Posts Tagged 'punctuation'

Writing, not Punctuation, Should be Creative

Writers are creative people and often struggle with the structure of punctuation rules. But we have those rules so readers can follow (read and comprehend) our creativity.

One of the most common punctuation errors involves one of the most common punctuation marks–the comma.

There are specific rules regarding comma use, but when I asked one author why she put commas where she did, she replied, “Because that’s where I stop and take a breath.” She meant well and her answer was creative, but her writing wasn’t getting the reader reception she wanted. Why not? The misuse of punctuation implied she didn’t know what she was doing.

Another common punctuation error I see is overuse of quotation marks. Chicago Manual of Style (the book publishing industry standard) calls these quotation marks scare quotes and says they should only be used when a word is used in an unusual manner. Here’s an example of what not to do: Sarah’s “special friend ” showered her with “big bucks” as an “expression” of  his love.

Yes, the example is extreme, but I intend to show how these quotes interrupt reading flow and add nothing to comprehension.

Finally, too many authors don’t understand when to use ellipsis (…) versus dashes (–). Ellipsis show something’s been left out (omitted). Dashes show pause or summary.

Authors tend to use ellipsis to show pause.  One of the things that makes ellipsis use confusing to writers is that ellipsis IS the correct punctuation when you have a pause  in dialogue. Example: George said, “I don’t know what to say…I mean…I thought I knew you, but it’s clear I don’t.” So, use ellipsis to show pause in speech, but use dash to show pause in the story/text/narration.

You have many punctuation marks available to you and you should use them. Just make sure you rely on your writing instead of your punctuation to show your creativity.

Happy writing!


Sentence Primer

Think back to elementary school and the lesson you learned that a sentence contains a subject and a verb. That was the rule, period.

Unfortunately, many writers haven’t added to their learning about sentences, as evidenced by the inappropriate ending punctuation and refusal to write verb-less sentences.

Here’s a sentence primer you may want to keep handy.

  • Declarative sentence. This is the traditional sentence structure we’re used to. It’s a simple assertion and expresses a complete thought. Correct ending punctuation is a period. Example: Sunday night is taco night at our house.
  • Exclamatory sentence. This is a sentence showing passion, violence, vehemence, forcefulness. As does the declarative sentence, the exclamatory sentence expresses a complete thought. Correct punctuation is an exclamation point. CAUTION: If overused (and it usually is), the exclamation point loses its impact and meaning. One exclamation point at the end of a sentence is appropriate!!!!! (As you can see.) Example: I’m so tired of high gas prices!
  • Imperative sentence. This sentence expresses (not asks) a simple request or command (depending on what the writer wants to relay). Correct ending punctuation is a period. Example: Take out the garbage.
  • Interrogative sentence. This sentence expresses a complete thought and asks for more information. Correct punctuation is a question mark. Example: Why can’t I go to the movie with Sherry?

Although this next example doesn’t fall into the four sentence categories listed above, it, too, is a type of sentence–the verb-less sentence. The verb-less sentence is a word or group of words that expresses a complete thought without the use of a verb. Examples: No. Yes. Nonsense!  No, not now, not ever! In the garage? Why?

Finally, make sure you don’t over-punctuate the end of the sentence. By that I mean when you have a sentence that ends with a period in an abbreviation, that period serves two purposes–to show the end of the abbreviation and to show the end of the sentence. A second period over-punctuates the sentence. Example: She liked the same entertainment  he did–movies, music, dancing, etc.

I trust if you haven’t already expanded your writing to include all the types of sentences in this primer, you’ll give them a try soon.

Happy writing!

Semicolons Can Be Mastered

As I read book proposals and even manuscripts, I see a need for authors to learn how to use semicolons.  The rules are easy to master and here they are:

  • Use a semicolon when you have two independent clauses NOT joined by a conjunction. Example: The dog ran to greet her; she ignored it.  If I joined the two independent clauses with a conjunction, I would use a comma, not a semicolon, and it would read: The dog ran to greet her, but she ignored it.
  • Use a semicolon in a series IF at least one of the components in the series includes a comma. Example: The home decor was eclectic in that it included orange and green from the ’70s; red, white, and blue patriotic symbols; Victorian lace; and stuffed animal heads mounted on the wall.
  • Use a semicolon between independent clauses joined by introductory adverbs such as however, thus, accordingly, and therefore. Example: I love the winter; however, I can do without the icy roads.
  • Use a semicolon between independent clauses joined by explanatory phrases such as for example or that is. Example: He played his best game ever; that is, he scored six three-pointers.

As I said, the rules are easy to master; go ahead and show off!

Happy writing!


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!

Avoid Overusing Parentheses

I’m not sure why so many writers say what they have to say, then add comments in parentheses as if they wanted to whisper them or offer them as an aside. Parentheses are good to have in your punctuation tool box, but be sure you don’t overuse them.

Parentheses are used to set off related matter. However, if the matter is closely related, opt for commas instead of parentheses.

Another problem area is how to use other punctuation with parentheses. The rule is “Parentheses do not impact the punctuation of the sentence.” What does that mean? That means that if the ENTIRE sentence is parenthetical, the period goes inside the parentheses along with the entire sentence. Example: (She didn’t really care what he thought.).

If part of the sentence is parenthetical, but not the entire sentence, the end punctuation goes outside the parentheses. Example: She didn’t really care what he thought (or so she told herself).

Again, the parentheses does not impact the punctuation of a sentence. Thus, if you are including a parentheses-enclosed statement in a sentence that requires a comma, put the comma after the parentheses. Example: She told him she’d call (and she did), but he didn’t answer.

Parentheses can be helpful and use them when you need to, but don’t overdo it. Your reader will thank you.

Happy writing!

The Correct Use of Hyphens

When I was in high school, they still offered Latin as a language choice–yep, it was that long ago.

I took Latin and even achieved membership in the National Latin Honor Society. One of my favorite sayings back then was

Latin’s a dead language. It’s dead as dead can be. It killed off all the Romans, and now it’s killing me!

I’ve heard people say they feel the same way about English–it’s a killer to learn and even worse to use.

Because English is a living language, some words evolve and use hyphens in the process. For example, simple words start out as two words (turn key). Then, for a relatively short period of time, they become hyphenated (turn-key). Finally, the two words join to form one (turnkey).

I’ve just given you one way to use the hyphen. Here are some others:

  • Use a hyphen to avoid doubling or tripling a letter when adding a prefix (before the word) or suffix (after the word). Example: part-time.
  • Use a hyphen when the root word you’re adding a prefix to is capitalized. Examples: pre-Christmas, pro-American.
  • In general, use a hyphen whenever you use the prefixes all-, self-, ex-, and vice-. Examples: all-purpose, self-centered, ex-wife, vice-chair.
  • Use a hyphen to avoid ambiguity or difficult pronunciation. Examples: anti-abortion, re-read.
  • Use a hyphen after a series of words having a common base that you’re not repeating. Example: first-, second-, third-, and fourth-year students.
  • Use a hyphen to unite two or more words to convey a single idea (these are known as compound words). Examples: president-elect, decision-maker, right-of-way, forty-year-old.
  • Use a hyphen in compound adjectives. Examples: well-designed home, up-to-date statistics, cost-of-living allowance.
  • Use a hyphen in numbers. Examples: two-thirds, twenty-one.
  • Use a hyphen when combining numbers and unit measures as adjectives. Examples: two-week pay period, twelve-inch ruler.
  • Use a hyphen to combine a stand-alone capital letter with a word. Examples: U-turn, T-shirt, X-rated.
  • Use a hyphen to divide a word at the end of a typed line when there’s no more room for the rest of the word. Remember, however, that you must adhere to the word’s syllable break and not just put the hyphen anywhere. Examples: chil-dren, birth-day, pos-si-ble.

As you can see, the hyphen has many uses. And some of the applications will change as the English language evolves. Authors understand that language is an important tool, as is punctuation. Put the two together correctly and your readers will appreciate your writing even more.

Happy writing!

Sorting Through the Book Publishing Maze

I received an email from a puppy-mill Internet publisher this morning trying to interest me in publishing with them.

Granted, puppy-mill publisher isn’t an official book publishing industry term, but it’s my term for those publishers who publish just about anything sent into them.

They like to sell the dream of being published (rather than the business it really is), and they start out with low prices that include

  • someone who will talk with you about your project (aka one-on-one author support or representative)
  • a discount on books you purchase from them
  • a book cover (I wonder if you know most covers from puppy-mill publishers are template and the design remains the property of the publisher)
  • an ISBN (which every book needs if you intend to sell it commerically somewhere other than your own website or trunk of your car)
  • world-wide book distribution (isn’t that called a website?)
  • interior formatting (again, typically done in template and the design belongs to the publisher, not the author)
  • digital printing (I agree digital printing is much improved, but it’s still done on a photocopier on steriods and most quality books are still printed using offset printing)
  • author sets retail price
  • publishing house pays  you “royalties” on books you pay to print (which seems odd–if you own the copyright on the book and pay to produce it, why is the publishing house keeping some of your money and expecting you to be happy to get what’s left after their cut and they call that a royalty?)

Of course, you’ll note they’ll have to upsell you if you want editing, proofreading, LCCN (Library of Congress Control Number)–just a few things you might like to have if you’re putting your name on a book and you want that book to be professionally published.


According to the Independent Book Publisher’s Association, to be self-published, you must own the publishing company. If you do not own the publishing company, you are not self-published. Yet, the puppy-mill publishers continue to use the term, perhaps hoping potential authors will feel they won’t have to dig deeply into the offering–they already know what it is.

Unfortunately, most authors don’t.

Vanity Press

Everyone knows that a vanity press should be avoided with every fiber of one’s being. But what’s the definition of a vanity press? A vanity press is one that publishes anything sent to them–no discernment (and, in most cases, no improvement either). If you’re willing to pay, you’re published!

Subsidy Press

Subsidy presses typically make all orders come through them, so they get a piece of the action on every order. They hold your inventory and pay you “royalties” on books you’ve already paid to produce.

Subsidy presses became synonymous with vanity presses a few years ago, so now almost  every one calls themselves “self-publishers.”

Equity Publisher

We at Expert Publishing struggled with how to label our publishing house.

We don’t publish everything (we publish business, self-help, and inspiration).

We are proud of the books we publish (our name is on the book too, after all), and we use professional designers who do original (not template) designs. We use book editors. We proofread. We do both offset printing and digital printing.

We don’t pay royalties because we believe that when our authors pay for publication, they automatically own their inventory and should keep the money when they sell books. That’s a lot better than royalties.

Since we didn’t fit self-publishing, vanity publishing, or subsidy publishing, we needed a new term. We selected the term equity publishing because we don’t charge extra to include books we publish in our “world-wide distribution catalog,” which you would call a website. We don’t charge extra to show books we publish at book trade shows. We even help authors set up their own accounts and don’t charge extra for that. Equity publisher seems to sum it all up.

You have so many book publishing options available to you that you really need to do your homework and select the best option for you. Of course, being published is a dream for many, but don’t let it become a nightmare.

Wherever you are in the book publishing process, I hope you’ll find this post helpful in sorting through the book publishing maze.

Happy writing.