I review submissions for one of the publishers I work for. Unfortunately, I see the same beginner mistakes over and over. Every time I do, I want to email that author and tell him or her to please format submissions correctly! I do have selfish reasons—it’s much easier to read a submission that’s correctly done, but I also want to see these authors succeed. So, because I can’t email all those authors personally, I decided to do this blog.
Some submissions are better than others. Some make me want to cry. Others make me want to tear out what little hair I have left. I started proofreading a manuscript recently for my boss. When I opened the Word file, the first thing I noticed was the font, which was not Times New Roman. No problem, I thought. Easy-peasy. I figured I’d just change the font before printing out the manuscript since I prefer to read in Times New Roman. Changing font on a document is an easy “select all” change.
Lord have mercy! As soon as I changed the font to Times New Roman, other problems in the manuscript immediately jumped out at me, and I realized I was looking at the poorest formatting I’d ever seen on a manuscript. Word has a “show/hide paragraph symbol” feature which allows you to see hard returns and breaks. I always keep this on so I can see what’s happening in a document. Well, dozens of paragraph symbols marched across the page like soldiers advancing on the enemy line.
The author had put a hard return at the end of every line, obviously believing that this was the way to “get to the next line.” What’s a hard return? It’s when you hit the “Enter” key. A hard return is meant to be a paragraph break, not a line break. You don’t need to insert a line break. Word will automatically move your text to the next line when you type, so there’s no reason to hit “Enter” until you get to the end of your paragraph.
The next thing I noticed was that there wasn’t just one hard return at the end of every line, but two! The author apparently knew her manuscript should be doubled spaced, and she was inserting the second hard return so that the text would jump not just one line, but two, thereby making the manuscript “look” double-spaced. Word has a provision for line spacing a document.
Then I noticed the other errors. The author had put spaces before and after her emdashes. In her dialogue, she’d also put a space between the sentence-ending punctuation and the quotation marks. She’d put two spaces at the end of every sentence instead of just one. For some new paragraph indents, she’d hit the space bar five times. And on and on and on.
Thank goodness for Word’s “find and replace” feature, which allowed me to correct most of the formatting errors easily. The hard returns, however, were a problem. I had to delete those one at a time. For a lengthy manuscript, it was a time-consuming chore that took quite a few hours.
Perhaps there are writers who believe that formatting and editing are the job of the publisher, not the author. Some publishers might be more forgiving than others, but don’t think that these things aren’t part of your job as writer. They are! This author was lucky in that I corrected her mistakes for her, but she could have just as easily had the manuscript file returned to her with instructions to clean it up herself.
Ironically, the story in this case was quite good. It was a historical which demonstrated rich detail and obvious research. Clearly the author knew what she was doing in creating the setting, plot and characters, which made me wonder all the more how she could be so unlearned in the other phases of her writing.
Here are a few basic formatting guidelines to follow:
1. Use a common font like Times New Roman in size 11 or 12.
2. Double space your manuscript using your word processor’s line spacing feature.
3. Insert only one space after the end of a sentence, not two.
4. Don’t insert spaces before or after an emdash.
5. Use a hard return only after the end of a paragraph.
6. Italicize foreign words.
7. Italicize internal thoughts.
8. Don’t indent by hitting the space bar.
Big hint: if you use Word, keep the “show paragraph symbol” feature turned on. You’ll be able to see all your returns and breaks. Some people don’t like the distraction of seeing the paragraph symbols on their page, but for me it’s much more of a help than a hindrance.
Here are some additional hints for making submissions that will both show you are a professional and will make editors and agents look upon you with respect instead of rage.
1. First and foremost, follow the submission guidelines for the publisher or agent you’re submitting to. These guidelines can be quite specific.
2. Please put the following information into the header on your submission pages: title, author name and page number. Authors never seem to do this, and it is beyond annoying.
3. Review your submission for typos, misspellings, grammar, and word misuse. Be aware of frequently confused words like “peek/peak” or “compliment/complement.”
4. Know what gets capitalized, what gets italicized, and what goes in quotes. I see lots and lots of mistakes with trade names not being capitalized or not spelled right. If you’re not sure of a trademark spelling, do an internet search. Dumpster, Baggie, Ziploc, Popsicle, Naugahyde are all examples of trade names. Be aware of things that should be in italics—TV shows, movie titles, newspapers, ship names.
5. Know the proper function of colons, semicolons, emdashes and ellipses. If you’re not sure of their proper use, don’t use them. Use these sparingly in any case.
If your word processing skills or grammar skills are weak, do something about it. There are tons of resources online. If you’re part of a writers’ organization like RWA, find another writer to help you. If you’ve been offered a contract and are unsure how your manuscript should be formatted, ask your editor for guidelines.
But don’t just ignore the problem. Don’t just assume that someone else will “fix” all your mistakes.
Having good word processing skills will let publishers, editors and agents know you’re a professional writer. You may get a book contract without such skills, but having these skills will increase your chances and will also make your relationship with your editor run much more smoothly. In this day and age, being a successful writer entails knowing much more than just being able to tell a story. You need to know how to format, how to use punctuation and grammar, and once you become published, you’ll need to know how to do promotion. This entails having a website, knowing how to do social media, blogging, and all sorts of other skills.
Having good computer skills can also help you in other ways. I got my last job (as an office assistant) because the people who interviewed me were impressed with the computer skills I had taught myself as a writer.
Jaye Roycraft, a former big-city police officer, has incorporated her police procedural knowledge and experience into her futuristics and paranormals, beginning with her debut novel Rainscape, first released in 2001 and re-released in 2004 and 2009. Rainscape, a combination of romance, mystery, and science fiction, received the 2001 Dorothy Parker Award of Excellence presented by RIO, Reviewers Choice and 5 Stars from ScribesWorld, and most recently, Top Pick honors and 4 ½ stars from Romantic Times BOOKclub magazine. In 2001 Jaye also won a P.E.A.R.L. nomination for “Best New Author.” Rainscape was followed by the vampire series Double Image, Afterimage, Shadow Image, and Immoral Image. Jaye has presented workshops both online and at conferences, has been a contest judge, and was a featured panelist at Dragon*Con in 2003.
Jaye is a member of RWA (Romance Writers of America) and a former member of WisRWA (Wisconsin Romance Writers of America). Most recently Jaye has presented numerous online workshops on police procedures for writers and elements of writing.
Jaye recently moved from the frozen tundra of Wisconsin and now lives in sunny Arizona where she is self-employed and does contract work for several publishers reading submissions, proofreading, copyediting, and doing promotional work.
Jaye’s latest urban fantasy, Hell’s Warrior, is the second in her vampire Hell series and was released in 2010. Crimson Rain, the long awaited sequel to Rainscape, is due out later this year. You can read more about Jaye’s books on her website at www.jroycraft.com.
Hell’s Warrior by Jaye Roycraft
Sex has never been so deadly for one of the undead...
It's been twenty years since the vampire-mortal war known to the undead as "Hell" ended, but peace has been hard for Chicago's doyen, vampire Che Kincade. Beauty and power ensure that blood, sex and money come easily, but compromises and concessions come hard for a half-breed undead warrior whose roots run centuries-deep in violence. Still, he's managed at last to make peace bearable. A secret affair with his mortal counterpart, Chicago Mayor Deborah Dayton, ensures that their weekly meetings at city hall to discuss the vampire problems in the city are accompanied by wonderfully delicious clandestine sex. Tonight, just hours after their usual tryst, Cade's house-of-cards peace tumbles when news comes that a high-profile murder has taken place in the city.
Soon, his private and ordered world unravels when he's wanted for rape, then murder. Cade goes on the run with no help but that given by Red, a blood whore whose bed he's in when the call comes that Chicago PD has a warrant for his arrest.
The frame puts a whole new light on the assassination, and Cade tries to make sense of it as he dodges the police, mob assassins, and the vampire hunters known as Brothers of the Sun. Was the murder politically motivated—a way to return the city to the old days of persecution and hatred, or was it a personal attack on him? There have always been those who would dispose Cade as doyen. Cade suspects that even Thor, his tyro and master-in-training, is among those who would see him destroyed.
When the people Cade cares about keep dying, he sheds his peace chief mien to return to that which he knows best—killing...
*Edited by Teresa Crumpton*