Thursday, January 26, 2012

Punctuation saves books

by Maria Geraci

I have to admit to getting a tickle out of this. I ripped it off a friend's Facebook status and discovered that there is an entire Facebook page devoted to the love of punctuation and all things wordly. Yep, it's right here.

All of which is extremely appropriate for my current state of mind because I just handed in the reviewed copy edits for my latest novel, A Girl Like You, which comes out this August. All I can say is: Thank you, professional copy editors of the world. Without you, I might indeed be "eating grandma!"

For those of you who might not be writers, let me explain what I'm talking about. After you hand in your *polished* manuscript to your editor, she/he asks for revisions or rewrites. Once you and your editor agree on the completed manuscript, it then goes to the next stage: the professional copy editor. This is the God/Goddess who goes through your 90,000 plus word manuscript with a fine tooth comb to correct typos, misspells, grammar and punctuation. You (the writer) then review the copy-edited manuscript and make any last minute changes/corrections, etc...

When I wrote my first novel for Berkley (just four short years ago), the copy-edited manuscript came to me via UPS in paper form and copy-edits were done in long hand. Thank God we're more civilized now and the copy-edits come back via the air waves in the form of Word and the copy-edits in Track Changes.

Just for giggles, here are just a few of the snafus on A Girl Like You. In my defense, I will say that when I'm writing I'm concentrating on content. Plus, I know there is this terrific copy-editor that is watching my back...

Torie is not a classic beauty, but she gets hit on more than Kimberly and I combined.

Torie is not a classic beauty, but she gets hit on more than Kimberly and me combined.

This is the first of my books written in first-person, present tense. Boy, do I now know the difference in using "I" and "me."

Luckily, it is at this moment that the crowd begins to hoop and holler,
Luckily, it is at this moment that the crowd begins to hoot and holler,

Um, I guess crowds don't hoop, do they?

"So then I ask her if she’ll take a breathalyzer test..."
"So then I ask her if she’ll take a Breathalyzer test..."

And last but not least, here's one that was particularly embarrassing considering I'm referencing one of my personal favorite movies:

I like to imagine myself as the Rosalind Russell to his Cary Grant (think My Girl Friday)
Copy Edited:
I like to imagine myself as the Rosalind Russell to his Cary Grant (think His Girl Friday),

So, while in my case punctuation probably does not save lives, it definitely saves books.

Thank you, copy editors of the world!


  1. As someone who diagrammed more than her fair share of sentences in grammar school (because that's what it was called in the 1800s), I loved this post! I have forgotten so much of what I learned in school so I keep a freshman comp handbook handy (from my English textbook editing days) and that gets me through most grammatical minefields safely. Maggie

  2. Maggie, I too went to school during the *pioneer* times and have diagrammed many a sentence, although sadly, my mind has blocked out most of it. Glad you enjoyed the post :)

  3. Raising my hand to join the "I Have Diagrammed Sentences" group! (They don't do that any more??? What???) My favorite copy editor story was with my first series mystery, BLUE BLOOD. I described someone's face as being as round as a Moon Pie. The copy editor flagged this and wrote me a note to this effect: "According to the Random House Dictionary of American Slang, 'moon pie' is a sex act between two men." Wow, I didn't even know that! I'd just thought it was a yummy snack made in Chattanooga, TN (where my mystery editor had grown up and eaten her share of Moon Pies--um, the snack--funnily enough!). ;-)

    1. OMG! That's so funny, Susan! Of course, I remember the er, same moon pies your character does.

  4. I love this, Maria. If we diagrammed sentences in England it is too long ago for me to remember. What, Susan, re the Moon Pie!! I consider myself worldly (show me a crime writer who doesn't) but that is a new one on me. Great column Maria....

  5. Fun post! I diagrammed sentences too, but it's been so long ago I barely remember how we did it. That Moon Pie bit is weird. My critique group saves me with the punctuation and a lot more--before it ever gets to the editor.

  6. "Hoot and holler" could also be "WHOOP and holler"

  7. I really enjoyed this post. I didn't learn how to write until I was way out of high school, but then all the lesson kicked in. I notice errors, but since I have acquaintances that are editors, I just smile, and think, "Ah, missed one." From what I'm reading about writing, getting the words down on paper seems tho be the very important first step. :)

  8. That should be all the "lessons." I'm not exempt from typing and reading too fast.

  9. Lil, you are so right. First rule of writing is: butt in chair, words on paper. Thanks for commenting!