What I'm reading: 61 Hours, by Lee Child
Actually, what I'm really, really, really reading are copy edits for Where Danger Hides.
We spend a lot of time trying to ensure our work is perfect. Are my margins right? Correct font? Chapter headers starting in the right place? Should I use numerals or write out the words? Headers? Footers? Page numbers? How do I denote scene breaks? How many spaces at the end of a sentence?
We stress about rules—which are fixed in stone, which are flexible, and which are brittle enough to break. We worry about the details—too much telling, too many POV characters, too much head hopping. Does the plot hold true? Did I do enough homework? Are the details right, or will I look like an idiot putting Ponderosa pines where there ought to be spruce trees?
Don't tear your hair out. By all means, follow the rules of grammar. Yes, make sure you've got the right critters and plants in your locale. But it's highly unlikely your manuscript will be rejected because you've got a couple of commas in the wrong places.
For Five Star, this is the process:
First, you submit the manuscript. You format it to THEIR specifications, which are probably not the ones you've seen for other publishers. So even something as basic as manuscript formatting rules aren't universal rules. Five Star wants Times New Roman 11 point font, except for chapter headers which are 13 point and bold. Scene breaks are 5 asterisks, centered, separated by spaces. They want leading and following spaces for ellipses. They also don't want the first paragraph of a chapter indented. Page numbers are centered in footers, not in headers. Headers are centered as well.
Does any of this matter when you query? No. At least it shouldn't. But if they ask for more and send you a style guide, then by all means, follow it. If they don't send one, check their website for guidelines. Yes, you may end up with 5 different versions of your manuscript if you're submitting to different publishers, but your word processing program is one of the tools of your trade, so learn how to use it. By all means, "Save As" is your best friend. "Find/Replace" is another good friend IF you know its hidden secrets. Click on that "more" box and see all the things it can do. Learn what goes on behind the scenes in that "Format/Paragraph" option.
(If there's interest, I can provide some step by step procedures for some of the things I've learned, mostly by trial and error. And if anyone has the definitive steps for headers and footers, I'd love those. I'm STILL using trial and error on that one!)
So, back to the copyedits. You've decided you've got your manuscript polished to a high gleam. When the manuscript is accepted, it goes to a first round editor. I've had the pleasure of working with Brittainy for both my Five Star books, and we've developed a good working relationship, one where I can explain my reasoning if we have different opinions.
Once we're both sure the work is perfect, it goes back to the publisher to a copyeditor. At some point, probably out of the blue, the manuscript comes back, this time as a PDF file (so you can't mess with it), with the copyeditor's comments and corrections.
Corrections? Wait! It was perfect. The editor and I agreed on everything. But, the copyeditor has decided that where I've written "Blackthorne, Incorporated" (because it looks funny to write "Inc." in dialogue or internal monologue), the copyeditor wants it to say Blackthorne, Inc. OK, that's their style. Also, where both my former agent and editor followed what I was told was a 'new' trend, and didn't put any commas before the word "too" at the end of the sentence, the copyeditor put them all back. Another OK.
The copyeditor also liked commas even more than I did—and added a bunch. She also put semicolons in, something I'd been told wasn't the best approach in fiction.
So—don't sweat the small stuff.
And when you get that copyedited manuscript back, how should you approach it? That's Wednesday's topic. Tomorrow, my guest is author Mark Danielson, who's a pilot in his day job. He shared some pictures of his travels a while back. This time, he's putting some words with his pictures. Be sure to come back.