or editor, then I recommend  you attach a disclaimer to your book's listing.  Something along the lines of: "This book may contain spelling, grammar, and formatting errors.  The author is not a professional and did not hire a professional editor.  Read at your own risk and don't complain."

Many independent or self-publishing writers who receive negative reviews believe they should be held to a different -- and much lower -- standard than anyone else.  But there are independent and self-publishing authors who do care about their work, who do make sure the spelling and grammar are correct, who do pay attention to factual accuracy and internal consistency.  Unfortunately, they don't have an independent rating system to certify their work as "professional."  Is it fair for them to be tarred with the same brush as those authors who can't even correctly spell the words in their book's Amazon description or use the correct verb tense?

Independent and self-publishing writers are driving on the same roads and highways as the traditionally published best sellers.  If they don't want to end up in the ditch, they need to learn the rules of the road.

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