A Matter Of Punctuation

Earlier this year, as part of a flurry of competition entries, I entered A Thousand Rooms, my standalone women’s fiction novel, in the 25th Annual Writer’s Digest Self-Published Book Awards.

It was a long shot. I knew that. One of the most respected independent book competitions around, the contest attracts thousands of entries from around the world. However, you can’t win the lottery if you don’t have a ticket, so I thought it might be worth a try. Another attraction was the fact that I would get, as part of my entry fee, feedback from the judge assigned to my title.

Well, I didn’t make the final shortlist. Oh well. However, I recently received my promised feedback and was very pleased. Feedback scores are ranked from 1 to 5, with 1 being ‘needs improvement’ and 5 being ‘outstanding.’

My scores were as follows:

Structure, Organization, and Pacing: 4

Spelling, Punctuation, and Grammar: 4

Production Quality and Cover Design: 5

Plot and Story Appeal: 5

Character Appeal and Development: 4

Voice and Writing Style: 5

Furthermore, the judge offered the following comments:

I was really very excited when I discovered that the author has a fantastic writing style and a voice that is perfectly suited for the genre. This is a good book… I love this type of plot line and it certainly kept me entertained and turning the pages. The author has done a great job with strong, fast pacing that doesn’t lag. And an equally great job of realistic dialogue that also presents with a nix (sic) mix of dialogue and narrative. I wish that more authors would focus on this element when it comes to fiction writing. A nice, satisfying ending left me with a smile on my face. This was just simply a solid entry… Best of luck with this book and I hope to read more from this author.

I was very pleased with this feedback, as you can imagine.

However, I haven’t written this post just to sing my own praises 🙂 One of the things I lost marks on was spelling, punctuation and grammar. Now, I had this book professionally edited, so I doubt that spelling was an issue, unless the American judge didn’t like my use of colour, favour, etc. While they didn’t specify spelling as an issue, they did point out one specific issue they saw – my use of single quotation marks throughout the book, which they described as ‘incorrect and an unnecessary distraction.’

Incorrect? Not in this country. In fact, I’m currently reading The Essex Serpent, a British bestseller from last year, and the quotation marks throughout? Single.

Perhaps, had the judge realised I was a UK-based author, they may have been more lenient. However, it was a lesson to me, as a writer who sells books around the world, that I might want to reconsider my use of quotation marks. It’s a small thing, but it may have made the difference to my entry. (Or not, more than likely – I really don’t know).

So, not the end of the world. I received excellent feedback, and I learned a lesson. Not bad for a competition entry. And I thought I might share it with you.

If you enjoyed this post and would like to read more, you can find me on Twitter @AuthorHelenJFacebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Plus my latest book release, A Thousand Rooms, is now available on Amazon. Visit my Amazon Author Page to see more.


30 thoughts on “A Matter Of Punctuation

  1. Great editors comments and scores, Helen – It’s difficult to avoid some perceived ‘errors’ when marketing in USA, Canada, UK, Australia, India, etc, where the ‘Rules of English’, never mind spelling, apply 😎

  2. Excellent scores! That’s wonderful! (Though, I disagree with you. I’m not sure you should consider changing your use of quotation marks. Incorrect? That seems a really odd thing to point out in the feedback as I would assume the readers would make sure they knew you are a UK author. Maybe not. I guess you could look around a bit to see what others do. ? I’m sorry about that. What a shame.)

    • Thanks, Sarah. I don’t think I’ll change anything, on reflection – it’s quite clear at the back of my books that I’m a UK author, and no one else has ever commented on it. I’m wondering whether american versions of british novels get their quote marks changed? Anyway, I’m very happy with the feedback – this was just an odd little part of it I couldn’t resist sharing 🙂

  3. First of all, well done for some lovely feedback and great scores for A Thousand Rooms – really lovely. As for the punctuation marks, I’m irritated on your behalf. I use single speech marks all the time – as you say, it’s common over here – and for you to lose out because of an assumption that the whole world works as America does is just really annoying.
    An American blogger friend once read an early draft of one of my books. She pointed out that there were many English terms and references in it she didn’t understand and that perhaps I should think of changing them. Her intentions were well meaning, but the suggestion irritated me to hell! Now, perhaps I should write my fiction with America in mind, as it is such a large ‘market’. But I’m an Englich writer with English sensibilities, cultural references and attitudes. I don’t know how else to write. IF I ever sold a book, of course I understand it would have to be altered for other nations. But let me write my book first.
    Well done Helen. You should be justly proud of the great feedback 🙂

    • Thanks, Lynn – I am very pleased with the feedback, definitely 🙂 It was better than I’d expected, so that was a nice surprise. The quotation marks thing was a surprise, though – the competition attracts entries worldwide, and you have to send an actual paperback copy, so why they think I would have deliberately done something ‘wrong’ all the way through I have no idea. However, it’s a small thing – as you say, you have to write the way you write. I did think about changing the quote marks but don’t think I’ll bother – no one else has ever commented on it! 🙂

  4. Hmm. Odd. I was always taught “double quotation marks at all times unless ‘quoting’ something within a quotation”.
    The publisher isn’t always right, but the publisher gets what the publisher wants!! 😉

  5. Congrats! Good for you for entering and excellent praise for your book, Helen. What’s best is that the things they loved are the things that are hardest to “fix” – voice, style. So well done for the high marks! Punctuation and grammar are easy in the grand scheme of things. To be honest, single quotes tend to throw me off, but I do overlook them when reading English authors. The default, however, even with English authors, does seem to be double quotation marks. A good thing to think about for next time. 🙂

    • Thanks, Diana – that’s what I took from it, too. The things marked as outstanding were exactly the things I would want, so I’m very pleased with the feedback 🙂 As for the quote marks, as you say, it’s something to consider for next time.

  6. I suspect they did mark you down based on the UK spelling and single quotation marks—in my experience whenever I’ve had Americans read my work, they don’t realise they (wrongly 😉 ) use different spelling or style to the rest of the world. Try again next year, using American style, and see if you fare any better. 🙂

    • Yes, I think so too 🙂 And I had to send in the actual paperback, rather than a manuscript, so it wasn’t something specified in the rules – it seemed a little strange therefore to have been picked out like that. Ah well, maybe I’ll try again one day 🙂 Hope all is well with you, you must be very excited about the upcoming release! Sorry I’ve not been over to visit for a little while – this massive edit and new covers thing has chewed up most of what remaining blogging time i have, so I’m a very poor visitor these days. I do think of you often, though 🙂

      • I think of you often, too! But don’t give another thought to not not visiting my blog—I completely understand. I’ve been a sporadic reader of others’ blogs lately, as well. We’re all busy trying to finish everything before the end of the year, I think! 🙂

  7. That’s wonderful feedback, and I’m happy for you. It isn’t even nit-picking to single out your preferred style, it’s just plain wrong. I find it offputting when I first start a book, but I’m not the center of the universe and soon adapt. (I’m more the off-center or magnetic pole of the universe.)

  8. I had the same problem in the very first writing competition I entered, Helen. My entry was disqualified because I had used words such as ‘motorway’ and ‘pavement.’ The competition had been launched by an American company, but even though my story was set in the UK, it got disqualified. It put me off from entering writing competitions for quite a while.
    Congratulations on those great scores. Onwards and upwards. 😀

    • Thanks so much, Hugh 🙂 That must have been maddening for you, no wonder you were put off! Strange that a writing competition would be so insular in their views. However, onwards and upwards, as you say 🙂

  9. Pingback: Writing Links 12/11/17 – Where Genres Collide

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