“Being a literary editor requires considerable privacy so that we can discuss copy with some of the very highest level authors in the land. Seemingly petty things, like whether something should be a comma or a semicolon, ensures the quality. That simply could not happen in an open-plan office.” Meanjin editor Ian Brittain, quoted in Monday’s Sydney Morning Herald.

From: “David Salter”
To: “Louise Adler”
Subject: Shock and Awe
Date: Mon, 11 Jun 2007 09:35:13 +1000

Dear Ms Adler,

I must write, on behalf of MUP’s growing stable of impoverished and disdained authors, to register our profound disappointment on learning (Sydney Morning Herald, June 11) that significant editorial decisions in relation to our priceless manuscripts — in particular the placement of commas — are being taken in open-plan office space.

We are both shocked and saddened by this revelation. (In the interests of editorial safety you will note that our concern is expressed without risking a comma.)

It is, perhaps, instructive that this terrible news was revealed by the editor of the esteemed literary journal Meanjin (Aboriginal for “Take Your Hand Off It”). Only a man of his astonishing wordliness and intellectual breadth would have the insight and courage to expose the truth of this terrifying threat to world-wide editorial integrity.

Where will all this end? If such fundamental democratic freedoms as the positioning of a comma are now to be treated with cavalier “open plan” disregard, what hope is there for the distinction between diaeresis and umlaut? I trust you concede our point.

It would not be overstating the gravity of this situation to suggest that the crisis requires immediate and decisive action. Therefore, we, the MUP Authors’ Collective, demand your immediate assurance that the consideration of comma placement (and any other associated issues of punctuation) will henceforth be conducted behind closed doors and in spaces where the dividing walls reach to the ceiling, if not higher.

We are not unreasonable people and understand that it may not be physically possible to institute this policy immediately. In that spirit of literary goodwill we are pleased to append herewith a modest supply of interim commas on the strict condition that they should only be used on an “as needs” basis. ,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,


Yours sincerely,

William Butler Ezra Gustave Heinrich ‘Banjo’ de McGuffin
Proctor Emeritus,
MUP Authors’ Collective

(David Salter’s The Media We Deserve will be published by MUP in August. Punctuation permitting. Louise Adler is the MUP publisher.)