I read a book over the holidays that had good content, but terrible copy editing. There was no rhyme nor reason for comma placement (we do have rules on such things), but what really made the reading difficult was the use (and misuse) of quotation marks.

The Chicago Manual of Style (yes, I keep harping that it’s the book publishing standard) gives guidance on something called scare quotes. You know what those are. They’re quote marks arbitrarily placed around words the author thinks people won’t understand (or should I say “understand”?). I suppose I could have written “scare quotes” since the term requires explanation, but, per Chicago, we’re not to overuse scare quotes.

The book I read was full of them. Some examples are  “perfect,” “hungry,” “body image,” “healthy.”  I’m not sure why the author and the editor thought those words needed to be in quotes in the middle of sentences. The terms are common and were used as expected in the text. The scare quotes just junked up the reading flow.

Here are some other reasons to use quotations marks.

  • Use quotation marks for direct quotations. Example: She said, “I don’t want to see you again!”
  • Use quotation marks on words being defined. Example: “Small business” is defined as one with fewer than five hundred employees.
  • Use quotation marks to enclose titles of parts of larger publications (articles in periodicals or stories in anthologies). Use italics for the title of the larger work (before computers, we used underscore for book titles). Example: The article “Person of the Year” is part of Time magazine.
  • Use quotation marks to enclose song titles (the album is in italics). Also, use quotation marks to enclose episodes in a television series (the series title is in italics).

NOTE: Single quotes are only used when indicating a quote within a quote.  Example: Sally said, “I heard Ginny tell George, ‘I’m going to the play with Sarah next Tuesday.'”

Okay, now what about commas and periods and exclamation points and question marks in relationship to quotation marks?

  • Commas and periods ALWAYS go inside the quotation marks.
  • Exclamation points and questions are dependent upon what the quote is. If the quote is an exclamation, the exclamation point goes inside the quote. If not, it goes outside. Same is true of the question mark.

We have rules for punctuation, and I submit that anyone who claims to be an editor (particularly if they are paid to do the work) should know the rules and be able to apply them.

It just makes reading so much easier and isn’t that really what you, as a writer, want to do–make your reader love to read you?

Happy writing!


9 Responses to “Quote/Unquote”

  1. 1 Carol Ann Hoel January 4, 2011 at 8:06 pm

    Thank you for reminding me of the rules. Rules become blurred by habits formed while blog writing. This blog window does not allow italics or underlining. We may use quotation marks only if we wish to emphasize text for any reason. I fear using quotation marks where they do not belong will cause me eventually to forget the original rules. Also, as you point out, titles and other words that formerly were underlined are now italicized. I prefer italics. They look nicer.

    Yes, writing should be easy to read, if we expect people to read our writing. Blessings to you…

    • 2 expertbookpublishing January 6, 2011 at 10:32 am

      Thanks for your comment. I see the rules disregarded every day on television and in print so it’s easy to see how we may forget to apply the rules. I think many venues hurry to get the message out and they don’t take time for the “trivial” rules.

      But that’s not okay to do in book publishing. Books are the most academic of works (more than periodicals or Internet) and are in print a long time (even e-books enjoy a longer shelf life than other writings). It’s important books follow the rules since they’ll be read for years to come.

      Thanks for your loyal readership!

      • 3 Carol Ann Hoel January 6, 2011 at 9:39 pm

        I like to support blogger authors. I purchased a book by a fellow blogger. She had self published. I was disappointed that the writing was not ready for print. I’m going to read the rest of it because I want to know how it goes. This makes me more hesitant to join in the self-publishing frenzy. Maybe I am not as able to judge my own writing as I think. Obviously, she misjudged hers. I had to read sentences over just to know what she said. Don’t self-publishing authors employ editors? I’ve read and revised my own ms so many times that I’m sure I’ve lost objectivity.

      • 4 expertbookpublishing January 10, 2011 at 11:37 am

        To answer the question regarding self-publshing authors employing editors, the answer is, “They typically look for editors who are cheap, if not free.” The issue with anything you do yourself the first time is learning curve. You don’t know what you’re doing, but you do the best you can. That’s why the puppy mill presses do such a big business. The author doesn’t know what he/she is getting for the money, let alone what a fair price i). Typically they don’t get editing (that’s extra) or proofreading (that’s extra too). Typically they get template covers (not original designs) and the covers belong to the puppy mill press, even though the author paid for the design.

        If self-publishing authors do see the value of editing, they look for cheap editors. They don’t realize there’s a difference between book editors and periodical editors, for example. Often they find someone who has an English degree or who taught English or who likes to read and claims to be an editor. Or they find editors through networking or the Internet, but don’t verify they are book editors nor do they ask for a list of books they’ve edited. They let price be the decision-maker and we all know you get what you pay for.

        I’d say it’s important to ask for references from people the editor worked with, but the book I referred to the Quote/Unquote entry had a glowing acknowledgment for the editor in the book. So much for references. We once hired an editor who came highly recommended. We were doing a Christian book, which requires putting the version of Scripture quoted next to the listed chapter and verse. She wanted to change King James Version to King James Volume. So much for references.

        Regarding content, authors know what they intended to say and they think they’ve accomplished it. I’ve even heard some professional speakers say, “Record your speech and you’ve got your book.” That’s the worst advice I’ve ever heard. Writing for the eye (page) is not at all the same as speaking for the ear. When you speak, you have voice inflection, gestures, facial expression, etc. to help provide meaning, so the words don’t have to be as precise as they do when writing for the eye/page.

        Thanks for your comment.

  2. 5 Carol Ann Hoel January 10, 2011 at 5:40 pm

    Thank you for your reply. If I have the opportunity to self-publish, I’ll find an author whose novel has been professionally edited. If the book reads as it should, and the author verifies that this editor provided the service, then I will know I can trust the editor. Then, I will probably find out I cannot afford this editor! Ha! Blessings to you…

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