Wednesday, February 13th, 2008
Writerly Wednesday – Presentation IS Important

Writerly Wednesday

I keep hearing a statement from mostly aspiring authors that absolutely makes me shudder. There seems to be a belief that spelling and grammar issues are solely the job of editors and don’t need to be worried about by the authors.

It’s true that, when the rubber hits the road, we editors are responsible for correcting spelling and grammar issues. But failure to make your work the cleanest and best it can be possible before you submit it may mean you never reach that point. The editor (or agent) may never even request a full because their appreciation of your story may not be enough to balance the costs and resources neede to get it through the publication process.

The first thing aspiring authors have to understand is that your submission – be it synopsis, partial or full – is your interview for a contract. It’s what you will be judged on. Why would you choose to make less than the best impression you possibly could? Would you show up to interview for a modeling shot with grimy hair and say that’s the hairdresser’s job? Shooting yourself in the foot is not a great start to any venture.

Now, keep in mind that almost every submission contains some errors, that’s normal and expected. But a plethora of easy to find and fix ones tells me (accurately or not) that the author doesn’t care enough to do the very best job possible. That it’s not important to the author. Are they lazy? Are they going to be difficult to work with?

Another thing it tells me is that if I contract this work, it will cost my house more money to get it in shape for publishing than it would an equivalent story that is cleaned up and corrected. The longer I have to spend on it, the longer my line editors or proofers have to spend on it, the more it costs. Publishing is still a business and it’s part of my job to make the best use of my house’s resources as I can.

It also directly affects my ability to appreciate and enjoy the story. Like it or not, each time I see an error, it drags me out of the story and breaks my immersion. Too many times and I can’t follow the story very well and end up not liking it as much as I possibly could have. You don’t want to let mechanical errors get in the way of the story.

I want to strongly encourage anyone who submits a work for publication to utilize the marvels of spellcheck and the eagle eyes of a test reader or critique partner. Make your submission as clean and correct as you possibly can before you submit it and you will increase your chances of acceptance.

Wednesday, February 6th, 2008
Writerly Wednesday – Clean up the Laundry Lists

Writerly Wednesday

The last several manuscripts I’ve edited have suffered from what I call the “Laundry List Syndrome” so I thought I’d take a moment to mention it here.

A laundry list is when an author tries to mention a whole lot of things at once instead of dribbling them in a little at a time. In some cases it appears as part of an info-dump but sometimes it just appears out of the blue.

As an example, here’s a laundry list:

    The stranger turned around and she couldn’t believe her eyes: black hair, blue eyes, a strong chin, a nose with a slight crook to the side and tanned cheeks dusted with a dark five o’clock shadow.

The author in this laundry list is merely dumping out facts. It’s dry and the reader tends to just skim over it.

It would be much more effective to give each of these facts individual emphasis. It makes it more enjoyable to read and more memorable as well.

Try this in contrast:

    The dark haired stranger turned around and she couldn’t believe her eyes. His glossy black hair curled around his tanned face in waves that made her fingers itch to smooth it back. Piercing cobalt eyes were framed by lush black lashes, the darkness echoed in the hint of razor stubble dusting his strong chin. Only the slight bump and crooked slant of a long-ago broken nose saved his face from being too pretty.

I’d usually space it out more than that and I realize it’s not the best paragraph ever, but look how much more memorable it is than the laundry list?

One magic clue to an imminent laundry list is using a colon… If you find yourself using a colon, ask yourself why and if there is a better way to present the information you are about to list.