Hyphen Hate? When Amazon went to war against punctuation.

10520828_935072746511716_41317665270618143_nThis is a really strange blog post to have to write, simply because the situation is absurd. It would be comedic, really, if the situation was not costing me money and resulted in one of my best-selling books being unavailable in the run up to the busiest time of the year.

Let me tell you a little story.

I was sitting in front of my computer on Friday night, as is often the case, talking to friends on Facebook, randomly browsing things that seemed interesting and, in this particular case, attending the launch party for Chantal Noordeloos’s latest Coyote book, when I had an email notification arrive in my inbox from Kindle Direct Publishing.

The email was titled rather ominously as
Kindle Quality Notice: High Moor 2: Moonstruck – B00BVC7MKW

Now – Moonstruck has been out for around 18 months now. It’s done well for itself and, at the time of writing has around 123 reviews on Amazon.com, the overwhelming majority of which are four and five stars. Even the few people that have not liked the book have not had a go at the editing – and for good reason – I spent well over £1000 on getting that book edited, using the best editors I could find. I was more than happy with the product, so was bemused by this email. When I clicked on it to take a look inside my confusion grew.

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.”

I couldn’t believe what I was reading. This had to be a wind-up. Surely. An automated mistake, generated because some fucking clueless moron had a little moan over something they didn’t understand.

So, chuckling to myself, I sent back a response pointing out that the use of a hyphen to join two words together was perfectly valid in the English language and included a handy link to the Oxford English Dictionaries definition page which described its usage.

That, I felt, should have been the end of the matter. A fuck up was made. I explained the fuck up. Fuck up goes away.

Does it fuck.

The next day I got a response from Kindle Direct Publishing. It was signed by a Melania G – which is either the name of the particular automated response bot I was directed to, or the person reading from a script in a call center, which amounts to about the same thing.

You can read the response below…

Hello Graeme,

Thanks for contacting us and giving me the opportunity to help you. I will be more than glad to assist you with your inquiry.

As quality issues with your book negatively affect the reading experience, we have removed your title from sale until these issues are corrected. Books with serious errors that are not corrected after 60 days will have their product detail pages removed from the website. Your book will still appear in your Bookshelf, and you can update it and resubmit it at any time.

Once you correct hyphenated words, please republish your book and make it available for sale.

Erm – what the actual fuck? Are we now considering hyphenated words to be unacceptable? Are there people out there so fucking mind-bogglingly stupid that the inclusion of a – between two words confuses them enough to be torn from the story and ruin the reading experience so much that they felt obliged to write to Amazon and complain?

What’s next? Will we start getting penalized for using words of more than two syllables? Is the semi-colon also headed for extinction? Is J.K Rowling going to have to take down Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince until she sorts out the blatant hyphenation in the title? Is Cormac McCarthy going to have to go and put in punctuation to The Road?

OK – clearly I am being a bit sarcastic here, and what is happening here is style enforcement by automation. And in some respects I have to applaud Amazon for at least trying to address the sea of utter fucking garbage that is available on Kindle. Do they need to do something about the quality of the ebooks on their device? Oh yes. Absolutely no question about it. However I really would have to question whether their time would be better spent looking at the 10 page automatically generated “books” that are flooding the kindle store to game the Kindle Unlimited algorithms, or the impending tidal wave of Nanowrimo first drafts that are about to hit us, than waging war on a professionally edited novel that had the gall to use hyphens to join words together.

If I was a suspicious sort, I may even wonder if this had anything to do with the fact that I unchecked the “automatically renew this book’s enrollment in Kindle Select” tickbox a few days earlier.

I am fairly confident that if I manage to speak to someone who is not reading from a script or is an email autoresponder, that this situation will be sorted out quite quickly. However, with over £1000 worth of paid advertising coming up over the Christmas period, I really can’t afford to have one of my top selling titles out of circulation, and so I will, reluctantly, start preparing a version of the book with all the hyphens removed.

And then some clever bastard will probably complain to Amazon about the lack of hyphenation and it will get taken down again.

So please, Amazon, in the unlikely event that you are listening – quality control is a good thing. However you should not take the word of some random fuck-wit that something is wrong. You are screwing with peoples livelihoods here, and you owe it to everyone involved to look at these issues on a case-by-case basis.


UPDATE: The book is now back on sale. Common sense seems to have prevailed 🙂

~ by graemereynolds on December 14, 2014.

133 Responses to “Hyphen Hate? When Amazon went to war against punctuation.”

  1. Graeme,

    This is ridiculous! I hope Amazon fixes this. Let me know if there’s anything I can do.

  2. It’s a sad day when an obviously uneducated twit gets to give editing advice.

  3. That is crazy! I have read so many books that are written poorly & they complain about something that has been done in the proper way. Ridiculous!

    • It’s an automated process, so we have to expect a degree of idiocy. If, once a human get involved, it response is the same, then my reaction may be a little more passionate and shouty

  4. Are you sure the complaint was about compound-modifier hyphens (like that one) and not about code for word-break hyphens at the ends of lines having been inadvertently left in the text that was converted to Kindle format? Because that does cause hyph-ens to appear at rand-om in the middle of lines and it is in-deed quite annoy-ing to read.

    But if that’s not it, then, yes, Amazon are being ineffably stupid.

    • Yes, I am certain because I hand craft every ebook in html and have 20 years experience as an IT quality assurance bod. Every ebook I put out is free from pesky little formatting errors like that because I am a professional software tester and it would be pretty fucking embarrassing if I put out a bit of dodgy software 🙂

      • In that case, my second paragraph and only my second paragraph applies!

      • I’m wondering about that, because using Amazon’s “look inside the book” feature, it looks like there are en-dashes where the hyphens should be. (Note that this is the case for High Moor 2, which was taken down, but NOT for the first High Moor, which wasn’t.)

      • Moonstruck uses the − html entity for it’s hyphens (I did check this after you posted because I built the ebook a while ago). While there might be some stylistic inconsistencies between book 1 and book 2 because they were the first and second ebooks I ever made (and I do every ebook by hand in html rather than use an auto conversion util) I did make sure that in this instance it was correct. And was more than a little relieved to find out it was otherwise I would have felt like a complete ass 😉

      • But… but… the − entity (the minus sign) isn’t a hyphen! It’s almost identical to – (the en dash). This seems to confirm I’m right?

        (As Google has just revealed one possible source of confusion, note that when Wiktionary says Careful typographers use the minus sign instead of the hyphen, it means they do so when they need a minus sign. That is: “1 + 2 – 3” should be “1 + 2 − 3”. When they need a hyphen, careful typographers use a hyphen. They’re two different pieces of punctuation.)

        If you really want to use an HTML entity, ‐ (#8208) is a hyphen, and ‑ (#8209) is a non-breaking hyphen. But you’re generally better off just typing the – character.

        Note that this doesn’t change the fact that Amazon is being both overbearing and unhelpful. (I’ve been boycotting them for the past five years now, myself.)

      • Graeme: the complaint could plausibly have come from a blind reader using text-to-speech synthesis to read the book. It would render “a far−reaching many−fold effect” as “a far minus reaching many minus fold effect.” That WOULD be a pain in the ass to sit through.

      • No, that is a very fair point. There is no named html entity for the hyphen and I try to avoid using direct ascii hash codes because some ereaders can misinterpret them, but I’ll definitely put the correct character in there instead of the minus sign. I use a text to speech app as part of my editing process, but the kindle version may behave differently.

      • For hyphenated words, you ought to just use the hyphen character on your keyboard… There’s no need for an HTML entity. For en-dashes and em-dashes, there are the HTML entities and .

      • Well, I had the standard character in there but I’ve done a search replace on it now with the ascii code to be on the safe side. Visually it probably made very little difference but the text to speech issue is a valid concern.

      • Ugh, wordpress. Those are “ndash” and “mdash” respectively.

      • Yeah, I’ve gone back and fixed it so its using the correct ascii code instead of the minus entity. Had not considered the text to speech issue.

  5. I cannot believe this. I have plowed through some of the most awful dreck on Amazon, at least for a page or two, and it’s still for sale. I have read reviews that slammed books for not using American spelling, and they were scary reviews. As were the reviews that basically said: I hate you, you used words I did not know and made me feel dumb. Therefore your book is crap, have 1 star.

    This situation that you’re facing with Amazon is certainly not fair (in fact it’s an insult to writers who try to put out quality), but it’s also terrifying in its wider implications.

    Thank you for the article.

    • It’s nuts but I hope it is something that can be resolved with a little common sense and human interaction. Of course I ay be being a little naive here and am underestimated corporate stupidity. Watch this space

  6. Totally ridiculous! As an editor and former English teacher who has most of the Chicago Manual of Style and Merriam-Webster’s dictionary memorized, I can attest to the fact that many, many words in the English language are properly hyphenated, and that the meaning of many terms and phrases, such as the excellent one at the top of this article is clarified by the use of a judicious hyphen. People can also check out my two Quick Clicks resources, Spelling and Word Usage, for many English words and phrases that take hyphens. I hope this absurd problem is resolved for you quickly! And I can certainly see why you’d want to vent about it!

  7. Reblogged this on The Wolfcat Chronicles.

  8. As it happens, I have written for NaNoWriMo, several times. Anybody who thinks that is a guarantee of quality is not firing on all cylinders, but I am fairly confident that my first drafts, misspelled and awkward though they are, are better written than much of what gets sold in the Kindle Store.

    And they’re still not good enough.

    It’s at least plausible that this is down to some horribly slip-shod automated hyphen-test, looking for the formatting hyphens that are not needed, which has responded to any hyphen, regardless of the necessities of the English language. Had this happened a few weeks ago, I would have suggested you sell through your own website, but the imminent change in VAT law pretty much kills that option.

    iTunes or Google Play, then?

    I’m an amateur, and I am driven through November by a passion for words. Some resulting fragments have turned up on websites, places that have some slight editorial choice. Readers have said nice things about my stories. And every so often I look over what Amazon expects. And they want me to sign up with the US tax system before I can even submit a work. They do a hand-wave about VAT on ebooks, sending them out from Luxembourg, where there is an artificially low VAT rate, and letting us thing that we must be paying the British 20%. I used to run a business, and I am not sure it is lawful not to tell us the VAT rate we are paying, not the detailed calculation but the percentage.

    Well, some of that is changing. It will be 20% VAT we are charged in the New Year;with a heap of badly-explained, untested, new paperwork if we don’t use companies such as Amazon. And can you imagine them re-pricing the goods to cover the tax difference?

    If you want to read what I write, it’s out there for free, because somebody thinks it’s good enough to put on their website. I use hyphens. I write about anarcho-syndicalist bears who kill Nazis, and a Schütte-Lanz airship lurking over the Pacific of a different world, a world where Amazon is just a big river and they still have hyphens.

    Some of my stories are here. And a lot of other stuff. Have fun.

  9. So let me get this straight. Your book is pulled for hyphens and those Archie Fraser/Robert Smith scam books, with their completely incoherent English, get to stay on Amazon?

    As you rightly point out, scammy garbage is ruining Amazon, yet they decide to pull a book over a perfectly acceptable part of English grammar.

    Fair enough to pull books that are incoherent or with a ridiculous number of typos/spelling mistakes. But to leave all the garbage up and to take yours down…wow. Just wow.

    • Yeah. It’s quite frustrating. More frustrating is the fact that this still has not been sorted out. It does make you wonder how many other people are falling foul of things like this and not being quite so vocal about it.

  10. Graeme,
    I have only read the first your Were series and I will read the second soon. But all I have to say is that your an awesome writer, I look forward to all that you write and to hell with all that don’t like it. I think your doing just fine.


    • Thanks, Coni – your name is similar to one of the major characters in book two by the way, so hopefully you will get a kick out of that 🙂 Connie in Moonstruck may well be the best character I have ever written. Certainly one of my favourites

  11. Reblogged this on The Horrifically Horrifying Horror Blog and commented:
    This is becoming more of a problem to our self-published authors, & small presses to an extent, so what can we, the readers, do about it?

  12. I thought fuckwit didn’t have a hyphen. Just kidding!

    Amazon has driven me round the bend when they’ve suddenly decided to check my authorship of a book when all I did was change a price. It’s been unbelievably bizarre, so I sympathize.

    • It’s ridiculous. It would not be so bad if their support structure allowed for anything other than stock email responses the first three or four times you contact them. This is something that should have been easy to sort out (and your example sounds the same) but you just end up going around in circles, losing money while chasing your own tail.

  13. And this started from ONE complaint? *facepalm* I don’t want to live on this planet anymore.

  14. Meanwhile, on Twitter: https://twitter.com/lukemcgee/status/544417462960541696

    • Yes. In my country we speak English most of the time. I have still not figured out what is spoken in America. But as a software developer I get annoyed every time some system library expects me to write “Color”.

  15. Reblogged this on Mike Cane’s xBlog and commented:
    This is just nuts. Amazon loves books? Do they know how to read any?

  16. I would personally embarrass them via their Twitter account and email jeff@amazon.com directly with your concerns. At least the C.E.O. (Or his secretary) will be in the loop and have a duty to respond.

  17. any competitors?

  18. Reblogged this on Mon Blog.

  19. It’s been picked up by HackerNews, Charles Stross (https://twitter.com/cstross/status/544519559550889984), and others. Maybe they will listen to reason? (Or English?)

  20. I would agree with the commenter who says the book appears to have en-dashes instead of hyphens. It also doesn’t follow the standard formatting of first line all-out after a break. Nit-picking, maybe, but still valid points. As to all these books that remain with errors, maybe no one has complained about them? I know I read a traditionally published ebook recently and was shocked at the number of errors in it, but didn’t complain.

    • It uses the plain old minus sign, not an en dash and I am not pretending that there may not be some minor issues in there, even after the editorial process had completed. It’s easy enough to pick anything apart if you apply sufficient scrutiny to it. Certainly, I’ve seen plenty of traditionally published novels that are riddled with mistakes. At least I will go back and fix any typos and other errors that I come across and may even decide to use the correct ascii character instead of the minus sign in a future version. That is not the point of the post. The point of the post was that Amazon made an arbitrary judgement based on a single complaint and cut off part of my livelihood at a crucial time of the year without discussing the matter first or warning me.

      • Shocked by this incident. As a typographer, I’d recommend using the ASCII hyphen and not the Unicode minus. That said, the font selection on Kindle is still not where it should be. Typographically it’s still at “desktop publishing” level.

      • Well the minus sign is *not* a hyphen. This is also something that could be easily checked automatically, unlike grammatical errors in other books.

      • Well, I fixed that particular issue. You learn something new every day, apparently.

  21. you do use hyphens unnecessarily, though..

    • Maybe. Part of that is down to the preferences of my editors and part of it is stylistic choice on my part. Overdone, perhaps. Bad enough to warrant pulling a book?

      • I usually complain about a lack of hyphens in people’s writing, either because they are trying to push language evolution along by grafting hyphenated words together (George RR Martin) or by leaving an empty space when a hyphen seems to be called for.

        If two separate words have come though continuous joint usage to have formed a unique meaning independent of their original respective meanings, then a hyphen would seem to be called for, especially if the lack of one would result in confusion.

        Not a great example but it will serve:
        “A wet blue book was still stuck to her backpack.”
        This sentence fails to convey proper meaning if you do not realize that a blue-book is a thing that is not actually a book.

  22. I’m a little confused on this; I thought the minus sign and hyphen were identical in ASCII. I know that’s not the case in Unicode, and typographically they are not the same beast, but ASCII has always treated them the same as far as I’m aware.

    • Pretty much all font encodings have the ASCII hyphen as the typographically correct HYPHEN, yes. (NOT a typographically correct minus or dash.)

    • Unicode contains the “hyphen-minus” (U+002D: -), the minus sign (U+2212: −), the en-dash (U+2013: –), and the em-dash (U+2014: —). The fact that it’s called “hyphen-minus” is confusing, but in modern usage, it should ALWAYS be used for a hyphen, and U+2212 minus sign should ALWAYS be used for a minus sign.

      • That’s what the info I read said as well. In Unicode the classic 2D is used as a hyphen unless for some reason you specifically need the Unicode hyphen-only character (U+2010). But in ASCII there is no distinction.

        However I see Graeme has followed up with an explanation that he was using an entity instead of the actual hyphen-minus character. That puts his comments about needing to use the ASCII symbol in context; I was confused initially because I thought he meant they were already 2D but needed to be some other character.

  23. I generally consume most of my books on the kindle using text-to-speech. I have noticed that the encoding for the dash or hyphen is critical to a decent conversion. The text-to-speech engine they use is really only adequate if you are willing to accept that the device has a really strange accent. This may be what you are up against.

  24. Graeme: This is clearly something that needs to brought to the attention of jeff@amazon.com (Jeff Bezos’ address) as this has now made the front page of Reddit, and this is about to become the public relations nightmare from hell (for him, not you) — and right before Christmas, too. As a fellow Kindle indie writer/publisher, my sympathies are with you.

  25. See http://www.amazon.com/review/R2XJD85O9TIUCB

    If it helps, I submitted one for Twilight, but my review is currently being reviewed. I hope I didn’t use too much punctuation.

  26. Absolutely-absurd – can-not believe Amazon would do-this – best-of-luck – Joh-n.

  27. Well, it’s back on sale now. Common sense (and the combined weight of over 100,000 blog views) seems to have prevailed. Thanks to everyone for their support. Really did not see this coming.

    The last day has been quite difficult in many respects, and there were a couple of times that I almost took this post and both books down. I’m glad that I didn’t. Amazon do need to address the quality of the titles they have for sale, and they especially need to look at the way that Kindle Unlimited is being gamed by people uploading junk in the hopes that it will get a couple of borrows. The system is broken and it does need to be fixed. I applaud their efforts and the fact that they are trying to put some quality standards in place. They just are not quite there yet.

    And as far as the comments on this thread and on Goodreads go – I’ve learned a few things. One of those is that I really had better not use minus signs instead of the proper hyphen character in future. And yes, I’ll be going back over my other books and all of Horrific Tales Publishing’s novels to make sure it’s sorted out before it offends anyone else.

  28. What the actual fuck is right. Who in their right mind at Amazon thought this needed attention? Amazon needs to apologize and man up.

  29. Reblogged this on Samuel J. Bass and commented:
    Amazon Needs To Stop Harassing Authors

  30. As a writing professor I tell my students to never ever use grammar-chek. And it’s okay to start a sentence with And. In my own writing I dont always punctuate correctly. Particularly, if I am trying to establish rhythm. Automate anything – hyphens included – and a good writer could lose her voice! Moreover, I am ignoring those red underlines in this post that indicate incorrect spelling. Sometimes it takes more than an email for the corporate world to get it.

    • I agree – it’s as much about style as anything else. I had someone comment on Kboards that the fact that I don’t tend to use dialogue tags should warrant the book’s removal, whereas that is a personal taste thing on my part. I prefer to use action and short pieces of description to show which character is speaking because I find it more dynamic than a series of “he said, she said” and can help prevent talking head syndrome. At the end of the day, these books are popular and sell well. I will fix any errors that are discovered because I care about quality. However the hyphenation is also deliberate, even if we Brit’s tend to use it more than some of our American friends.

  31. Hi Graeme, I’m glad this has been sorted, but I want to comment that as a reader, I’m still surprised that editors do not correct “try and” in favour of “try to”. That makes me crazy, but I would never go after an author for it – not even Peter F. Hamilton . . .

    • Hi Boris – it’s one of those things. Certainly while it’s not grammatically correct in prose it is how people tend to speak. My own view is that grammar goes out of the window the second it’s placed inside of dialogue tags because it’s more about how the character would articulate something. Also, even the best editors miss things. I use two editors and a bunch of beta readers and I still find the odd mistake that I need to fix retrospectively.

    • Speaking here as a professional editor, there is nothing wrong with “try and.” It’s a perfectly idiomatic usage. It’s a bit less formal in register than “try to,” but it’s otherwise unobjectionable. (The Oxford English Dictionary has citations dating back to 1686.)

  32. Because of this line:
    “…or the impending tidal wave of Nanowrimo first drafts that are about to hit us…”
    I am going to buy your book now. Hilarious!

  33. Nice rant. Slightly improved, ironically, by the missing apostrophe in “You are screwing with peoples livelihoods here” in the second-to-last paragraph.

    • Yup – this is why I pay for editors. Unfortunately I can’t afford to pay them to edit my frequent rants. And you should see my facebook posts. It’s like they are written by a sweary eight year old

  34. This is simultaneously horrifying and hilarious. I am so glad you got it worked out, because otherwise it would just be horrifying.

  35. TMHDR

    Too Many Hyphens, Didn’t Read =P

  36. And there I was just about to publish The History of the Hyphen, in which I list all the known hyphens in the English language and their applications. 🙂

  37. Reblogged this on The Well of Mike and commented:
    Amazon gets pretty ridiculous sometimes. I couldn’t help but share this story.

  38. As a reader, my beef with Kindle is that the page is typographically ugly. They force everything into left and right justification, but don’t allow automatic hyphenation, resulting in wildly uneven word spacing and clumsy looking type. Automatic hyphenation must be done by the software on the fly; if you change the size of the type or the margin width, different words will require hyphenation. This requires the presence of a hyphenation dictionary to tell the software where any given word may be hyphenated and a set rules, such as no more than two lines in sequence may be hyphenated. I suppose this is just too complicated for Kindle and addresses a problem they don’t see as important.

    The simple solution is to display pages as justified left and rag right. You can’t do justice to a page of type by using full justification with no hyphenation. Also, studies show that justified left and rag right is easier to read. It is absurd that Kindle forces clumsy typesetting on us but goes ballistic over correctly used compound-modifier hyphens.

    • MY beef with Kindle is that I refuse to rent a book. If they change that, I’ll consider buying one of the reading devices. If not, I’m going to stick with old-style treeware.

    • There is no such thing as “left justification”. You mean left alignment.

  39. As I am getting deeper into the editing process on my first attempt at a book, I find this incredibly disheartening. I was fortunate enough to read some ‘do it yourself’ articles that informed me that hyphens are not agreeable with Amazon. The geek part of me gets it. But the geek part of me also *knows* that my geek friends could fix this formatting issue in all of five minutes! I don’t have a thousand dollars for an editor, I’m just a mom trying to make something out of my life. This indeed is a ‘head-desking’ process. =(

    • Hi Tracey,
      I would not worry too much. I think this was just a random glitch in the system brought on by someone complaining. Most likely a US reader as I have had a few of my American readers complain about the UK grammar and spelling (despite the book being set in the UK, with British characters, written by a British author and published by a British press).

  40. Reblogged this on YOURS IN STORYTELLING… and commented:
    All right. So it seems that Graeme Reynold got in trouble with Amazon over the use of a dash.

    I can understand that myself. I mean, I always run into trouble when it comes to running into those troublesome dashes in cookbook recipes.
    I mean, think about it.
    There you are going along all fine and smooth with your teaspoons and tablespoons and all of a sudden they are asking for a “dash of pepper”.
    What does that freaking mean, anyway?
    Am I supposed to run-on-the-spot while I shake the pepper shaker?
    (apologies for my misuse of the dash)
    Am I supposed to wear an ascot while I shake the pepper shaker?
    I mean – I don’t know about you but I can take “dash” in an awful lot of different ways.
    But I do agree with Amazon on some of things they are talking about banning. For example, starting sentences with the word “but”.
    What about italics?
    I just don’t trust those italics, do you?
    They are all so sneaky looking and slanted and and they’ve got their cursive little pinky artfully extended.
    Let’s all dash out and ban the italics, shall we?

  41. If this wasn’t so stupid, it would be hilarious.

  42. Tracey again here, Thank you graeme =) I will continue on my journey of writing, editing and head-desking lol Too close now to give up!

  43. Reblogged this on Horror Reviews for You and commented:
    Those of you who have heard about this, here is the original blog post. Stop by and show Graeme some love. He’s a great author.

  44. I thought it was ridiculous when Audible told me that there was no way they could differentiate titles by two authors of the same name and that they recommended I change my name and to remember to have the narrator re-record the introduction containing my confusing name.

  45. So glad this got sorted out, Graeme! It’s crazy that some random complainer has so much power.

  46. While what you are going through is painful, Graeme, I am delighted to learn that I am not alone in the hyphen war. I am in my late fifties, born and educated in the US of parents who corrected my grammar, and at a time when we were still taught grammar in school. As an adult, I lived and taught English as a Second/Foreign language in Canada and Hong Kong. Now back in the USA, I’m disheartened by the growing lack of clarity in American English, of which the loss of hyphens is only one example. (Saving ink, perhaps?)

    You illustrate beautifully with the one-night stand example how, In many contexts, the hyphen lends clarity to adjectives:
    The ten-year-old resident … vs The ten year old resident…

    It becomes a much bigger issue, though, when one considers the numerous remarkable, colourful varieties of English, and the danger of “Amazonifying” them, if I may coin a term. Years ago, I was more than irritated when I learned that the Harry Potter books had been Americanized for this market, even changing the name from “The Philosopher’s Stone” to “The Sorcerer’s Stone”. How in the world will children develop a world view if everything is changed to suit their own little world? How much would we lose if “toque” in Louise Penney mysteries becomes “knit cap”, “Daddyji” become “Daddy” in Ved Mehta’s writing, and so on.

    Lovely to hear you speak on CBC this evening. I will have to check out your book now!

  47. […] Hyphen Hate? When Amazon went to war against punctuation … […]

  48. […] Reynolds was gobsmacked at the absurdity of the complaint, and blogged about it in a post titled Hyphen Hate: When Amazon Went to War Against Punctuation, after which the book was indeed removed from sale. His post drew more than 300,000 readers to his […]

  49. How many hyphens are they saying you used that makes it too many? This has been a topic of discussion on one of my Facebook groups.

    • Hi Heather – it was not the number that was the problem. It was that there were any at all. Essentially someone complained about the fact that some words were hyphenated, and I was given a notice to remove them all. This was almost certainly an issue with their use of automated systems and first line support staff who are not able to do anything but read from a script. It was sorted out quickly once I actually got real people involved.

  50. I hear you on this! How totally absurd. Is it that people cannot read these days? I tend to use a lot of brackets or lines for parentheses when I write, so is that going to be off-limits too? Lord help us all.

  51. I thought I’d pretty much finished with this thread, but I really feel I have to make one more comment before I sign off.
    A ridiculous number of people have gotten caught up in the whole “he used a minus sign instead of an ascii hyphen! The bastard” controversy that has followed this thread around and has spilled over into any number of internet message boards. First of all, let me be clear. The issue was not with my use of a minus sign. The issue Amazon had was that someone had complained about hyphenation. Second, I have since gone back and checked the original file on the Kindle text-to-speech app and it renders fine. No issues. Third – to those people who love to nit pick and find a tiny issue then blow it up out of all proportion – that was not what the blog post was about. The blog post was a rant that I never expected more than a hundred or so people to see about how Amazon took a book down on the basis of a single complaint. But really, you people need to get a fucking life. More important things have happened over the last week. Go get upset over the nutter who killed those people in that Australian cafe. Get angry at the continuing erosion of your civil rights. In the grand scheme of things, minus over hyphen is probably not worth that much of your time. Have a very happy Christmas. Graeme

  52. Wow, holy smokes. I love your blog post. But man I am sorry about the dickhead who decided to troll your book. Man I would end up having a stroke if the same thing had happened to me. stay sweet dude.

  53. […] Graeme Reynolds recounted one such situation yesterday. At the request of a customer, Amazon has declared hyphenated words verboten in the Kindle Store: […]

  54. One of the problems with Kindle is that it isn’t very clever at word breaks when wrapping text around lines — what in the trade is called hyphenation and justification or H&J, related to hyphenated words in as much as the same symbol is involved.

    Two five-letter words hyphenated together become, in the Kindle’s crude working, an eleven letter “word” and thus can cause excessively wide justification across the line or even make justification fail entirely.

    This is not the author’s fault!

    A Kindle is capable of doing hyphenation and justification but Amazon has eschewed the complexity of incorporating an H&J engine in its rendering software and instead leaves the matter to publishers. They, on the other hand, are accustomed to having H&J automatically incorporated by page lay-out systems and wouldn’t necessarily consider it needful to introduce tens of thousands of soft (ie visible only when required) hyphens into a text before submitting it to Amazon.

    In the case of e-books the Kindle is the page rendering system therefore I feel that it should include an H&J engine. Admittedly H&J rules can be immensely complex but we’ve been doing it in software for decades; it’s a solved problem. Amazon would not have to re-invent this particular wheel, just purchase an off the shelf solution to incorporate in its software.

    That it hasn’t, that it has shrugged the problem of aesthetically acceptable H&J back onto the publishers is, in my view, very poor behaviour indeed.

    That they should “suppress” a publication because the lack of H&J “impacts the readability” of the text is absolutely gob-smacking as the problem is entirely their own fault! They’re blaming the author for their own lack of investment in their Kindle software.

    For self-publishers there is an extension to Calibre that will insert soft hyphens into text to improve the H&J rendering somewhat.

    • I can live with the Kindle’s failure to insert hyphens between syllables for better justification, but what I find baffling is its unwillingness to break lines after hard hyphens and dashes. As a publisher there’s nothing I can do about the hyphens, but for em dashes I’m forced to make a choice: (a) do the typographically correct thing by leaving no flanking spaces, which can create hideous attempts at justification as Kindle treats word-dash-word as one long, unbreakable word; (b) insert spaces before and aft, which allows line breaks but makes every em dash a major event; or (c) use an en dash with spaces, which takes up less room but still doesn’t look right.

    • You’re absolutely right on this. Professional page layout applications, such as QuarkXPress and InDesign have H&J engines which, for the most part, do an excellent job. As well, they have user settings which allow you to specify certain criteria to further fine tune the results; the fewest number of letters before or after a hyphen, or the maximum number of lines that can be hyphenated in sequence. They also have a hidden character called a discretionary hyphen, which you can use when it is necessary for a word to break at a particular place to preserve meaning.

      I assume very few publishers are adding the soft hyphens to their output, because in my reading I have yet to see a properly broken line. Amazon could add an H&J engine to the devise, which would take care of the problem, but that seems to be a very low priority. My Kindle does’t even allow the user to select ragged right justification unless that’s what the publisher specified. Until e-readers solve this problem they will remain the poor second cousins of real books. Poor typesetting degrades the reading experience, even for those readers who don’t realize they are looking at it.

  55. Fuck-ing ridiculous!

  56. Reblogged this on Jayne Hyatt.

  57. Fifty Shades has 1,408 hyphens. They didn’t touch that book. Amazon loves to screw with indie authors.


  58. I have not read the other 106 responses, so please accept my apology if this has been mentioned before.

    The people who send out these types of emails to authors know nothing about writing or editing. They see a “-” and think that it is caused by incorrect hyphenation at the end of a line and not a legitimate connecting of words. Sadly, this is not being taught any more and people have lost the ability to think independently. (The one person complaining might have been Melania G’s mother and that’s why one whiny person got so much attention.)

    My full first name is hyphenated. I wonder if that means that Amazon won’t let me publish any books on their site.

  59. This isn’t ridiculous. It’s scary as hell. I swear, at first I thought it was a joke.

  60. […] Hyphen Hate? When Amazon went to war against punctuation. […]

  61. Reblogged this on Booker's Blog.

  62. Please tell me where the zoo is located that houses the Amazon person responsible for this magical pieces of dumbing down. If you can’t cope with hyphenated words then stick to reading baboons’ arses.

  63. The scary part is the dominant market position that Amazon has here.

  64. […] According to author Graeme Reynolds, Amazon removed High Moor 2 from its digital shelves because of the novel’s 90,000 total words, 100 were hyphenated. Apparently that is too many? A solid 18 months and 123 (largely positive!) reviews after the book’s initial release, Reynolds claims to have received an email from Amazon that claims his excessive use of itty bitty dashes “significantly impacts the readability of [his] book”. When Reynolds emailed Amazon back to express his bewilderment at the situation, Amazon explained that he was free to republish his novel “once he corrected the hyphenated words”. […]

  65. Graeme – probably this has already been pointed out, but I’m suspecting the problem is that your hyphens appear to have been set as en-dashes rather than hyphens (not em-dashes as the Guardian article suggested).

    • Hi Sarah,
      Actually they aren’t. There are no en-dashes in the book. I know this because it’s hand coded in html and uses named entities. At first the hyphens were simply the keyboard minus sign (which didn’t make any difference to how it displayed on a kindle or affect text to speech) but when people jumped on that and I started getting trolled over it I changed them all to the ascii character for the hyphen and re-uploaded the book. It should also be noted that Amazon put the book back on sale while the keyboard minus sign was still being used.


  66. It is incredible, isn’t it? But I’m glad it’s been sorted out for you, Graeme. Hopefully Amazon will strike a balance in dealing with the scams on kindle. It’s incredible how much garbage you have to sift through to find something worth reading in the kindle store these days. Gems like yours and Hyperpolis do make the process worthwhile though

  67. […] According to author Graeme Reynolds, Amazon removed High Moor 2 from its digital shelves because of the novel’s 90,000 total words, 100 were hyphenated. Apparently that is too many? A solid 18 months and 123 (largely positive!) reviews after the book’s initial release, Reynolds claims to have received an email from Amazon that claims his excessive use of itty bitty dashes “significantly impacts the readability of [his] book.” When Reynolds emailed Amazon back to express his bewilderment at the situation, Amazon explained that he was free to republish his novel “once he corrected the hyphenated words.” […]

  68. “Style enforcement by automation” sounds like a writer’s dystopian nightmare. Especially since Big Brother has taken to using a pseudonym like “Melania G.” Glad to hear it all worked out, though! Love the quote in the image, by the way, brilliant!

  69. Unfortunately, Amazon always defaults to a bot. You only have to look at the utter shit fest that the forums on Amazon.com can turn into to see what moderation by bot achieves as opposed to moderation by human (clue, the answer to this is ‘nothing good’).

    That is why it is imperative that we all look to sell books across the board, in other channels as well as Amazon and why signing up to exclusivity with the mighty Zon is a bad, bad thing. Because if we don’t we’re going to be edited by bots for the rest of time…



  70. […] According to author Graeme Reynolds, Amazon private High Moor 2 from a digital shelves given of a novel’s 90,000 sum words, 100 were hyphenated. Apparently that is too many? A plain 18 months and 123 (largely positive!) reviews after a book’s initial release, Reynolds claims to have perceived an email from Amazon that claims his extreme use of itty bitty dashes “significantly impacts a readability of [his] book.” When Reynolds emailed Amazon behind to demonstrate his distraction during a situation, Amazon explained that he was giveaway to republish his novel “once he corrected a hyphenated words.” […]

  71. […] Graeme Reynolds wrote about howAmazon went to war against punctuation. […]

  72. I’m considering self-publishing on Amazon, but am finding myself quickly going off the idea after reading this post and all these comments. Am so glad you’ve managed resolving the issue. I would have gone ballistic with them.

    Back to basics here. Are you saying that the little dash on the keyboard between the key with a 0 and the key with an = is not a hyphen but a minus? If so, am I meant to insert a hyphen via symbols? I’m certainly not going to dump hyphens altogether, when I think they’re called for.

    And whilst I’m asking questions, I’d greatly appreciate you telling me what I should I should use on either side of a sub-clause or to indicate an interruption to dialogue:

    1) An em-dash that has been automatically generated by Word and is flush to the words on either side of it.

    2) Two hyphens to indicate an em-dash.

    3) And en-dash with a space on either side of it.

    If I do self-publish, I will do my Create Space version first and then use the automatic conversion to Kindle facility, which means I must get this detail right before I start.


    • Hi Sarah,
      I think 99% of people use the keyboard minus sign to indicate a dash and I fully expect that most of them leave it there. Technically (according to all of the helpful and not-so-helpful comments I’ve had on here) you should replace the minus sign with an ascii value for the hyphen (-) when you build your ebook.

      If you go for the — when you are writing the book to put an em dash in place (because there is no dedicated keyboard key) then its something you can then use a search and replace to insert the correct character later on. Of the examples you state, 1) is the correct one and you can use 2) in the context described.

      Don’t be put off going down the self published route, but just be aware that its going to be very hard work and can distract you from your writing. If you don’t have the funds and the time to do it properly then maybe you need to look at some of the more reputable small presses.

      Good luck!

      • Thanks, Graeme, for answering my questions. I admit to being rather overwhelmed with the whole self publishing idea and would still prefer to go down the traditional route. As you say, it will distract me from my writing and I don’t have the funds to play with, so would have to do everything myself, including designing the book cover. As you suggest, I will look at some of the small presses, although a lot of them aren’t accepting unsolicited submissions anymore, so it’s all very frustrating.

      • The best thing you can do is to look at your chosen genre and identify a few presses that you want to work with. Look at their titles and how well they sell – how many reviews they get, sales rank etc. Quite a lot run the occasional open submissions period. Also, the odd speculative email never hurt, even if its ignored or you don’t get the answer you want. Best of luck.

    • Sarah,

      Long but hopefully useful and complete answer to your questions:

      (1) What’s up with that key between 0 and =?

      The key on your keyboard between the 0 and the = corresponds to the Unicode entity called “HYPHEN-MINUS (U+002D)” and looks like this: -. This is distinct from the “HYPHEN (U+2010)” (‐) and the “MINUS (U+2212)” (−). With most fonts, the hyphen is going to be slightly narrower than the hyphen-minus, and the minus is going to be slightly wider.

      The hyphen-minus exists for backwards compatibility reasons. In the era of typewriters and then ASCII text, before Unicode, there were precious few symbols actually available to typists. The key between 0 and = that produced a horizontal line at middle position served multiple duties: as a hyphen between words (oft-heard), as a minus sign (7-2=5), as an en-dash (short term memory can hold 5-9 numbers at a time), or as an em-dash when doubled (clause one–clause two).

      This was fine for casual communication, but when publishing a book, a professional typesetter had many more options. There was a hyphen, and a minus sign, and an en-dash, and an em-dash, and they were all distinct characters with distinct uses, and had different sizes. It was the typesetter’s job, when typesetting a manuscript, to choose the correct option.

      When Unicode was developed, suddenly digital representations of text could contain more than the measly 128 or 256 characters available in ASCII/extended ASCII. Suddenly there were untold thousands of characters that could be represented. So, at least in a text’s digital representation, one character no longer had to pull the weight of all these different entities. Unicode contained a HYPHEN, a MINUS, an EN-DASH, and an EM-DASH, and fonts rendered them properly.

      However, people were still using the same keyboards they always did. Nobody was going to buy a keyboard that had thousands of keys for all their professional typesetting needs. So Unicode retained the old character as the “hyphen-minus” to be used by casual typists the way this character always had been used.

      As publishing has moved away from people physically assembling letters onto plates and into the digital era, typesetting a book now consists of ensuring that the digital representation of the text sent to the printer contains the correct Unicode characters: if the manuscript author used two hyphen-minus characters for an em-dash (one–two) then the typesetter should ensure it’s replaced with an “EM-DASH (U+2014)” (one—two). If the manuscript author used the straight quotation marks on their keyboard (“hello”) then the typesetter should ensure replacement with “LEFT DOUBLE QUOTATION MARK (U+201C)” and “RIGHT DOUBLE QUOTATION MARK (U+201D)” (“hello”). That three dots (…) should be replaced with “HORIZONTAL ELLIPSIS (U+2026)” (…).

      If you plan to self-publish, it will behoove you to understand what punctuation is available in Unicode so you can typeset your book as well as a professional typesetter would. If that’s daunting, you can probably find freelance assistance with this the same as you would for copy-editing.

      Word processing programs like Microsoft Word will do some of these substitutions for you (like — into — and straight quotes into matched left/right quotes) but they’re not always going to do it perfectly.

      (2) What should I use to separate clauses or to indicate an interruption in dialogue?

      US style is to always use a flush em-dash (one—two). UK style varies, but is most often to use a spaced en-dash (one – two). The flush em-dash can cause spacing problems because it is not eligible for line-wrapping, but you can get around that by surrounding the em-dash with Unicode “ZERO WIDTH SPACE (U+200B)”, like one​—​two (you cannot see it, but there are zero-width spaces around that em-dash that allows it to line break).

      • (Incidentally, WordPress does some of that auto-correction too, like quotes and ellipsis substitution. So, it won’t let you see the example of the “wrong” way of doing those things in my post.)

      • Kuronekoyama, thanks for your most thorough reply, which is very helpful but has stretched my mind somewhat!

  73. And all this from one customer complaint? *sheesh* I-will-stick-hyphens-wherever-I-bloody-please! :p

  74. So we now have “hyphen-gate” as a result of one readers complaint. Amazon clearly has it’s thumb in bum and mind in neutral on this one, otherwise it would be going after the true criminals of modern literature such as Stephenie Myer or E. L. James.

  75. […] on this. Guidelines are less strict (although Amazon and assorted presses still put some stock – sometimes ridiculous stock – in technical correctness) and if you are a passionate but perhaps slightly-less-skilled writer […]

  76. […] Amazon’s war against hyphens [Graeme Reynolds]. […]

  77. I’m gone to inform my little brother, that he should also
    visit this blog on regular basis to get updated from most recent gossip.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: