Please welcome our guest blogger for December, Ricki Schultz! Ricki’s posts are geared towards National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) winners who need to polish their manuscripts, but her tips are something any writer would benefit from reading.
Things you need to know about Ricki: She taught high school English before leaping off into the world of full-time writing. She is the fearless leader of my favorite online writing group, The Write-Brained Network. She speaks at writers’ conferences about…grammar. (Yes, really.)
Now, aren’t you excited?
Editfication Part I: Busting a BIG Myth
November’s over, and now is the time many agents dread: when an army of NaNoWriMo survivors have 50,000 words that they think might just be the next New York Times bestseller. *cough cough*
However, before inflicting this first draft (because, yes, that’s what it is—a first draft) upon industry professionals, you need to clean it up. This is sure to involve blood, sweat, and tears, but it’s necessary, if you want to break out of the slush pile and get published.
That means: resist the urge to query! Use December (at least!) to rework the 50K words you threw up on your computer screen (pun intended), and get your manuscript right.
Even if you’re not a NaNoWriter, you can benefit from this lesson.
Myth: If your story is good, literary agents will fall in love with it, sign you, and an editor will clean up your grammatical and formatting messes.*
*While there may be some cases like this still floating around, these are the exception—not the rule. Bank on the fact that you are the rule, and you will have an easier time getting your work in front of industry professionals.
Fact: In today’s economy, agents and publishing houses cannot afford to take chances. New writers must not only to have a top-notch story, but must also submit it in pristine condition.
As a freelance editor and, formerly, an English teacher, I have seen more than my share of bad writing. But it doesn’t always necessarily have to do with an inability to write; often, it has to do with carelessness when it comes to grammar, formatting, and style.
And, I get it. Many writers despise grammar and formatting. To some, they represent restriction and the opposite of creativity.
“I’m a writer—I need to create!”
Sure, sure. Although . . . why take the chance of getting rejected because you’re too lazy to follow a few simple rules?
“There are so many rules! And everyone’s guidelines are different!”
Excuses. And, hey—I know: Correct grammar is not always obvious. A lot of the reason we err is because we’re constantly seeing different styles and formats in our everyday lives—newspapers, magazines, on the Internet (God help us), etc. Different venues use different styles.
We’re taught basic grammar in grade school. When you move into junior high and high school, teachers start throwing “MLA formatting” at you. Depending on your area of study in college, you could be facing APA formatting, AP style, Chicago style . . . ahh!
Fact: Although submission guidelines tend to differ from literary agency to literary agency, certain grammatical and formatting standards run industry wide.* And they aren’t that difficult to follow.
*Pretty much. I hate to qualify, but there’s always that devil’s advocate commenter who finds the one instance that doesn’t apply. It is my experience, however, that if you follow Chicago style when writing fiction, you’re good to go.
Check back next Wednesday for Ricki’s take on the eight industry standards you don’t want to miss.
Ricki Schultz is a freelance writer/editor. She writes young adult fiction, contributes to Writer’s Digest Books, runs The Write-Brained Network, and speaks at writers’ conferences.