Ampersands: Pretty Is as Pretty Does by Carolyn Howard-Johnson

Have you noticed how ampersands turn to gibberish when they are entered into Google’s blogpsot.com service?Ampersands: Pretty Is as Pretty Does by Carolyn Howard-Johnson That is only the beginning of problems they cause for editors, and publishers of all kinds. A bigger problem is that many of the difficulties they cause go unnoticed except by the publishing pros we would all like to impress like agents, librarians, bookstore event directors, and the acquisition editors at Knopf!

That’s why I added a new section to the second edition of my The Frugal Editor . Because ampersands seem to be so popular these days, it’s especially important for editors and authors who publish books to know a little about their history, how to use them, and how gatekeepers and readers of Lynn Truss’s famous zero-tolerance approach to grammar might view them. So, I thought I’d share this excerpt from The Frugal Editor with you today, even though it’s only one tiny part of presenting ourselves and our books in the most professional light possible.

Ampersands: Pretty Is as Pretty Does

The ampersand is a real pretty little dude, but it isn’t a letter nor even a word. It’s a logogram that represents a word. Its history goes back to classical antiquity, but interesting history and being cute are no reason to overuse it in the interest of trying to separate one’s writing from the pack. Better writers should concentrate on the techniques that make a difference rather than gimmicks that distract. Here are some legitimate uses for the ampersand.

  • The Writers Guild of America uses the ampersand to indicate a close collaboration with a writing (or other) partner–closer than a situation in which one writer is brought in to rewrite or fix the work of another. For those in the know, it is a convenient way to subtly indicate that one writer has not been brought in to rewrite of fix the work of another.
  • Newspapers, journals and others choose to use it when they are citing sources. That’s their style choice, not a grammar rule.
  • In similar citings, academia asks that the word and be spelled out.
  • Occasionally the term etc. is abbreviated to &c, though I can see no reason for confusing a reader with this. Etc. is already an abbreviation of et cetera and the ampersand version saves but one letter and isn’t commonly recognized.
  • Ampersands are sometimes used instead of and to distinguish the and when it is part of a name rather than the typical conjunction used when naming a series of items. Here, too, it feels like a stretch and more confusing than helpful. Wikipedia gives this example: “Rock, pop, rhythm & blues and hip hop.” This also seems like an unnecessary affectation if we would but use the traditional serial comma like this: “Rock, pop, rhythm and blues, and hip hop.”

For a style guide from the point of view of academia go to: https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/560/03/

Many of my clients tell me they use the ampersand to make their writing stand apart from others or “because it’s pretty.” As an editor, I discourage them from this choice. Used this way it is distracting for many. The first thing we want in our writing no matter the genre is clarity, the last is reader distraction.

Readers of my multi award-winning The Frugal Editor will find a free offer in the backmatter of that book—a gift from graphic and cover artist Chaz DeSimone (http://DesimoneDesign.com). His free poster series illustrates the creative use of the ampersand, one based on the authenticity of its simply being visually attractive. Maybe that’s an ideal way to feed our longing for “pretty” and help us avoid the other traps ampersands can lead us into.

Author Bio:

Carolyn Howard-Johnson brings her experience as a publicist, journalist, marketer, and retailer to the advice she gives in her HowToDoItFrugally series of books for writers and the many classes she taught for nearly a decade as instructor for UCLA Extension’s world-renown Writers’ Program. Both the first and second editions of The Frugal Book Promoter and The Frugal Editor are multi award-winners. The latter is her winningest book which includes awards from USA Book News, Readers’ Views Literary Award, the marketing award from Next Generation Indie Books and others including the coveted Irwin award. Her third book in the HowToDoItFrugally Series is How to Get Great Book Reviews Frugally and Ethically. It was released to acclaim from The Midwest Book Review and others.

If you like this blog post, you’ll love our Author Toolkit with templates, worksheets and checklists for writing nonfiction. Check it out!

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