Through the experience of submitting work to agents/editors and having work submitted to me as a free-lance and PYP editor (and from having a friend/crit partner/mentor who knows all), I’ve learned some interesting points. Most of them you can find on any good blog or website, but few folks write about the “stupid things” that can trip you up.
I’m not going to say that these things can keep your manuscript from being accepted, but by the time your masterpiece hits the submission trail it should be spit-shine perfect. It should reflect not just your writing abilities, but also your professionalism. Finding too many of these unprofessional “stupid things” in someone’s piece can tip the scales of whether I will accept the work or not–and I’m just a newbie with few submissions. Can you imagine what it’s like for a seasoned pro with hundreds of submissions a week?
So, after you’ve perfected all the major stuff that makes up a great novel and before you pray over your piece and send it out, check for some of the stupid things:
Chapter Headings–make sure they’re uniform all the way through. That includes having them on same place on the page. If you type Chapter One on line sixteen, then all the chapters should be on line sixteen, too. If you type Chapter 1 on the first page, don’t have Chapter Thirty on page 385. If you have chapter titles, don’t have chapter one’s title Like This and chapter thirty’s title Like this. Uniform location, type, capitalization and font all the way through.
Numbers–in general, these should be spelled out. Of course, there are exceptions. No one expects you to type out seven hundred thirty-seven million, five hundred thousand fifty-three. I’m not even sure how to do it. Where do the commas go?
Generally, numbers under 101 should be spelled out. Different style manuals have different rules, so consult the manual preferred by the agent/publisher you’re submitting to. (Port Yonder Press prefers The Chicago Manual of Style, the heavy hitter of most publishing companies, while many Christian publishers prefer The Christian Writer’s Manual of Style. One or both of these should be on every writer’s desk–or at least a copy of Polishing the “PUGS” by Kathy Ide, which hits the high points of most major style manuals including Chicago and Christian Writer’s.)
Contemporary Jargon–until the powers that be recognize “alright,” it’s not all right to use. Spell it out in its two-word form. “Okay” is different. Sometimes it’s okay to use OK, but usually the preference is to spell it out. Again, check your style manual and the preference of the folks you’re submitting to.
Holy Pronouns–if you write Christian fiction and refer to our Savior and Lord, decide early whether you’re going to capitalize Him and stick with it. And not just “Him,” but You and His also. Jesus shouldn’t be the Messiah in one place and the messiah in another, Savior here and savior there. Check your manual; be consistent.
Only–this word can be an adverb, adjective or conjunction, but the placement can change a sentence’s meaning entirely. Watch how you’re using it; make sure you’re modifying the word you intend to modify.
Using the example I found on Dictionary.com (“I cook only on weekends”), I’ll show you the difference in meaning with different placements of “only.”
Only I cook on weekends (no one else cooks on weekends).
I only cook on weekends (I don’t do anything else but cook).
I cook only on weekends (I don’t cook during the week).
Punctuation–this is a biggie. I’m going to assume you know how to punctuate a sentence, so let’s get to some of the annoying things.
Overuse–ellipses and dashes can be overused so easily, and when they are, they lose their effectiveness. In dialogue, ellipses are used when a thought tapers off, and dashes are used to illustrate an interruption. In prose, dashes are used to set off a thought, idea or something that would otherwise be parenthetical. Exclamation points should rarely be used. They illustrate shouting, anger, excitement, but overuse dilutes their power.
Quotation Marks–unless you use italics, full quotes should be used around “things” you want to set apart in your sentence in prose. Not partial ‘quotes’ but the “real deal.” Also, periods and commas go inside the quote. Other punctuation has different rules depending on whether they’re part of the quote or speaker’s dialogue. While we’re at it, keep an eye out for open quotes: In dialogue or any time you use quotation marks, be sure you close the quotes.
Apostrophe Direction–this is the one few ever pay attention to. I never did, until I read about it in one publisher’s submission instructions. This is obviously somebody’s pet peeve, and can be one of the stupid things that’ll trip you up. But I seriously doubt it’ll prevent acceptance.
You use the apostrophe when you’re leaving out a letter in a word or making a contraction, and usually it’s faced in the right direction. But when you’re omitting the first letter, the apostrophe is faced in the wrong direction. It’s a pain, but it’s not too difficult to change ‘nough said to ’nough said. Just type ‘’ together and delete the first one. Okay, okay, I know. Petty, picky, peevish. But now that you’ve read this, I bet it’ll drive you nuts too.
This micro-proof reading should be the last thing you do before you pray over your work so all the corrections you’ve made will be checked, too.
Linda Yezak is a two-time finalist in ACFW’s Genesis Contest as well as a two-time judge in the contest and a judge for smaller competitions. She has been published in Christian Romance Magazine and her review of Riven by Jerry Jenkins was published on the Tyndale website for the book (under the “Reviews” tab). Linda writes blog posts for several sites including AuthorCulture, 777 Peppermint Place, PeevishPenman and VibrantNation. Her first novel, Give the Lady a Ride is currently being considered for publication. She is an editor for Port Yonder Press, a small, traditional publishing company, and a free-lance editor.
Thanks so much for sharing your pet peeves, Linda! Apostrophe direction drives me insane, too, so I shut off “curly quotes” in Word when I’m writing–it keeps the direction neutral!
And for you, my delightful reader, I hope you’ve enjoyed this respite with our guest bloggers. I’ll be back two weeks from now with a fun little post before I get back to the important business of harder-hitting posts. Thanks for your support and readership during these few months as my family and I have adjusted to having another child in the house!
Until next time,