Editing and Other Adventures: hyphens

I’ve been out of the blogosphere for a year or so finishing up a degree in publishing, being inundated with editing projects, and starting Literary Wanderlust, a traditional (print and digital) publishing house. The excuse for my absence is only that these projects and classes took so much time, focus, and effort that I could do little else. I am pleased to have crossed the hurdles I set for myself, and I joyfully look forward to new literary adventures. I hope you will join me as I meander through the myriad topics that that both writers and editors explore, and also as I make effort to return to a regular blogging routine. I’ve missed you!

I have read, content edited, proofed, formatted, accepted, and rejected many manuscripts over the last year, and I consistently see the same issues and errors on the pages submitted to me. I thought I would address these issues in a series of blog posts written to keep some of the grammar fresh in my mind and also to help my fellow writers polish their work.  I promise you, it matters that your manuscript is as perfect as you can make it before you send it off to that agent or editor, and especially before you independently publish.

Punctuation may seem like an unimportant issue for a writer to contend with, but I have personally watched with amazement as a publishing house turned down a manuscript ONLY because it would take too much time and effort to fix the punctuation and formatting issues. The publishing house deemed the manuscript not worth the expense to polish it. It was a fairly decent story, so the rejection was dismal. Publishing has changed, and publishers no longer have the staff or budget to make some projects feasible. It is a sad fact of life.

So let’s talk about hyphens.

Hyphens are not interchangeable with dashes.

Hyphens do not have a space around them.

The purpose of a hyphen is to joins words or to separate syllables of a single word.

Here are some examples:

INCORRECT:            This is a low—budget job.

INCORRECT:            This is a low – budget job.

CORRECT:                 This is a low-budget job.

The first example is actually an em dash, which is three times as long as a hyphen and is used for other purposes.

The second example is a hyphen that has spaces around it. No spaces. Nope. None.

The third example shows the correct usage of the hyphen, which combines the two adjectives that modify the noun.

So, one step at a time, one punctuation mark at a time, and soon we all will be perfect grammarians. Well, I will still have to look things up, but you will be a perfect grammarian! But, if in doubt, always look it up. I personally like the Chicago Manual of Style and Grammar Girl and use both resources often. I find both of these sites easy to use and helpful when editing and writing. Or if all else fails, do a Google search.

When you discover that you have used the hyphen, or any punctuation or spelling incorrectly in your work, you can do a find and replace text. I often use Alt codes to replace misused punctuation because the Alt codes ensures that I am using the same character throughout the manuscript. Alt+45 is the code for the hyphen. I click on Find, then type a space, Alt+45, space, and then click on Replace and type Alt+45. This trick removes all the spaces around the hyphen. You can also use the Find and Replace to change your em dashes to hyphens if necessary.

I hope this little journey into hyphens was helpful. Now go forth and write!


hyphenated non-hyphenated image


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