Flagrant misuse of grammar rules hurts a writer’s chances for publication. Agents and editors take one quick glance and form a strong first professional impression. Don’t send up red flags and get rejected by your amateur abuse of punctuation or capitalization rules.

Your email query may never be opened if you put the subject line of your message in all caps. WHEN YOU ARE USING CAPS IT’S LIKE SCREAMING INTO CYBERSPACE. Many spam filters recognize the use of all caps and divert your message into the recipient’s junk folder, unopened, unread. Using all capital letters in your correspondence or manuscript is like the used car salesman in the TV commercials shouting “HUGE.”

The rules of capitalization are simple and should not be broken, unless you are e.e. cummings. Not using capitals when required isn’t personal style. It’s sloppy, childish and amateur.

“Cut out all those exclamation points. An exclamation point is like laughing at your own jokes,” according to F. Scott Fitzgerald.

The overuse of the exclamation point is another red flag for agents and editors. The purpose of this punctuation mark is to convey emotion and excitement. If the words you used in the sentence don’t convey the emotion, the punctuation mark probably won’t help.  Amateur writers use the exclamation point for emphasis rather than an indication of emotion or the volume of one’s voice. Research indicates the use of exclamation marks is gender related: more women than men use this punctuation mark in writing. The exclamation mark may indicate excitability and emotionality on the part of the writer; qualities agents and publishers attribute to ‘difficult authors.’

To further complicate matters for an author, exclamation points are used in computer code. In ASCII, this character is also known as a bang, shebang, shriek or pling. In strings of code, it often signifies logical negation. In Geek slang, an exclamation point before a symbol is  the same as the big red line through a No Parking sign. The negative connotations to the exclamation point should carryover to writers of content, not just code.

There are exceptions to the rules, however, rules are broken only for literary effect. Lack of style is not the impression you want to make on a reader, editor or publisher. So pull out your Strunk & White The Elements of Style, or your University of Chicago Style Manual, and follow the rules for punctuation and grammar. I’m amazed at the manuscripts I read where the writer hasn’t even bothered to use Spell and Grammar Check in their Word documents. Writers have tools at their fingertips; remember to use them.

In the visual arts, the difference between a child’s finger painting and watercolor landscapes can be easily discerned. In the literary arts, your style matters.

The Harry Potter Library

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