Thursday, December 18, 2014

There’s A Peck Here with A Hyphen Pointed Right at Me!

Every writer has his or her own tick. Yours might be the run-on sentence. The one-word paragraph. Mine tends to be dashes – I love dashes.

But what about if someone doesn’t like your tick? Up until now, they could rail against the machine futilely, seeing as your books went through professional editing and were printed and unless it’s a non-fiction book you made up entirely, there’s almost nothing that’s going to get your book pulled from the shelves.

Yes, I said until now.

Per this blog post (warning, naughty words ahead) UK author Graeme Reynolds’ book “High Moor 2: Moonstruck” was pulled from Amazon after the company received a complaint from a reader that too many words in the book were – gasp – hyphenated.

Reynolds sez:

Apparently Amazon had received a complaint from a reader about the fact that some of the words in the book were hyphenated. And when they ran an automated spell check against the manuscript they found that over 100 words in the 90,000 word novel contained that dreaded little line. This, apparently “significantly impacts the readability of your book” and, as a result “We have suppressed the book because of the combined impact to customers.”

Reynolds seems to think everything was entirely automated, from complaint processing to hyphen-counting, if I’m reading his post correctly. Or some of it comes from humans reading from scripts. Nevertheless, through a thicket of f-bombs Reynolds outlines his understandable frustration about having to explain basic English punctuation rules to someone relying on a complaint, an algorithm, and a script to resolve the issue, all rolled in with a polemic about the questionable writing that Amazon doesn’t seem to bother about in the Kindle universe.

Reynolds’ plight (the book was eventually restored for sale on Amazon, hyphens intact) has attracted some attention.

And that attention’s a good thing, as it helped get his book back on track – though it’s unclear if the eggheads at Amazon finally recognized their part of the confusion and just fixed things; though you’d think they’d be bragging about it/apologizing for it if that were the case.

So there’s something else to think about. That a big meanie faceless corporation run by a bald man messed with the livelihood of a writer is only part of the story – the bigger part is that one complaint from who knows who got a book derailed and that derailler seems to have walked off anonymously. Was it a sincere, if punctuationally-inept reader, or a competitor to Reynolds? Do grammar Nazis wield such power in this new publishing landscape? Apparently, we don’t get to know. Reviews at Amazon only mention the hyphen situation in high-ranking reviews, so there’s no good going there.
But unmasking the culprit isn’t the end game here – that one person had such power is, however, amazing and a bit creepy. What other complaints are slouching toward Bethlehem, set to derail the progress of another book? I live in fear of dash-haters.

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