Friday, April 1, 2011

Yes, You Have to Use Punctuation

That's no April Fools' Day prank—it’s the brand-spanking-new cover of Ivy and the Meanstalk, which I got to see for the first time a little over a week-and-a-half ago. I love it and just had to share! I especially love that Ivy looks a little older on this cover. Perhaps, in spite of all her efforts, she's starting to grow up, just a little :)

Now on to my blog post…

I've being hearing a lot of stories like these recently:

For many years, a friend of mine worked at a local high school. One day, an English teacher came up to her and wanted her to look at a student’s essay. “It’s the strangest thing I’ve ever seen,” she said. My friend thought so, too. A ninth-grade student had typed the essay entirely in lower case letters and hadn’t used any punctuation—none whatsoever. Not a single period, comma, or quotation mark in the whole paper. When the teacher asked the student about this, he gave a very self-assured answer. “I’m going to be a writer,” he said, “so I don’t have to bother with punctuation. Someday I’m going to have an editor to handle all that for me.”

Another friend of mine was recently talking to a woman in her writing group. My friend was excited because she had just launched a snazzy new website to promote herself as a writer, complete with gorgeous artwork by a graphic designer pal. When she asked if the other woman had ever considered creating a website for herself, the woman replied, “Oh, that won’t be necessary. When I have an agent, they’ll take care of that for me.”

As writers, we often encounter individuals like these. Aspiring authors who, while I'm sure they're perfectly nice people, have some pretty big misconceptions about how the publishing industry works. Often these misconceptions center around the belief that writers have loads of people just waiting around to do things for them. Your sentences need punctuation? No problem—an editor will take care of that. Need a website? Bam! An agent will make one magically appear for you.

Don't get me wrong, I think my agent, editor, and publisher are pretty magical, too, but no one has yet to volunteer to pick through my manuscripts and insert periods at the end of my sentences for me :)

I'm always a little amused by aspiring authors who think that because agents and editors work hard, writers don't have to. I remember back when I worked for a small publisher specializing in non-fiction titles. One of our editors suggested to an author that a chapter would make more sense if he added a little background information at the beginning. "That's a great idea!" the (first-time) author was quick to reply via e-mail. "Let's do that." Of course, what he didn't do was actually send a revised chapter or supply any of the requested background information—he had just assumed the editor would "handle" this, even though he was the author and this was his book!

I know no followers of Project Mayhem would fall prey to this line of thinking. They understand that writing is hard work, and while there will be many wonderful, invaluable people who help on their journey to publication, much of the work falls squarely on the shoulders of the author. There are no shortcuts. So polish that manuscript carefully. Put in the time necessary to hone your skills. Want a website? Get one up there! No one is going to do it for you. Agents, editors, and publishers appreciate authors who are willing to put forth an effort.

Yes, this means you have to use punctuation.

-Dawn Lairamore


  1. Dawn, I LOVE your new cover! I'm so happy for you! I wonder what our editor must think when she reads "there" on my MS instead of "their" or "your" instead of "you're"!! Ummm...because it has happened--recently. Writing. Is. Hard. ;)

    xoxo -- Hilary

  2. Great cover!

    I feel sorry for future agents/editors given the state of punctuation among today's youth (or lack thereof).

  3. Eek! This distresses me. My husband knows if he wants to get my goat, all he has to do is challenge a grammar/punctuation rule.

  4. Awesome cover, Dawn! I want a poster of it. :)

  5. @Hilary - Lol. With Meanstalk, I kept confusing pour/pore, e.g. Ivy would "pour" over a book instead of "pore" over it. Wrong, wrong, wrong!! She wasn't pouring a pitcher of water over it :) How embarrassing if that had made it into the final book. I couldn't even claim it was a typo, since it happened two or three times...

    @Julie and Caroline - Distresses me, too. Years ago I tutored first-year college students and some of them didn't have the first clue about the basics of writing a paper, like what a thesis was, or topic sentence. It was so unfortunate. Luckily, I did see students who were fairly strong writers and just needed some brushing up. What a joy they were. They had real motivation and enthusiasm. It gave me hope!

    @Tim - Thanks. Me, too!!!!

  6. Awesome cover, Dawn. It must be so exciting to see the cover for a book of yours. Oh, hopefully soon for me.

    I laughed as I read your post because there were so many misconceptions I had going in, and when I think of them it makes me wonder how I ever held such notions. Good post.

  7. Hi Michael,

    I'm sure in the not-too-distant future you'll be posting your own cover on Project Mayhem :)

    Yeah, we sure learn a lot as we go along.

  8. Love the cover. And you'd think what you posted about would be basic common sense. But apparently not.

  9. I taught HS English and can just imagine the teacher's consternation with the essay and the student's response! I would have handed to paper back just like a future editor will!

  10. @Natalie - thanks! Yes, you would THINK so, lol.

    @Kathy - I sure hope the teacher handed the paper back. It would've been the appropriate response :)

  11. LOVE, LOVE, LOVE that cover! So fantastic.

    And I wonder how much interwebz speech has altered the way students approach writing papers. I read an article awhile back suggesting that the rules of punctuation and grammar will evolve to follow those trends. I'm not sure if I buy it, not only because it makes the 6th-grader-in-me-who-LOVED-diagramming-sentences cringe.

  12. And how appropriate that I ended that comment with a fragment. Haha.

  13. Thanks, Marissa.

    I sure hope the rules of punctuation and grammar don't fall too far by the wayside.

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  15. Dawn!! Dawn!!! I love your cover! I love it and I want to marry it!!! Ack!!!!

  16. Thanks, Jen. Our publisher does great covers--as you well know :)


Thanks for adding to the mayhem!