What do I do??

I have a dilemma. Last week I have received my manuscript from the proof-reader. There were a lot of changes, especially in punctuation and grammar. She did say that it was more than she would have expected, so you can imagine my concern.

Anyway, I got to work reviewing and accepting changes. Then, at about a half-way mark, I finally had to admit that “something ain’t right”. Specifically, the following two types of changes appeared over and over:

1. Adding a comma before “and” in a simple sentence, such as “Blah, blah,” he said, and offered his hand.
2. Past perfect everywhere, such as “I had never even heard of it before”.

I have googled the bejesus out of these two points and found that:

1. No comma. The only way a comma would be appropriate, if it was an independent clause, such as:”Blah, blah,” he said, and then he offered his hand. Note that there are two subjects, “he” and then “he” again.
2. It should be “have”, because while she’s never heard of it before, she’s heard of it now, as in “I’ve never even heard of it before”.

Still, I was not sure. After all, I’m Russian and the proofreader is educated and may I mention, being paid for this. I have emailed the proofreader. No answer. I finally got her on the phone. After I finished describing the point 1, I asked what rule dictates the comma. The answer? “No rule”.

“Then why is it there?” I asked.
“There’s a pause there, so it felt natural to add a comma,” she said.

I was flabbergasted. I am not paying for an opinion, I’m paying for expertise.

“The manuscript seems overpunctuated,” I said.
“You don’t have to use it,” she said, cool as a cucumber.

I was so shocked that I forgot to bring up point #2 and got off the phone. I feel like a deflated baloon, not even sure if there are other changes she’s suggested based on how it feels, rather than the grammar rules. I’m not sure what I should do. The way I see it, I have two options:

1. Pay her and forget about it, instead starting from the beginning and going through the manuscript and suggested changes myself, researching each questionable point. Pros: one hell of an English lesson I’ll never forget. Cons: hella pissed off about paying someone to confuse me.
2. Send it back to her and tell her to re-do using English rules and not opinions, if she wants me to pay the full price, or negotiate a discounted price to finish it myself.

My sweet and kind partner thinks I should not fight her. My feisty sister’s advice is “it’s on!”. What do you think?


Filed under Self-publishing and marketing

183 responses to “What do I do??

  1. When it comes to punctuation, I am horrible. Grammarly is incredible.
    Thank you for visiting my blog.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. There’s also a good app called Ginger. If you’re using word it will give you suggestions as to where to put your punctuation.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Hey Ana, the exchange between you and your copy editor is supposed to be a conversation, an exchange, and though there are definite
    rules for grammar they are flexible, especially in fiction. If you’re having trouble getting the flow in English, try going through the text in your native language. If there’s a natural pause, put a comma, if there’s a change in direction, or thought, try a dash or a semicolon. People don’t speak grammatically and as an editor of mine once said, “don’t get it right, just get it writ.”

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi David, and thank you. I agree that the work between me and editor is a conversation, however I disagree on using pauses as guidance on where to put commas. I, for one, speak without pauses 🙂 I believe in the language being a common code and don’t want variations to distract readers. Sure, the rules are broken all the time, I recall one book in which the author used “1” instead of “one”. Cute. I hated it 🙂


      • I’ve always done my own editing. First, I’m cheap. Secondly, it’s just easier with fewer hassles. I admit I do have some strange grammar sometimes. But, doing my own editing, I read and reread the piece so many times and touch it up so endlessly. Well, I think that can make the piece better. And yes it is a lot of tedious work.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Hi Bumba, I’ve probably self-edited the novel at least a dozen times before going the professional route. Now I’m still tinkering, even after the three rounds of professional. I’m thinking it’s because I’m growing as a writer every day, so every day the piece is not quite to my standard 🙂


  4. I can’t comment on the specifics of editor-writer relationships, but you are right – we generally do not add a comma before “and”. My exception to this would be if the preceding independent clause is lengthy, but again this is more of a personal quirk than an established grammar.

    I think one of the most terrifying things about being a writer is that you’re free to break the rules, but whether you’ll be lauded as a grammatical iconoclast or derided for poor grammar is pretty much unknown.

    Great blog, btw!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much! It’s is terrifying, especially this being the first time I’m gonna put something “out there”. My hope and my understanding is that if anything ridiculous comes up, I can amend the file and reupload it. Gotta love the modern technology!


    • Anna

      I think the lauding really depends on whether your breaking from the rules makes sense, looks polished, and flows in a natural manner- or makes it look poorly written and fragmented instead (I’ve also noticed that spelling mistakes and actual sentence structure play a large part in that, as well). Generally speaking, though, those whose native language is not English /can/ get away with breaking English grammatical rules a lot more than those whose native language /is/ English.


  5. I recently tried to read a book by a best selling author (Book became a movie). Her writing is bad, but her content made millions. Go figure.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Never read the Twilights and I really like Vampires, no, these were the Shades of Grey. In all honesty, I’m not sure if the writing improved, I didn’t finish the first chapter.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Anna

      Spoiler alert: It didn’t. And as someone heavily immersed in the BDSM community, it’s a good thing you didn’t make it past the first chapter. I regret ever reading it.

      Though if you actually like erotica with BDSM elements and would like to read something more accurate (and have no problem with F+F homosexual relationships or visual depictions), may I suggest the Sunstone Graphic Novel on Deviantart by the user Shiniez? Like E.L. James, the author has never been involved in the BDSM community, but the novel is well written and talks about important subjects for us.


  7. Reblogged this on WriterStella – Stella Samuel and commented:
    We’ve all been through this. Sometimes it feels great to not be alone in a tiny closet filled with questions.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I recommend your Option Two. My Da, who worked as a sub-editor on daily newspapers in Ireland said a comma should never precede “and” (or “but”). I have not discussed the separate clause rule with him and I could only do it now through a seance. I would say that rules can be broken but we should know what they are if we are going to break them.

    I do all my own editing. I think you have to take account not only of how people speak — especially in dialogue — but how things LOOK to the reader. You can get away with a lot of things in speech that look crap in written text.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Rebel. I did execute the option 2, then went over it myself one more time, then bought and used Grammarly. I’ve just uploaded the novel to Amazon, so it’s as good as I could get it 🙂


    • Anna

      The idea that a comma should never precede an “and” or “but” is not /entirely/ accurate. Take, for instance, the Serial Comma (also known as the Oxford or Harvard Comma) grammatical rule. This stipulates the placement of a comma between the conjunction in series’ of terms greater or longer than 3 in length; “Stein, James, and Emma” (Serial) vs. “Stein, James and Emma” (Standard). Both options are grammatically correct in all technicality (though Wikipedia has wonderful suggestions for using it without confusion by paying attention to the list structures themselves https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Serial_comma).

      Liked by 1 person

  9. I just came across this post today, and wanted to add my two bits:

    1. Commas: The general rule is to include a comma before the conjunction. There are exceptions when the clauses “are very short and closely connected” (Chicago Manual of Style, 6.28), or when the same subject governs both verbs (The Copyeditor’s Handbook, Third Edition, pg. 96). You would, however, want to include the comma if necessary for the sake of clarity.

    In the example you give:

    “Blah, blah,” he said, and offered his hand.

    It would still be clear without the comma. However, I would be inclined to agree with your proofreader, and recommend leaving that comma intact. Punctuation also aids in telling the reader how to interpret pauses; omitting the comma would suggest that there is no pause, whereas I find a pause after “he said” to occur naturally when reading that sentence. (Imagine removing the rests from a piece of music—it would no longer be the same.)

    As a reader, I find it distracting when punctuation is omitted when it shouldn’t be, or added when it doesn’t need to be there; I end up having to back up to re-read the sentence the way the writer apparently intended it. That takes me out of the story.

    A way around this would be to change it to:

    “Blah, blah,” he said, offering his hand.

    2. “had never” vs “have never”

    “I had never even heard of it before”.
    “I’ve never even heard of it before”.

    Of course, it may depend on the context, but these two sentences are not quite the same. Depending on the context, it may not be a good idea to regard them as interchangeable.

    Read alone, “I had never even heard of it before” comes across as thoughtful, as though the speaker has just learned something new and is marvelling at the new information.

    “I have never even heard of it before” comes across as the speaker doubting what she has just been told, with her next words likely being, “are you sure?” In some contexts, particularly when the people in the conversation have very different opinions about the subject being discussed, that statement can be defensive, intended to shut down further discussion.

    If I had just said that, and weren’t being argumentative, my next step would probably be to look up what I had just been told to verify whether or not it were actually true/accurate.

    Either way, I recommend paying your proofreader. She did do the work, yes? Also, like it or not, opinion (or “feel”, if you prefer) does factor into the job; it is part of her “expertise”. There are rules, yes, but there are often differing opinions about how strictly they should be applied. Additionally, there are often differing opinions about which rulebooks (style guides) should apply.

    For example, I notice that you use logical punctuation, which is primarily a British style preference. (I prefer it as well, even though I’m American.) American writers would place commas and periods inside the quotation marks, regardless of whether or not they are actually part of the words being quoted; British writers would be more likely to place them outside of the end quotations marks unless they were part of the original sentence.

    Plus, she is correct in that you do not have to incorporate her changes. (I assume you both are using Word’s “Track Changes” feature.) To use an analogy that a friend of mine once offered: she made you the hamburger using the ingredients you gave her; if you want to take something off the hamburger, or put something else on it, that’s entirely your choice.

    I would also recommend finding a different proofreader. Regardless of whether or not her changes are “correct”, it is clear from your post that you are not happy with her (if it were longer than one business day, the lack of response to e-mail would trouble me), and do not completely trust her work. Even if she were to re-do the job, that doesn’t sound like the basis for a good working relationship.

    Okay, that’s my eight bits.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Kevin, and thank you for such an in-depth, thoughtful reply! I did pay the proofreader, then bought a subscription to Grammarly and did another proofread myself. I will post a review of Grammarly this week – in the future I hope to save some costs by doing the proofread by myself again.


    • Anna

      “For example, I notice that you use logical punctuation, which is primarily a British style preference. (I prefer it as well, even though I’m American.) American writers would place commas and periods inside the quotation marks, regardless of whether or not they are actually part of the words being quoted; British writers would be more likely to place them outside of the end quotations marks unless they were part of the original sentence.”

      Ah. So that explains my preference for placing them outside of quotations and parenthesis. I learned British grammatical structure in school as opposed to American structure (despite being in an American school- which is a bit odd). My friends hackle me for that all of the time, but it seems absurd to me to place them inside whenever they are not a part of the thought included therein?

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Do something. She is wrong and doesn’t deserve pay for errors. Either make her re-do it, or tell her it’s all incorrect and you refuse to pay. I’m amazed at her cavalier attitude.


  11. Josh Wrenn

    #2. The Oxford comma is a preference, not a rule. In blah blah, I don’t know if it would fit, just based on word duplication. Blah blah blah. Before and in a list however, I like it, but it is not a hard and fast rule. As for the have, verses had, I think technicality sometimes lose the feel, especially in dialogue as you pointed out. Nice of you to pay her for her opinion though.


    • Hi, Josh. Yes, I’m very nice 🙂 Ok, seriously – I’ve paid her because she did catch a whole bunch of other things. In the future my plan will be to do proofread myself with the help of Grammarly (also not perfect – I will post my review of it soon).

      Liked by 1 person

  12. Girl, use me as your editor next time! I’m a grammar/punctuation master, and I actually follow the rules! (www.angietonucci.com) I love your witty writing style, and I look forward to reading your book. Thanks for checking out my blog!

    Liked by 1 person

  13. I’m not an expert in grammar,
    But “comma” is used to do a pause in the text. When you use “and”, this “and” is doing that pause.
    In Spanish, use comma before “y” (and) is totally wrong.
    I use http://www.hemingwayapp.com/ to learn, improve and fix my horrible grammar

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Thank you for following my blog Ana. I had this dilemma myself at one point and since my budget is very tight I did a lot of research on the subject of grammar. The best advice I gleaned was from Stephen King in his book “On Writing – A Memoir of the Craft” where he lays out how he does it. If you have not read this very short book I recommend you do. It helped me!


    • Hi, John, I’ve read the book, but can’t remember King giving advice on grammar? Wasn’t it more general, he advised for writers to collect “tools”? I should be on a budget, which I’ve blown on my firstborn. Next time I’ll rely more on Grammarly, which is also not perfect (I’ll be posting a review of it soon).


  15. jlouisemac

    Bah, that’s a tough position. I would approach the issue tactfully.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Gotta chime in with the grammar nerd thing: I’m surprised no one mentioned that “I have never heard of it” is present tense. “As of right now, I have not heard of it.” “I had never heard of it” is past tense. It is used when two things that both happened in the past need to be put in order: “Before you mentioned it, I had never heard of it.” (And there are very specific rules about comma use, having nothing to do with spoken pauses.) AND, my last blog post is full of typos, and I’m still happy with it. Thanks for stopping by, Ana!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you – yes, I agree on the rules, using commas whenever it “feels right” is too subjective. I did use the “I had never” in the end – I’m Russian and it has occurred to me during this process that I’ve probably been getting away with poor grammar in speaking because people have been too kind.

      Liked by 1 person

  17. Hodgepodge 4 the Soul™

    Hopefully you went with option #2.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Heather Walker

    Commas! Bane of my life. I know the basic rules but when my friend looks at my work she is forever inserting commas. I must have a mental block like I do on numbers. I’ve become fearful of the little blighters. You have my sympathy.

    Liked by 1 person

  19. Pingback: Grammarly is not that grammar-worthy | AnaSpoke.com

  20. I loved reading this post! I too get so lost in writing content that I fumble some punctuation, and when called on it I have to check before standing my ground. Thank you for sharing the experience. I’m officially encouraged.


  21. How awesome, thank you!


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