Author Claims Punctuation Rules are Subjective – Experts Differ
Guest Post by Irene Watson
I thought I had heard everything until I got this from an author when the reviewer pointed out punctuation issues in the book:
…I have reservations on her opinion on the punctuations of the book that is subject to a variety of peoples opinion.
For example, one teacher could teach a pupil one way on the English language, another English teacher could teach a different method–it comes down to a matter of opinion.
[Title omitted for anonymity,] was sent for editing and punctuation. She could be wrong on her idea of proper punctuation.
I responded saying that our reviewer is a qualified editor herself. I also explained that a book should have at least three passes by three different editors. The author wrote back:
So she is flawless? I understand your loyalty, after all she reviews for Reader Views.
Like I said earlier, English can be subjective, a matter of opinion, it is not like math. I had a few people edit and check punctuations as well as myself.
I decided not to respond because it would have just added more fuel to her fire. She obviously was so upset that I got 5 emails back-to-back with things said like:
I cannot believe you are personalizing this and are still being defensive and argumentative.
However, in my opinion, something that can be subjective such as English–some teachers, and professors teach differently–should not be said as fact unless three heads got together and agreed.
Like religious leaders to a Bible, as far as die-hard English majors, professors etc; I am sure they will believe everyone else even their colleagues, when it comes down to the English language and some specifics, are wrong if it is not in agreement with how they teach.
I did not respond to any of the emails she sent. The above sentences were copied as is and you can see that her grammar and punctuation are in her own style. In an earlier email to her I gave examples of punctuation issues: (These weren’t the only issues; the book was riddled with similar problems.)
Page 21, top:
She went to my class and asked Ms. Rushmore, “Why is Deniece coming home an hour late on some days.”
This is a question so it needs to have a question mark.
Page 26, bottom:
As I was screaming, Joan wickedly said, “You should have killed yourself with that knife.
That is the end of Joan’s little speech, but there is no quotation mark at the end.
Page 184, bottom:
“It was as if Beethoven and Chopin were playing themselves After I read the critic’s opinions, I went into the kitchen to get something to eat.
Missing punctuation after “themselves”, also there were several critics, so it should be critics’.
In one of the emails the author sent me was actually an email from the editor that edited her book for $900. The author approached the editor regarding our communication. (The editor was from a DYI publishing firm that offers free and paid services.) The response from the editor was:
The [company name removed] editing staff was hand-picked based upon skill level and experience. Each editor was also rigorously tested before hired.
Please note that even after authors undergo multiple rounds of editing, it is not uncommon for authors and others to still find technical (grammatical and punctuation) and stylistic mistakes in their book. While it is our goal to help authors strive to create a perfect product, there is no “perfect” book out there in the market.
The author also commented:
I looked forward to doing more business with Reader views but your focus was solely in tunnel vision mode. You do not care if you get repeat business or not. This is sobering.
Tunnel vision? Punctuation a personal opinion? I don’t think so. Considering this author’s determination in saying that punctuation is subjective and there are no rules I decided to check around to see what experts thought. I also wanted to know what people in the publishing industry felt the minimum editing errors should be in a book. This is what I received:
Tyler Tichelaar, PhD, Freelance Editor (Tyler has spent many years teaching writing and literature at three universities and writing his novels. He has lectured on writing and literature throughout the U.S. and Great Britain.)
Punctuation rules are not subjective; there is some room for leniency, such as when to use a semi-colon instead of a period, or to use a serial comma or not, but punctuation rules do exist and should be followed. The problem with believing punctuation rules do not matter is that such beliefs usually come from people unwilling to learn the rules. It’s commonly known that you can’t break the rules without learning why they exist in the first place. To do so is like arguing against a law you haven’t read so you don’t understand what you are arguing against. A good writer will strive to be consistent and use a style manual such as the Chicago Manual of Style. And when that writer chooses to break the rules, he or she does it knowingly and to achieve a certain effect–and it is done sparingly because to break the rules all the time results in a lack of meaning or emphasis.
Ami Hendrickson, Freelance Editor
When I work as a freelance editor for publishers, I’m generally provided with the publisher’s grammar, punctuation and usage guidelines (American publishers prefer “toward,” for example, but UK-based ones use “towards”). I go over the final proofs meticulously, but do so with the knowledge that I am not alone. At least one other editor reviews and approves all copy.
I have never had a publisher tell me to use a particular journalistic style, though I tend toward MLA myself. Instead, I’ve been given the afore-mentioned guidelines that clarified their stylistic preferences.
Walt Shiel, Publisher, Five Rainbows Services
We are a small shop — only three of us. Two of us write. Everything we write is first carefully edited by whomever wrote it, then edited by both of the other two, using Chicago, Merriam-Webster, and our in-house standards as our primary guides.
My experience indicates that there is a wide variation in skills possessed by self-labeled professional editors. I honestly think that self-publishers should devote a few hours to studying a copy of the Chicago Manual of Style so they understand what an editor should be capable of finding and correcting.
Ric Williams, Senior Editor, Dalton Publishing
The mean absolute error (MAE) is a quantity used to measure how close forecasts or predictions are to the eventual outcomes. The mean absolute error is given by
for every hundred pages. We would like no more than 2 and even then we wince.
Vicki Liston, Book Reviewer
I’ve established my own baseline because of this. Five and under get no mention in my reviews; anything over five, in my opinion, is enough to warrant mention.
Elizabeth Burton, Zumaya Book Publishing
The goal is always–or should be–zero, which is why I doubt anyone has ever set an arbitrary level of what’s acceptable. And it’s not just limited to grammar and punctuation, which is the mistake many self-publishing authors and even some editors make. There are errors of continuity, chronology and fact that need to be reviewed as well. Sadly, too many people doing editing lack the broad range of knowledge needed to catch the latter–and in some cases aren’t even aware that fact-checking is an essential part of the job.
Cleone Lyvonne Reed, Robert D. Reed Publishers
We aim for EXCELLENCE. Perfection seems to be an impossibility, even after several edits. [Publisher uses Chicago Manual of Style.]
Want to hear what the author also did? She reported me to the Better Business Bureau saying:
Reader views was very combative, unfriendly, unprofessional, and taunting me through e-mail, all because I disagreed with her. Poor customer service. The Reader views representative was very unprofessional, defensive, combative, and condescending.
She continued saying that punctuation rules are subjective.
BBB, in their letter, said:
Enclosed is a copy of correspondence sent to the BBB. It does not appear as though the nature of the dispute and/or the requested resolution currently falls within the guidelines for processing.
Yes, there are all kinds of people in the world and some of them disguise themselves as authors. All in the daily life of a book review service!
Your thoughts? Comments?
Irene Watson is the Managing Editor of Reader Views, where avid readers can find reviews of recently published books as well as read interviews with authors. Her team also provides author publicity and a variety of other services specific to writing and publishing books.