Punctuation~ Its You’re Friend: A Rant

Twitter is dangerous, I’m telling you. I’ve heard about (and then bought) more great books on Twitter than are good for my budget. A quite fair number of them have been self-published. I’ve blogged about a bunch of them here.

I’ve also ended up buying some books just to see if they’re as bad as stated. Usually, the answer is yes.

Today, I bought a self-pubbed book that was the topic of a heated Twitter discussion. The complaints were about characters and plot developments and I figured, what the heck. I’ll take a look.

I should have known the minute I saw the cover. Said cover was amateurish in every dimension. Bad image, bad font, bad layout. Bad everything.

The first paragraph was OK and I thought, well! Maybe this will turn out okay. I do like to see authors push the boundaries. By the second paragraph, all was not well.

Let’s eat, Gramma!

Let’s eat Gramma!

People, there is a reason for punctuation. A writer who messes up on the colon or semi-colon, well, I can forgive that. I can forgive the omission of the Oxford comma even though I believe it’s required. But a writer who does not care to follow or learn the rule about punctuation in dialogue?

When I’m writing fast, I stick in apostrophes where they don’t belong, but I fix them, if not immediately, then later— because I know they’re typos. And I know they’re typos because I KNOW THE RULES. For my self-pubbed stuff, I hire a copy-editor to fix all the stuff I missed. Because I know there’s stuff I missed.

My problems with this book were not just punctuation abuse. My problems were legion and they are almost all craft issues. Other writers have worked at this and worked and cared and keep working and caring. They care about the use of words and, oh, say the correct spelling of a world famous person’s name.

Good writers have studied and read book after book after article about the craft of writing fiction. They get their work out there for critique and they take that to heart and they learn and study some more.

If you chose a first person narrator, then you have made the choice to limit your narrative voice. You cannot give a five year old character the reactions and insights of an adult woman. If you need a way to foreshadow adult sexual awareness, you’re going to have work at it. A writer in control of her craft can do this.  (Virginia Wolff, James Joyce, Toni Morrison, hell, Lisa Fucking Kleypas! Take a look at Sugar Daddy if you want to read brilliant genre fiction where the protagonists start out as minors.)

Ludicrous situations that can’t withstand even a second of cursory thought.

Criminal meetings often take place in pumpkin patches.


What?????? Are you kidding me? There is no gritty universe where criminals routinely meet in pumpkin patches. That point could have been high comedy or farce, but it wasn’t. The author seriously wanted readers to believe that this was true in her tough reality world of gangs. It’s insulting.

Criminals need meeting places year round and guess what? Pumpkins have a limited growing season. When it’s not pumpkin season, farmers are growing a different crop. And really, what kind of gang thinks meeting at a pumpkin patch is a good idea? <-- This is sarcasm. Indeed, it's MOCKING sarcasm. In case you were wondering.

I swear to you right now, I can’t figure out whether to laugh or cry, and it hurts my soul. it really does.

Fucking criminal meetings in pumpkin patches.

My last point, though I am leaving out so very many, is this: straight quotes do not belong in an eBook. Straight quotes are a typographical crime. I don’t care if you have a personal opinion about straight quotes vs. curly quotes. The straight quote or straight single quote are distinct typographical characters that have a specific use and connotation. Typography arose from centuries of study about of what makes text readable and, in the case of digital texts, nearly 20 years of study about readability.

When you are using a proportional font then you must use curly quotes. If your text is a mix of the two?


I can’t even.

Good writers know they need editing, copy-editing and proofreading. If you’re self-publishing, it’s a cost of doing business. Authors like the author of this book are going to have a hard time finding good help because very few of the people who are good at any of these tasks are going to want to take on work that is this deeply flawed. It wasn’t just an error or two a page, but errors in every single sentence. Worse, the work is structurally and logically unsound.

There’s a reason English majors often do well in the working world, and in jobs that have nothing to do with their major. They’ve been taught to think about meaning and the ways in which words change meaning. They understand subtext and use it to their advantage. I refer you to my thoughts on Tamara Webber’s Easy in which I was briefly reading the book with the belief that it was something other than what it was. (Erotica vs. NA fiction) The use of language was so solid and deft that I soon realized the problem was me.

Writing is hard. It’s hard to do this well. And it’s insulting to readers and other writers to put out a product that is shoddy on every level. It makes people point at self-publishers and say, See? They’re all crappy like this. But they’re not. They are not.

I’m pissed off that I paid money for this crap. I’ll never buy another book by this author.



5 Responses to “Punctuation~ Its You’re Friend: A Rant”

  1. Pumpkin patches? Pumpkin patches? What do the criminals do, crawl around on their bellies like snakes? Cornfields, sure, lots of criminal activity in cornfields – mostly cute little masked bandits eating the corn – but never pumpkin patches.

    I’m sorry you got nailed. It’s not just the money, it’s the time and energy a person puts into reading a book. We invest a lot of ourselves, and the least the author can do is run it past a good copy editor.

    If you bought it from Amazon, they’ll refund your money if you return it within seven days. A defective product is a defective product. I’ve had a number of Kindle books be reissued with the technical aspects repaired after people complained.

    When you think of all the work that nearly all authors go through to produce the very best product they can, the closest thing humanly possible to the vision inside them, then this kind of casually-issued crap does make a person crazy. May your next read be a keeper.

  2. Karenmc says:

    Amen and hallelujah.I’ve worked (graphics production) with people who SHOULD know how to create curly quotes, but don’t. I fail to understand how they were hired, and I don’t think I’m being a typography elitist when I say that.

    It’s Friday and I’m tired, but still…

  3. Karenmc says:

    I left a space out between “hallelujah.” and “I’ve”. My bad. Where’s an editor when I need one?

  4. DawnD says:

    And this, my lovelies, is why I dropped out of the reviewing game. I reviewed with a group on website. I enjoyed it. Not all books are equally good, but I did find a lot of new authors that were really good. And I’m selfish enough to admit I liked getting books early. 🙂

    But then someone had the bright idea that we would allow self-submission of self-published books. I was getting 10 books an hour. 80% made 50 Shades of Grey look like Shakespeare. For the love of all that’s holy people, even MS Word has a grammar and spell checker! Which doesn’t even get into plot, arc or characters, or any of the other elements of story-telling.

    I tried. I really did.

    Reviewers don’t get paid though. Editors at publishing houses do. I was looking at an endless slush pile. I finally decided that I had better things to do than wade through bad fanfic. And worse. So, so much worse.

    In most cases, if it’s self-published, I won’t even look at it unless someone else I know has already thrown themselves on that grenade.

    • DawnD: I totally agree that reviewers don’t get paid enough — especially since most of them don’t get paid at all. Editors are a notoriously low paid lot. I hope they get benefits that make up for their generally low pay.

      As to your experience with the self-pubbed submissions: O_O !!

      Normally, I would have downloaded a sample and known pretty quickly the book was bad. But there was interesting discussion about it and I do like to support authors by buying their books, particularly when they’re reasonably priced. I took a risk and got bit. But now I know that some of the people in that discussion are not sources of good recommendations for me. Lesson learned.