Punctuation Pointers

If you want a publisher to take you seriously as an author, your manuscript has to be as polished as it can be. So before you send it off, you need to make sure all the punctuation, usage, grammar, and spelling (what I like to call “PUGS”) are correct.

If you’re planning to self-publish, you want your manuscript to be as polished as you can get it when you send it to the typesetter. You don’t want readers to find mistakes after you’ve got a garage full of printed books!

Here’s an example. Do you know that if you wrote, “My husband Richard took me to dinner last night,” without commas around the name, you’d be identifying Richard as just one of your husbands?

Do you know when to use its vs. it’s? Or lay vs. lie? Or that vs. which?
Do you know the difference between affect and effect? Or blond and blonde?
Do you know when awhile or anymore or onto should be spelled as two words?

If you ask ten friends a question about punctuation, usage, grammar, or spelling, you’ll probably get at least three or four different answers. Should you just go with the one that gets the most votes? Or is there a better way?

Here’s an insider tip: Book publishers throughout the United States all use the same resource for punctuation issues: The Chicago Manual of Style. And they all use the same dictionary: Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate. (Yes, believe it or not, different dictionaries don’t always spell words the same way!) Christian publishers use The Christian Writer’s Manual of Style for guidelines specific to Christian publishing. So when you have a question about punctuation, you can go to the Chicago manual; when you’re wondering how to spell a word, you can check Webster’s Collegiate; if you’re not sure whether to capitalize a religious term or format a Scripture quotation, check the Christian style book. Pretty simple, right?

But the Chicago manual is more than a thousand pages long, and finding what you want in it can sometimes be a challenge. It’s written by college professors, so understanding the explanations isn’t always easy for the average writer.

After a few years as a professional freelance editor, working with both authors and publishing houses, I came to the conclusion that most writers struggle with the same PUGS problems time and time again. So I started compiling the most common issues. (No sense looking up the same rule or the same spelling over and over again, right?) I then put all of those tips into a book, which I titled Proofreading Secrets of Best-Selling Authors.

Proofreading Secrets of Best-Selling Authors organizes rules for punctuation, usage, grammar, and spelling in an easy-to-use format. For each punctuation rule, I give the corresponding Chicago Manual of Style rule number (and/or Christian Writer’s Manual of Style page number) so you can look up the rule for more details. Rules for articles (from The Associated Press Stylebook and Webster’s New World College Dictionary) are also included.

NOTE: This book is not intended to replace the other reference books. But many people who have bought Proofreading Secrets of Best-Selling Authors say that they look in it first, and 95 percent of the time they find the answer they’re looking for. If you don’t find what you want there, you can look up the answer and then add it to your copy of Proofreading Secrets of Best-Selling Authors. Blank lines are provided at the end of each section for that purpose.

For more PUGS tips, check out Proofreading Secrets of Best-Selling Authors.

If you’re interested in receiving an autographed copy of my Proofreading Secrets of Best-Selling Authors book, please e-mail me.