Friday, June 06, 2008

The Loss of the Comma--Pepper

With my deepest apologies to Master Shakespeare.

Fans, Authors, Editors, lend me your ears
I come to bury Comma not to praise him.
The evil that men do lives after them
The good is oft interred with their bones
So let it be with Comma. The noble publishers
Hath told you Comma was unnecessary:
If it were so, it was a grievous fault,
And grievously hath Comma answer'd it.
Here, under leave of EC and the rest--
For EC is an honourable pub
So are they all, all honourable pubs--
Come I to speak in Comma's funeral.
He was my friend, faithful and just to me
But they say he was unneccesary
And they are honourable pubs.

I just wanted to hold a small memorial service for proper punctuation. I've been told by my editors and my final-line editors (at two different epublishers) that commas are unnecessary in fiction, because fiction is "informal." Unfortunately, commas were not the only punctuation mark assassinated. Semi-colons are also a target, and so I removed them completely from the above speech.

I, personally, feel the loss of the comma quite deeply. He was a friend to me. I think of all the English teachers who did everything in their power to teach me how to use Comma correctly. I think of my own students, who, at the age of eighteen, finally learned actual rules for comma use. I think of all the professional proofreaders and authors who struggle valiantly to preserve this noble, yet dying, creature. Keep fighting the good fight! Commas are not unnecessary. Commas do not disrupt the flow of the sentence. Novels are not less formal than other types of writing. And publishers, whether they're epublishers or in New York, shouldn't be so frightened of this piece of punctuation. It's not hard to use properly!

But I am shouting into the void.

Good night, sweet Comma. And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.


veinglory said...

To fill a Gap
Insert the Thing that caused it –
Block it up
With Other – and ‘twill yawn the more –
You cannot solder an Abyss
Without Commas.

veinglory said...

OT, who noticed was done? Not me, I swear!

Http/1.1 Service Unavailable

tee hee hee

Anonymous said...

I've noticed a dearth of semi-colons and had heard that EC was axing commas as well. How depressing that another publisher is doing it, too. I don't understand how this decision could have been made. I read an ebook (not from EC but from another big house) the other day where I kept track of where the commas should have been. I was appalled.

Do epublishers seriously think that by removing punctuation they'll get readers to read faster? It'll do the opposite. It slowed me down (and I read fast) with the book I was reading and yeah, it totally ruined the whole experience for me.

I noticed some NY books are doing the same thing (especially with those 'difficult' punctuations the colon and semi-colon). A huge percentage of people are semi-literate anyway. Are publishers pandering to the semi-literate? Do they think people can't learn the use of a comma or semi-colon by seeing it in context?

Obviously not. This makes me so mad. Thank you for posting about it.

Pepper Espinoza said...

You're right, Lindy, literate people are slowed down by improper punctuation, not the other way around.

I honestly believe it's because some (most?) of the editors and authors don't know how to use commas. It's easier to remove them all than to try to fix them--the "if you make a mistake at least be consistent!" school of thought. I'm genuinely interested in hearing the rationale for this. I asked one of my editors and she acknowledged my frustration but explained it was "house style" and her hands were tied, too. I can't wrap my mind around any publisher deciding that "house style" should actually introduce errors into a MS.

Editing is becoming very difficult for me. It makes me angry to knowingly make errors and then put my name on the final product. But what can you do?

veinglory said...

Intrusive house style drive me crazy. Like Chippewa and their 'never use contractions, ever' and 'never use passive voice ever'. And that worked out so well for them. I wonder of this is part of EC's beginning of the end.

Pepper Espinoza said...

I doubt it, Emily. If it were a sign of the beginning of the end, other publishers wouldn't be doing the same thing. I'm worried the intrusive house style is more of a growing trend.

Anonymous said...

I've heard it's EC's way of writing down to (what they perceive to be) the "lower reading level and standards" of customers. It's insulting to their customers, if the truth be told, and absolutely ridiculous. These people have no business being publishers if they think that destroying the language and all its mechanics is a way to "better educate" people. They should be ashamed of themselves, and should be pelted with thick copies of Chicago Manual of Style and Strunk & White's Elements of Grammar, the "bibles" of the industry, for their lunacy. Idiots!

Anonymous said...

Emily - are you serious about Chippewa's 'never use contractions' rule? I thought the preferred method was 'use as many contractions as possible'!

Pepper - I agree, I think a lot of authors/editors don't know how to punctuate correctly. What gets me is that *it isn't hard to learn*. I can understand they want to get the book out fast and make money off it, but sloppy editing is occurring more and more these days.

Out of interest (and no problem if you can't/don't want to answer): how much leeway does an author get in refusing edits/final line edits?

Pepper Espinoza said...

It depends on the publisher and the editor. Every publisher I work with has a different house style, and a few of the pubs will allow some lee-way if we ask. For example, a few use "cum" as the noun and "come" as the verb. As soon as I realized the editor was changing pre-come to pre-cum I wrote back and said, "Absolutely not." I really, really, really hate that word. That was the end of that, and now I don't have to worry about the editors changing it. But other publishers don't really allow any lee-way at all.

Angelia Sparrow said...

I've had no problem with my commas at Ellora. Maybe it's an editor to editor thing?

OTOH, they did break me of my annoying style of writing in lists. It is, however, very annoying NOT to be able to use a colon when the sentence calls for one. (I got by with it on an official form in a story)

I loathe semicolons and almost never use them. My English teachers were of the "Make it two sentences" school.

Mary Caelsto said...

I hate being unable to use semi-colons because there are definate places when they are necessary. And, I hate the remove all commas rule too. I must confess, I recently had a discussion with an editor in my company if she asked how I was going to handle punctuation. My reply was -- be gramatically correct and reference the Chicago Manual of Style if in doubt.

Anonymous said...

I haven't had any trouble with my use of commas at EC either, and I'm a bit of a comma whore. But then, everybody likes to say how EC demands "more sex more sex omg not enuff sexxors!" too and I had none of that either. So, I guess take that as you will.

Bernita said...

Banning the comma is outright ridiculous.
Even stupid.

Vivien Dean said...

I had the comma and semicolon issue at EC, as well as the *insert 2k sex scene here* comment, so it probably does differ. But the comma issue isn't just as EC. As Pepper noted, it's a few different publishers, all going strong. It's incredibly frustrating when it completely changes the meaning of a sentence.

Anonymous said...

Come on, now, does that look like the comma has been banned from EC books? Take a peek at other excerpts beside ours. Commas all over the place.

The comma has not been banned. Nobody's burning commas in the town square lol. Promise.

veinglory said...

I doubt people are making it up, if some authors report it then some authors are exoeriencing it. It seems editors are given the authority to ban commas but not all do. Or they aren't and some do it anyway and calling it EC style requirements?

Anonymous said...

I'm not saying anyone is making it up, but even those who say they've had issues with commas at EC...their books have commas. Maybe some got removed, but less commas doesn't equal the ban of commas. :) I looked at the excerpts of Vivien's book at EC...commas in abundance. I'm just saying that EC might want less commas, that's possible, but no commas? Not true. All one has to do to see that is look at the books EC puts out. Trust me, they all have commas.

*shrugs and smiles* It's the blanket statements that bother me. Not saying at all that anyone is lying about having some commas removed etc. But there's no ban.

Pepper Espinoza said...

Fae, I thought the usage of one of the most famous speeches from Shakespeare's plays might have indicated that I'm a bit tongue-in-cheek here. Between Vivien and myself, we work with 3 publishers that have very bizarre rules about commas, including removing required commas. I wanted to discuss this growing (frustrating, perplexing, annoying) trend and the possibility of the trend getting worse, with some (I believe) humorous hyperbole.

Vivien Dean said...

Fae, neither the original post nor my comment said that all commas had been banned. I won't address Pepper's intent about the removal of certain commas killing proper punctuation, but in regards to my comment, I meant the removal of certain commas that are considered punctually correct to have and all semicolons (I had 3 in my entire story, and all 3 were replaced with commas. I rewrote all 3 sections in order to have them punctuated properly, rather than have what was obviously incorrect in my manuscript. And no, these were not pointed out to me in my edits. I caught them on my own and did hard checks back and forth to determine them.)

My point in commenting in the first place was simply to point out that the removal of certain commas is not just an EC thing. Three of the six publishers I'm pubbed with are now doing it. This isn't about EC. This is about a frightening trend in the publishing industry.

Anonymous said...

I know you guys didn't say commas were banned. I was responding to Bernita's comment that banning commas was stupid. Since the only pub I work with that has any rules about commas is EC, that's who I mentioned in my comments. Banning commas altogether *would* be stupid, I was merely pointing out that one of the pubs mentioned does not, in fact, ban commas.

I'm not intending to offend anyone, just correcting what I felt was an erroneous statement.