Friday, May 18, 2012

Really Important Things

Sometimes in our haste to get the story we are excited to tell on the page and out the door, it's easy to forget some really important things. I just read the first two chapters of a book a friend wrote that had been rejected by a couple of editors. I told her I'd see if I could discover why they hadn't wanted to publish it. It didn't take long to figure it out. I'm sure they didn't read beyond the first page. That was their loss, because the story was delightful and her characters interesting people. But the author had neglected to edit well. In the first paragraph, she had left out a word so you had to read it again to see what she meant. There were grammatical and punctuation errors. I made several bright red edit marks on the first page alone which led me to believe the editors must have just stopped there. One other problem was improper formatting. The author had not followed (if she had read) the guidelines of proper font, chapter heading, page numbering, etc. The things a publishing house requires are readily available on line and are SOOO important for an author to follow. It was frustrating to see all the little things that so easily could have been fixed with a careful read-through of the manuscript before it was sent off. If it was off-putting for me as a reader, I can imagine how an editor must have felt. The sad thing was, after about the third page, I was really into the story, and I believe an editor would have been too. Those seem like such little things, but they are so important. Every author must have another set of eyes study the manuscript before submission to an editor, and better yet, several. We simply can't catch every error ourselves because our brain will fill in the left out words, or skip over missed or wrong punctuation or grammar because it knows what we were trying to say. A couple of months ago I read another ms. for a different friend. Again, the story was absolutely delightful, told from the point of view of a young boy. But again, the punctuation would have prevented an editor from getting beyond the first page. I think he was trying to tell the story in the way a boy would talk---running his sentences together in a breathless string of comments with no punctuation. Hopefully he corrected that. One other problem with that ms. was the erroneous use of dialogue tags. I did the same thing with my first book. I went through the thesaurus and used a different tag for every sentence spoken. Then I attended a writer's conference and discovered that was a no-no. I had to go back through the entire book and remove them all---all those wonderful, clever ways I'd devised so I wouldn't have to use the word said, when that was what the editor wanted all the time. So to all aspiring authors, please learn correct grammar and punctuation, and make sure you've complied with the author submission guidelines before you send off your precious book. Rejection letters can be devastating and can be prevented. Good luck!


Jennie said...

May I just say amen? Editors have little time to decipher poor spelling, grammar, and punctuation and copy editors are a disappearing breed. Clean it up before sending that manuscript in.

Stephanie Black said...

Great advice, Lynn! Agents and editors deal with SO many submissions; they have to decide very quickly whether to keep reading, or reach for the next submission. You want that submission to be as polished and as perfect as possible.

Anna Buttimore said...

Absolutely. It really is so important to have alpha readers, beta readers and a great editor. Naturally agents/publishers/editors ditch a manuscript if they come across errors on the first page, because those suggest a poor standard of literacy which tips them off that the rest of the book will be bad.