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Writing Books/Comma Confusion


Hello Bobbie -

Hope this note finds you well.

I consulted you last December about hyphenating a particular expletive, and you'll be happy to know that my editor and I took your advice!  This time, it's about the use of commas.  I have two basic examples that illustrate the kind of thing we're running into.  We're hoping you can settle this for us.

My editor and proofreader (both very experienced) appear to be at philosophical odds regarding the use of commas.  My editor seems to add them whenever possible, while my proofer is constantly trying to remove them.  

Meanwhile, the book in question is written in the form of a personal journal (of the protagonist), so it's supposed to be very conversational and personal... often very specific in the rhythm or cadence of how the protagonist speaks.  So I'm trying to walk the line between "glaring punctuation error" and "artistic license."

General question: I know the book publishing industry sways in the direction of Chicago Style, but is there a certain amount of latitude that can be taken with regard to the use of commas?  


1. You'd better spend the time and money to have your self-published book professionally edited, because if you want it to be taken seriously, there can't be a bunch of punctuation errors.

OR - Should the comma go AFTER "because"?

2. You'd better spend the time and money to have your self-published book professionally edited because, if you want it to be taken seriously, there can't be a bunch of punctuation errors.

My proofer insists on 2.  However, the comma placement in 1 seems to reflect the natural rhythm of how one might actually speak the sentence.  Could either work?

And finally, here's our "as well" dilemma:

"He's an excellent painter, as well."

Should the above sentence include the comma before "as well"?  My proofer says no.  But it just seems so odd to me not to have it there.  

Sorry this is so long.  Thanks in advance if you're able to advise...


Without quoting the rules for commas, let’s look at the sentence in an objective way. If the wording that appears between the two commas in example 2 (if you want it to be taken seriously) were deleted, the sentence would read this way: You'd better spend the time and money to have your self-published book professionally edited because there can't be a bunch of punctuation errors. Hmm. It doesn’t quite make the same sense, does it? If it doesn’t make the same sense, then the portion between the commas was essential to its meaning and therefore should not be set off by commas. For that reason, example 1 is correct.

To make matters worse, example 2 would be correct in some instances, when the information between the commas is not essential to the meaning of the sentence, as in this example:

I am leaving now because, if you must know, I’m going to be late for a meeting.

Removing the information between the commas results in this sentence:

I am leaving now because I’m going to be late for a meeting.

See? No change in the meaning or intent of the sentence, so the commas are correct.

As for leniency in the rules of commas, sometimes logic plays a part, and if the writer wants the reader to slow down a bit, a comma is just the right trick to pull out of the punctuation hat. For that reason I see nothing wrong with putting a comma before “as well” in this sentence: "He's an excellent painter, as well."

I do have a problem with calling it an “as well” dilemma, however. A dilemma means a choice between two negative or bad things. Be sure to use the word correctly. I think we had an “as well” disagreement, but not a dilemma. That’s my two cents’ worth, anyway, and it was free!

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All my best,
Bobbie Christmas

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Bobbie Christmas


Book Doctor Bobbie Christmas owns Zebra Communications, a book-editing firm in metro Atlanta. She not only edits books, she also helps writers power up their prose to increase their chances of success. She is the author of Write In Style (Union Square Publishing), a creative-writing guide that won three awards.


Bobbie has spent more than 40 years in the publishing and communications industry and has run Zebra Communications, a book-editing company, since 1992. The editor of many publications and periodicals, she has worked with book publishers and trade magazine publishers as well as working in marketing communications and corporate communications.

Past president, Georgia Writers Association; past vice president, South Carolina Writers Workshop; charter/lifelong member, Florida Writers Association; Southeastern Writers Association; Atlanta Writers Club; Society for the Preservation of English Language and Literature (SPELL); International Guild of Professional Consultants

Write in Style (Union Square Publishing), A Cup of Comfort (Adams Media Corporation), A Cup of Comfort for Friends (Adams Media), A Cup of Comfort for Mothers and Sons (Adams Media), Haunted Engounters (Atriad Press), Remembering Woolworth's (St. Martin's Press), First-Time Home Buyer magazine, HomeBusiness Journal, Apparel Industry Magazine, Edge Magazine, Atlanta Jewish Times, Time Travel Australia, American Writers Review, Points North, That's Entertainment, Atlanta Parent, Agnes Scott Alumnae Magazine, etc.

Journalism: University of South Carolina plus four decades of working in publishing, marketing, communications, advertising, newspaper and magazine production, book publishing, etc.

Awards and Honors
First Place, nonfiction, Georgia Writers Annual Contest, 2005; First Place, education, Royal Palm Literary Award, 2004; Best in Division, Georgia Author of the Year Awards, 2005; Finalist, Best Books 2005, USA BookNews Third Place, nonfiction, Georgia Writers, 1999; Nominated for Georgia Author of the Year, 1998; plus many other awards

Past/Present Clients
Capital Books, Sourcebooks, Olin Frederick, The Writer's Machine, Russell Dean & Company, Outskirts Press, and hundreds of writers.

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