Friday, October 23, 2009

Q & A

There was a question left on the wall of my filedby page which basically said: Do you have any general info/advice that I could start with toward publication?

This is a huge topic, so I'm going with the single most important thing a person can do for their manuscript. Assuming the story is compelling and the basic writing skills have been employed -- this is the 'fix' that can get an ms noticed.

Now that nearly anyone with a computer and a few word processing skills, with discipline, can crank out 80,000 words. The key is to be very completive when you shop your ms to a literary agent or a publisher. You need a killer query letter -- and I'm not the person to ask about writing query letters.

Here are a few basics to clean up the ms to make it look professional. The easiest and rarely found on the Internet or books is that there is only one space between sentences in an ms. Yep. Wild, isn't it? Put two spaces in the search function of your word processing program. In the 'replace' space put in one space. Swap the spaces in the whole ms.

Next, another easy fix, double space the lines. Those are the two big cosmetic items. Their importance is purely a matter of passing through the visual test that the writer has a clue and the ms should make it to the next test -- actually reading it!

The thing to know about these readers is they are pros and they are human beings -- greatly overworked and often brilliant human beings. So give them a killer first line. Open with a memorable line. Delete long (or short) descriptions (bios) of your characters. Don't describe the setting except in terms of the impact or interaction of the setting in relationship to the character. Move the story forward.

Be careful with flashbacks. Start the story at the beginning of that story. Forget backstory. Seriously. Forget backstory. Make your story show what makes your characters 'tick' -- why they do what they do. Backstory is telling and telling in the early pages of your ms will be the kiss of death to getting the whole thing read by that very important person you want to love your story.

So go through the ms word by word, sentence by sentence, from the beginning to end. Do it several times. Read it aloud. If you can corner someone to sit through a full reading with a copy for them and for you, then do it. Bribe them. They will stop you when you read it different from how you wrote it. Look carefully at that part because how you said it, particularly in dialogue sections, is most likely better than how you wrote it.

Clean the ms as best you can following the above instructions. Ask a friend or two to read it and comment honestly. Tell them that 'loving it' doesn't help you. You want them to look for disconnected timelines, out of character behaviors that do not fit with moving the story forward. Was the story satisfying? Ask them to mark places they got bored - those are places to look closely for telling or other bad habits that stop the story. Make the fixes and ask another friend or two to read it for you with similar instructions.

Hire a proof reader to make the basic grammar corrections. A proof reader usually costs less than an editor and if the story is sound, that is all you need done.

Then submit your ms to well researched targets, whether they are lit agents or publishers who don't require an agent. If your ms looks professional (minus the basic amateur mistakes in formatting) and reads well, the story has a shot at doing its job to land a contract to publish.

Questions? I'll try to answer or find someone who can.

My filedby page:


  1. Nadine,

    I'm printing out this post. Thank YOU!

    One space between sentences. Double space between lines.

    By any chance do you know why only one space between sentences?


  2. Hello Peggy, I don't know the official reason, but my guess is it has to do with being computerized or maybe a habit from typesetters.

    Pull a few books off your shelf and look - they all have one space between sentences...even pre-computer age books. I don't know if MSS from a typewriter followed that rule. I have a self-published book that the author used double spaces and it is off putting to see the large gap. It just isn't how it is done in this industry.

    I was wrong about it not being on the Internet. Google: "Why only one space between sentences in an ms?" (Seems I should do research before I post.)

    Agents used to (and might still) tell their writers about it.They used to take writers under their wing and teach them the tricks of the trade. One thing for sure, with so much competition, you don't want your ms beside others that look much more professional. Otherwise, it might not have a chance of being read by an acquisition editor for the publisher.

    The synopsis rule, however, is single space lines and not longer than one page.

    Think of this nuts and bolts stuff as knowing how to dress for the occasion...this is black tie.

  3. Here is one link, but there are tons of them about this one space rule.

  4. I was taught to put two spaces between a full stop and the next sentence. (struggling...) Did it! Only one space. It's how I was taught - but goodness, times change! Excellent post Nadine.


  5. I was taught that in typing class too. It is still done in business correspondence - especially on paper letters. It really doesn't take long to make the switch.

  6. I'm going to mess you guys all up and you won't look at or read a book like you did before you met me. Sorreeee.