Thursday, June 20, 2019

Dear O'Abby, Punctuation woes

Dear O'Abby,

I'm published by a small press and have discovered during the editorial process that they have a style guide that forbids the use of semi-colons in their books.  Now, I don't over-use semi-colons, but I do use them where it's appropriate, and I like the feel and rhythm they give my prose.  Having removed them all for my editor, I feel like several passages now feel wrong.  The rhythm is off.  The meaning, of those sentences hasn't changed exactly, but has subtly shifted.

Do you have any advice? I mean, why have a policy like that in the first place?



Dear Semi-Punctuated,

I don't think there is anything you can do in this situation. It's frustrating, I know. My small press publisher has the same policy and it irritates me every time my editor removes one of my lovingly placed semi-colons.

If you want to continue writing for this publisher, you will need to work within their style guide.  Maybe try writing your next book without any semi-colons.  Or edit them out yourself before you submit the manuscript so at least you have control over the way the sentences sound and feel without the semi-colons.

Or of course, you could look for a different publisher for your next book.  But you may find other publishers have the same style-guide.  And if not using semi-colons is the only complaint you have about your publisher, you might want to think long and hard about this option.  If you're happy with everything else they do, is this really a deal breaker?

As for why a publisher might have a policy like that, I can only hazard a guess that they were getting too many manuscripts in which authors over-used semi-colons or mis-used them frequently.  Or perhaps the editors themselves are unsure about how to use them properly and felt it was easier to just say no than to try and figure out if each one a writer uses is correct or not.  I don't know.

I know this doesn't solve your issue, but hopefully you now know you are not alone in this boat.

X O'Abby

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