Tag Archives: manuscripts

Selling Manuscripts and Formatting

I  have just started up as a slush reader for ChiZine Publications. This is somewhat different from the reading I do on poetry for Chiaroscuro (Chizine), the magazine, or the stories I read as fantasy editor for Aberrant Dreams. CZP publishes books and collections so a person is asked to send in a synopsis and the first three chapters of their book. By the way, I’ve been asked before what slush means and it is the submissions sent into a publication. There are usually several readers before the submission gets to the editor, the person who makes the decision on what is ultimately kept and what is rejected. Because most publications get hundreds of submissions a month, it can take time to get through them all and to move efficiently there are assistant editors or readers. These people determine if the manuscript is interesting and good enough to be sent on for consideration. In most cases, everyone starts in the slush pile, unless you’re an established and well-known writer.

One of the first things anyone wishing to sell a manuscript should do is research the markets. Make sure you’re sending to a company that publishes the kind of stuff you write. You would not believe how many people pluck names off of the internet like seeds in a sunflower and send out their manuscripts without actually knowing the market. Second, read the instructions. And follow them. There is some tiny leeway such as if an editor asks for Times New Roman and you do Courier font. They may take the manuscript and they may not. If the fonts are similar enough, you’re probably okay but the more errors you make the less likely it is that you’ll get to the stage of even having your submission read. Editors read hundreds and hundreds of manuscripts and they read them quickly to stay on top of the pile. If a goofy font or strange formatting slows them down, they get irritated and rightfully so.

So far, I have only looked at four queries. Not one has actually submitted a manuscript in the correct format. We only ask for a few chapters, but there are several problems one or all of these people have done. Here is what you should avoid in your cover letter, your synopsis and your manuscript:

  • rambling, incoherent run-away sentences
  • bad grammar
  • spelling mistakes
  • single spacing…double spacing is the industry standard–it makes it easier to read
  • not indenting. See that little Tab key on the left…that’s what it’s for, indenting. Or in some cases you can set up automatic indenting in some programs.
  • adding an extra space between each paragraph. No no no. That’s what indenting does. It tells the reader that there is a new paragraph. Didn’t anyone take this in school?
  • hitting return (or the Enter key) at the end of every line. Absolutely NO NO NO. My gods, this takes so much time to write this way. Computers are somewhat smart. If you write and write and write and just keep going, guess what, the sentence doesn’t run off the page but will pop down to the next line. Only when you have finished a paragraph, and only then, do you hit “Enter” and proceed to the next paragraph, not the next line.

Do not, when we send you a rejection letter and suggest that you proofread your work and correct the grammar and typos before sending it elsewhere, send a whiny letter back saying, why can’t you just read the story and ignore that? We can ignore a few typos of a bit of awkward grammar but a whole book of it is unreadable and means a rewrite. We’re not  going to buy anything that takes that much trudging. We will not do that much editing. Fix it and use a spellchecker. But remember, a spellchecker is not that bright and will suggest what it thinks your sentence should be so you better know your words.

Treat writing like any other skill. Would you want a doctor who just happened to be sloppy but knew he had the heart of a surgeon? Would you ride in a plane where the pilot had read about flying but never had done it? Writing is a skill and it takes practice. It also takes following some simple rules once the writing is done and you’re trying to sell your piece. Always read the guidelines. I’ve made mistakes when I submit stories. It’s easy to gloss over but when you get to submitting a manuscript you need to be even more careful. What I posted about is the standard but some publishers ask for different formats. Follow them.

http://www.chizine.com/chizinepub/submission_guidelines.php

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Writing: Contest Receives No Entries

Here are a couple of contests from the UK. The first, in honor of H.G. Wells received no entries by the July deadline because of the rules, most likely. Although the prize was for one thousand pounds (that’s about $2,000 in US/Canadian currency) no one entered. One reason was that the 1,000 to 5,000 word stories were to be handwritten and entries limited to people 25 and under. The contest organizer, Reg Turnill, sponsored this as part of the honoring of H.G. Wells who spent 13 years living in Folkstone, England. The Wells festival takes place from Sept. 17-19

Turnill, 94, who once interviewed Wells said that the rules for no SF, depicting contemporary life in Kent, and having the stories handwritten probably contributed to no entries.  The deadline has been extended to Aug. 15 and stories will get points if handwritten but it’s no longer required. I must say I would be hard-pressed to handwrite a story because the use of keyboard and a mouse have contributed to tendonitis and I can’t write that much anymore. Moreso, anyone under 25 is probably so used to keyboards that handwriting is a bit foreign to them. It’s true that long ago, handwriting was taught in schools and penmanship was encouraged but that stopped so long ago I’m not even sure if my mother was ever taught penmanship. Turnill wanted the stories handwritten “to address the low standard of literacy and handwriting these days.” Although handwriting is indeed less than it was literacy doesn’t really have much to do with handwriting.

Turnill also said, “It’s an important art in itself and many of our most famous authors find that’s the best way to do creative writing,” but I wonder in fact how he knows this as most writers I know use computers these days and maybe a few use typewriters. I do sketch out stories sometimes n paper, especially if I’m out, and I keep paper in my purse for this but I don’t write out a story anymore, though I once did. If you think you have a story that fits, and you’re of the age group, you can still enter. There is an over 25 category but I believe the other rules apply.

HG Wells entry form

Kent News article on the festival and contest

More accessible and with a bigger prize is the Terry Pratchett Prize being offered by Terry Pratchet and Transworld Publishers. Open to anyone in the UK or other British Commonwealth countries, it is for a novel. The prize is a twenty thousand pound advance and publishing contract. It needs to take place on Earth, any Earth, any when and anywhere but here and now. This leaves a broad category for people to write within. And though Pratchett is known for his humor there is no caveat that the manuscripts must be funny.

Dec. 31st is the deadline, which gives many people a chance to finish a novel or clean one up. I may just have one that could fall into the category. We’ll see. For more information, check out Terry Pratchett’s site at: http://terrypratchett.co.uk/news%5Ctermsandconditions.html Good luck for those who wish to enter. And neither of these contests charge an entry fee.

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Writing: The Great Wheel of Publishing

 This wheel is large and ungainly, held together with sweat, tears, slush pile manuscripts, spit, unbought or returned books and elbow grease. It lumbers along, turning ever so slowly, sometimes looking more as if it will tumble over then keep rolling. But roll it does, usually, sometimes losing an author, or a novel, some staff or advertising revenue. It does not turn smoothly but continues until the gap of lost material becomes so big that the wheel must be overhauled.

Such is the case with various publishers along the long road of years. Ten years ago I was trying to get copy editing work with US publishers. This Herculean task met many difficulties. Publishers and the editors in charge are over-busy, always reading and procuring manuscripts and then going through the myriad phases of production. Send a letter and if it isn’t imperative to answer (we want your manuscript, pay our invoice) it never gets answered, not even if you include a SASE and you’re looking for employment. The next stage is to phone and hope you get the right editor in the right department. Should you call and only get their voicemail, presume they won’t return your call. And if you live on the west coast and have a three-hour time difference it will take early hours and a crystal ball to figure out the best time and day to try and catch and editor. Give up on Fridays altogether.

Should you get through these first layers of the publishing house inferno, you will most likely get a copy editing test. Once that’s done you send it back. I did two over two-three years with Tor, where they subsequently lost the test both times. Then said oh well you have to go through St. Martins as they’re our boss. Uh, they didn’t know this beforehand when they gave me the test? And Ace gave me the test; I sent it back and heard nothing. When I queried twice they said, oh we can’t hire Canadians. I didn’t know that when I sent you a test. Great, I’ve had a lot of practice with editing tests.

With Harper Collins, I passed the test. Then they sent me disks because they used a specific computer-based editing system. (This was about ten years ago and I’m not sure Word’s track changes feature was that developed then.) So, I received the disks but then had to buy a new computer because I didn’t have the memory capacity. At that time the guy who was going to train me was on holidays for a month. When he got back, he quit. So they were then trying to find someone else. In that time, they also bought out Avon books.

What ensued was two years of frustration and nary a job out of it. The editor I was dealing with was transferred to a different dept., then let go. Others came and went. I was given various names of people and would call every month. Each time I had to explain the situation who I had talked to, where it had changed, what area of copy editing I specialized in (SF/spec fiction) etc. Each time, it was a different person, a new department, a new system. Two years of calling every month after being told I would be hired as a freelancer and I never got one job out of it. But I had a bigger, better computer.

Over the years I have edited for a few US publishers and Canadian publishers but the sheer frustration of getting New York publishers was enough to stop most people. You really do have to live there. The longest stint I had copy editing with one publisher was three years or so with Byron Preiss book packagers (now gone the way of the dodo). And I got my first job because I was at the World Fantasy Convention standing in the lineup for the hotel. The guy in front told me he had just got a promotion to editor and I said, hey do you need any copy editors. He said send a resume when you get back but before I could he called because he had a rush job. Keith DeCandido gave me my first real break in copy editing. He quit before the company imploded and I had stopped doing work form them before that because getting paid was becoming difficult. He now writes novels. I now think of writing my novel, still copy edit and still write.

Other hurdles in the publishing world are managing editors who ask you to copy edit but don’t clarify by how much. Some publishers (or working on some authors) means that you’re required to only correct typos and punctuation. Copy editing is more than this and includes correcting sentence structure and continuity. It can be structural editing, which looks at the overall structure of chapters, pacing and flow, or very close to proofreading. Over the years I have found most companies who wanted proofreading really wanted more than that.

It’s common for individuals looking for an editor to say they want proofreading when in almost all cases they mean copy editing. It can be confusing for the new writer but just as confusing for the freelance editor. I’ve had publishers cancel a project in the middle (they were moving into movies, but did pay for what I’d ) or wanting a book padded (requiring that one line paragraphs be left in and the worst sentences be reworked but not deleted).

Publishing houses usually have a house style and often a style sheet. If they don’t give me one, I usually ask if they have a house style as it can affect the overall product. I’ve started to see some weird things in some books of late. Tor is an American publisher yet I’ve seen a book or two done with British spellings. In one case it may have been to give it the flavor of an earlier era as it was about a world in the 1800s.

But editing and acquisition of books are just a couple spokes of that great wheel. There is design production, advertising, marketing, distribution, return and paying the employees, artists and authors. Some spokes seem to have more weight, or, if you were looking a wooden wheel, some would be sturdier or decorated, but without all of the spokes the wheel fails. And to carry the analogy to the end the hub of the wheel is the writer and the publisher. Without the writer there is no story to sell. Without the publisher there are still stories but it’s harder to get them out to the public.

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