Q. I am overwhelmed by the task of alphabetizing a list of book titles, as many of the titles have colons, commas, and in some cases, dashes separating the title and subtitle. It is all getting to be a bit much for me. Given the large number of titles I am working with, I would prefer to ignore all punctuation, but what to do in the following situation? Would I ignore the dash, the comma, and the colon and move on to the word following Band in the title? Believe it or not, these are actual examples: The Beatles—Rock Band; The Beatles, Rock Band; The Beatles: Rock Band; The Beatles Rock Band.
A. Normally the only punctuation marks that matter in alphabetizing are parentheses and commas, but in the case of titles with subtitles, it might make sense to promote the colon to primary importance. In that case, The Beatles: Rock Band would come first. After that, decide the order you like for other punctuation marks and note it in your style sheet. In titles, the dash and comma sometimes serve the same role as a colon (separating the title and subtitle), so you might put them next. Please note, too, that this issue does not fall into the category of stuff that is important to readers. However you order these nearly identical titles, they are all in one convenient location for the reader. It’s not worth your sanity to let it overwhelm you.