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Responding to Contradictory Requests: Feedback Sought

Hey all,

I’m an editor, and I’m looking for some feedback on how to address an issue with a client. I’ve edited for them quite a few times. I originally applied all grammar rules strictly, including comma rules, as their guidelines said they wanted. After quite a few manuscripts, I received a message telling me that in the future they would prefer me to apply comma rules less strictly and judge by the flow of the sentence instead. Commas are flexible little guys, so no worries.

However, yesterday I received this message:

Thanks! We did find one issue with commas and just wanted to ask you to double check through Word’s grammar checker going forward :slight_smile: Here it is:

One problem with comma use in it. Commas should only be before conjunctions when they’re separating two complete thoughts:

I went to the store, and I bought some peanut butter. CORRECT

I went to the store, and bought some peanut butter. INCORRECT
This should be: I went to the store and bought some peanut butter.

Please don’t hesitate to let me know if you have any questions :slight_smile:

Okay, the didactic attitude is rude, but I’m trying to look past that. The main problem here is that she’s now “reminding” me to do something which the same person specifically requested I not do.

They’re good clients overall, and I think I’d like to keep doing business with them. I’m looking for a non-hostile way to point out that I cannot honor both requests at once, and that I’ve only been using the second approach because she requested it.

Here’s my draft. Feedback would be appreciated.

In the past, I’ve applied comma rules more strictly, as your original style guide requested. You then explained that you valued the sentence’s grouping and flow more than strict grammatical correctness. I can apply comma rules more strictly or less strictly, but I don’t see how to do both at once. When applying a general rule would make a specific sentence less coherent and graceful, instead of more so, then a choice must be made.

Since I can’t treat both the style guide’s rules and the individual sentence’s flow as top priority, I’ve been honoring your previous request to phrase the sentence optimally. I can stop doing that and return to strict rule application, but I’d like to confirm that this is what you want. We can’t keep changing it back and forth; I’m already partway through [current manuscript name], and previous entries in this series were done with graceful sentences valued above comma placement rules.

What would you like me to do with the current manuscript? I can restart it with strict comma rule application, but that would extend the delivery time a bit, and I believe it would also damage the author’s voice. I can also continue from the current point but switch to the new/old guideline, or can simply continue editing this one in the style of the two previous series entries.


My, my, that’s one tricky situation you are in right now.

I think your draft is pretty good. Keep us posted!

Good luck! :four_leaf_clover:

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What @hanshuber16 said …

And by the way - I think that response is right on the nose: clear, polite and no nonsense!

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It’s a good draft and hope everything turns out promisingly. Wasn’t even aware about the comma rules thing as every time I’m doing research on writing something different surfaces every other month.

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They are being very picky but I have to admit I can see what they mean in that example you gave. It takes a sort of artistic eye to place a comma, and I’ve struggled with commas myself. They want a combination of strick placements, along with adding them to create a flow when needed, so I would put one or two in very carefully if at all to create “flow”, along with your usual strict placements, and then deliver it and hope they don’t add any more input before you can get it delivered.

I have no idea if I used commas correctly in this for instance. You could tell them that you did what you felt was the best combination of placements based on what they requested.


How frustrating! To prevent this, I would advise that you require clients to:

a) Provide an editorial guideline for you to adhere to (AP Styleguide, MLA, Canadian Press, etc.)


b) Require that they submit their own style guide for you to follow

I would explain in your gig descriptions and gig requirement questions that this is your policy and that you will not stray from the selected editorial and style guidelines unless expressly asked to do otherwise in the order requirements or in an order message within one hour of ordering.

Editorial and style guides are the only way to prevent inconsistencies and it also shows clients that you are professional, as many professional publications require authors and editors follow set style and editorial guides. It’s never willy nilly like this. Quite frankly, I’m appalled.

I’m sorry you’ve had to deal with this. It’s frustrating when clients are condescending and micromanage you, especially when it makes no sense. I hope you find humor in the irony of their behavior: these people think they are being ultra professional hiring an editor, being picky like this and patronizing you, but no proper publication would operate this way. If you want something specific, you ask for it up front or you don’t get it. You make your desired style official instead of patronizing copy editors.

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Just FYI, that’s not a real example. I don’t recall anything about buying peanut butter in any MS I’ve done for this press. If the INCORRECT sentence had actually been in a manuscript, I would have changed it as she is demonstrating.

Originally, they did. My main contact then asked me, via private message, to stop following the style guide’s rules on some aspects of comma placement if the sentence would flow better otherwise.

That’s exactly why I’m frustrated.

The amazing part is that this is a press, not a single self-publishing author.

sigh :roll_eyes:

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A press? Yikes. That’s unfortunate.

I would make it your policy to not accept such changes unless they are explicit rules. Their request is super subjective and prime for infinite edit requests. I’ve found when people are subjective, it’s partly because they want the freedom to be picky and reject things.

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To be fair, I want to mention that they didn’t reject it. They did pay me. They’re a good client overall, which is why I’m not just cutting them loose.

Thanks for the support, gang. Most people seem to think my draft is okay, so I’ll go with it. I wish I still had the past message, but I don’t.