When Lynne Truss began to write Eats, Shoots and Leaves: The No-Nonsense Approach to Punctuation, she probably didn’t expect it to become such a best seller. “Certainly I didn’t,” she tells The Guardian. “My last novel sold poorly (and I’d received a large advance), which made me poison as far as another publishing contract was concerned.”
The journey started back in the early 2000s. Truss was working freelance after writing about sports and television for The Times in the 90s, leaving in the aftermath of her sister’s death. Andrew Franklin of Profile Books approached her at a party, where they discussed whether she thought she could write a book on punctuation. She told him, “honestly, no, there were several fine books on punctuation already, and I wasn’t an expert.” But Franklin persisted, and a year later, the two would be at the same party with Eats, Shoots and Leaves, not only published but a number one bestseller.
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Lynne Truss chalks the way the book was written up to timing. Being forty seven meant that she had read a lot of books. She knew about how Emily Dickinson loved dashes, how Nicholson Baker felt about semi-colons, and that James Thurber wrote about commas. Her background in editing also helped, giving her a “practical understanding of the subject, and a romantic attitude to print.”
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Once she had the book published, Lynne Truss and those around her did not expect much to come of it. A journalist friend warned her that it would be torn apart, while her mother advised her to say the book was “FOR THE SELECT FEW.” But, Eats, Shoots and Leaves was a hit. By Christmas, it sold 570,000 copies. All in all, Lynne Truss sold three million books.
On her success, Truss says this: “Luckily I was old enough – and jaded enough – not to take any of the experience as either normal or deserved. It was a fantasy version of publication. But it happened, and now I’ve got a nice house to sit in and write comic crime novels, so I’m not complaining.”