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Forgetting the Rules

Every writer (aspiring or otherwise) knows that there's a specific 'rules' set that goes with publishing. You use 12 point font. Your query letter should be no more than 250 words. Your synopsis should be short (unless it should be long...). Double-space. No adverbs. No fragments. Correct grammar. Be polite in queries. Contact info in the header. Make sure your query uses your 'voice'. Make sure that your synopsis is in present tense.

Yadda yadda.

But I was chatting with a buddy of mine and she pointed out that she uses SMF (standard manuscript format) and I had no idea what that was. I've been doing it wrong the entire time. Oops!

So yeah, I'm the one that's doing it all wrong. But it didn't hurt me THAT much to bend one of the 'Holy Rules of Publishing' - I still got an agent (a fabulous one!) and a publishing contract.

So now I'm curious to hear from the group. What rule of publishing did you bend (or conveniently forget) with positive results?

- Jill Myles

PS - I'm not saying abandon ALL the rules of course. But I'm curious which ones we stress over needlessly. :)

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( 43 comments — Leave a comment )
mdhenry
May. 13th, 2008 05:54 pm (UTC)
I have consistently forgotten to type "the end" after I've finished my manuscripts. In fact, I've never typed it on anything I've submitted.

I feel like I've been robbed my closure!

I always use Times New Roman, never turned in anything in courier, nor could I write in courier--that font's just too ugly.
irysangel
May. 13th, 2008 06:02 pm (UTC)
I heart TNR too! Courier is icky. I used to be die-hard courier, and now I find that I can't stand to read it. :)
(no subject) - tmthomas - May. 13th, 2008 06:05 pm (UTC) - Expand
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(no subject) - skarrah - May. 13th, 2008 07:12 pm (UTC) - Expand
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(no subject) - _hallow_ - May. 13th, 2008 06:28 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - green_knight - May. 13th, 2008 08:57 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - _hallow_ - May. 13th, 2008 11:34 pm (UTC) - Expand
jayewells
May. 13th, 2008 05:55 pm (UTC)
I use fragments. All the time. And I start sentences with conjunctions.
mdhenry
May. 13th, 2008 05:59 pm (UTC)
I...overuse ellipses...for dramatic...if not comic effect.
(no subject) - irysangel - May. 13th, 2008 06:01 pm (UTC) - Expand
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(no subject) - alanajoli - May. 14th, 2008 03:58 pm (UTC) - Expand
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shanna_s
May. 13th, 2008 06:24 pm (UTC)
I once referred to Standard Manuscript Format in a conversation with a former editor, who was pretty high up in a major publishing house, and she asked me what that was. Meanwhile, I had submitted my manuscript to an agent in SMF, in Courier and all that, and she changed the font to TNR to submit to editors because she said a lot of the ones she knew hated Courier.

So it would seem that a lot of the things that writers stress over getting exactly right is stuff that the editors don't necessarily care much about. As long as they can read it and it doesn't smell funny, they really don't seem to care.
carrie_ryan
May. 13th, 2008 06:51 pm (UTC)
And trust me, smells do seep onto the paper. I just got back documents from a client and they REEKED of smoke -- made my entire office smell of stale smoke.
-Carrie
(no subject) - shanna_s - May. 13th, 2008 07:09 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - elialshadowpine - May. 13th, 2008 07:47 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - alanajoli - May. 14th, 2008 03:59 pm (UTC) - Expand
dpeterfreund
May. 13th, 2008 06:50 pm (UTC)
Jill, I have not heard of a lot of the things you are talking about. Double spaced manuscripts, yes. Correct grammar -- well, unless it's incorrect on purpose! And yeah, I think being rude in business transactions is probably a bad idea. Nothing else have I ever heard, and I've seriously heard some doozies.

All talk of "rules" is silly.
irysangel
May. 13th, 2008 06:54 pm (UTC)
I admit that I hang out on a lot of boards/chat with folks and we talk 'shop' all the time. The same subjects come up over and over again, and some of them are just silly to worry about.

Good writing trumps all, of course!
(no subject) - elialshadowpine - May. 13th, 2008 07:54 pm (UTC) - Expand
claudiagray
May. 13th, 2008 06:59 pm (UTC)
We approached a publisher without a completed manuscript, and yet it worked out. I am still shaking my head over that one.
carrie_ryan
May. 13th, 2008 07:01 pm (UTC)
I have a love hate relationship with rules. I think that as writers we tend to focus on the rules because it's the one thing we can control -- we can control font and margins but we can't control whether an agent is going to love it or an editor buy it.

Sometimes, I think we can take this attention to rules too far such that we're only focusing on rules, not the writing. I was the girl who freaked out totally with the query letter: how to format, what font, what size, how far to indent, what salutation to use. But through the process I learned that editors and agents want a good story -- they want to be able to read the manuscript, but they're not going to turn down a fantastic story because of the font.

That being said, I agree with Diana that you should be polite in all business dealings, etc. And I'll also add that I think you should follow an agent's submission guidelines.

Other than that, have at it -- write a great book, they'll want it (my query was 309 words).

Also, SMF is a tricky beast. It used to be that some romance houses wanted word count based on SMF (courier, double spaced, 1 in margins, 25 lines per page). You used to determine your word count by multiplying your page count by 250. Now days a lot of those houses just go by the Word count. But every house is different and it's probably a good idea to check the house preference to see if you're in their range.

I do think it's good to know these sorts of rules or guidelins, don't get me wrong, but I also feel like it's also okay not to worry about them. You know the old adage, learn the rules so you can break them :)
-Carrie Ryan
irysangel
May. 13th, 2008 07:09 pm (UTC)
Oh, I'm right there with you. I was the one freaking if my synopsis was over one page long. ;)

I think people fuss over the rules because they want a magic formula to getting ahead. Like, if I do X Y and Z perfectly, my manuscript will get further.

One can always hope. :)
(no subject) - shanna_s - May. 13th, 2008 07:14 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - elialshadowpine - May. 13th, 2008 07:56 pm (UTC) - Expand
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alanajoli
May. 14th, 2008 04:01 pm (UTC)
For what it's worth, I'm really glad that I'm at least *aware* of SMF now (even if not all editors require it).
johnlevitt
May. 13th, 2008 07:34 pm (UTC)
I have great respect for copy editors. I've been lucky to work with some really good ones. But tailoring your submission to what works best for the copy editor is misplaced priority, I think.

It might make sense if your book is already sold. But if you're sending a ms to agents, or trying to convince an editor to buy, it makes much more sense to use a font like TNR that is easier to read and makes your ms look the best -- you need every advantage.

Here's an admission: I compose in WordPerfect. In WP, TNR 12 pt averages 300-320 words per page, as opposed to Courier's 250. This gives a skewed page count, so what I do is use TNR 13 pt. with 1.25 side margins. This is not standard, I understand, but it leaves lots of room for notes, and gives me about 250 words a page. And it's very easy on the eyes, without seeming peculiar. No agent or editor has ever complained.

green_knight
May. 13th, 2008 09:03 pm (UTC)
a font like TNR that is easier to read

But that's the problem - right now, much to my surprise, there seems to be a cluster of people who like TNR - and I *loathe it*. I can't read it. The proportions are all wrong and the letters are the wrong shape and it's much harder to concentrate on the text, and anything anyone sends me that's in TNR gets reformatted before I hit the third paragraph.

Fonts, in other words, are subjective. Nobody loves Courier, but most people can read Courier.
xdawnfirex
May. 13th, 2008 07:41 pm (UTC)
I had no idea that most of those rules existed. No more than 250 words in a query letter? No adverbs? Are we talking in the query letter no adverbs, or in the whole book? Personally, I don't think I'm capable of writing without using adverbs.

And like you, I've never even heard of SMF... I shall have to go and look it up now to make sure I am not Doing It Wrong.

I would love to know what other rules there are that I should know about, as I'm currently working on revisions of my first novel in preparation for pitching it to an agent.

*is now really worried*
irysangel
May. 13th, 2008 07:44 pm (UTC)
No no. :) I think people CREATE rules. You will always have people tell you that adverbs are bad (I personally like adverbs) and fragments (love those) and all kinds of stuff.

This wasn't really to dictate specific 'rules' but more to see what other people use that works for them. :) Sorry if it was confusing.
(no subject) - mdhenry - May. 13th, 2008 07:57 pm (UTC) - Expand
dmoonfire
May. 13th, 2008 09:48 pm (UTC)
Wow, where to list. Well, I do like Courier, so I use it fairly often. Failing that, I use Gentium when I write, but there is something about Courier at 200% that makes me get in the mood for writing. For me, Times New Roman drives me absolutely batty; I hate that font almost as much as Comic Sans (but surprisingly not WebLetterer or Blambot's other comic fonts).

As for other rules. Well, the first book I got published was a 2 sentence query email, asking if they would be interested. No real synopsis, didn't mail it (like I should have), phrased it as a query letter (like I should have), and... surprisingly, they accepted it. That part was just cool.

Then I realized I burned most of my luck on that first one. :P
cheymccray
May. 13th, 2008 09:50 pm (UTC)
I have heard several editors go "huh?" when someone brings up the "rules" of formatting mss, etc. What they want is a damned good story--just make sure it's double spaced, in legible font that doesn't make their eyes cross, and with one inch margins. And they're happy.

I was taught so many freaking rules about *everything* back when I started writing YA 8 years ago. When I finally released myself from the "writing rules" and set my imagination free without worrying about rules, that's when I began to fly. I'm not talking about ways to make your writing better, I'm talking about absolutes, you "must" do something this way. Screw rules.

Except the 700 page single-spaced mss with no margins...
_hallow_
May. 13th, 2008 11:45 pm (UTC)
Oops -- I think I replied to your post instead of to the main thread. My bad.
_hallow_
May. 13th, 2008 11:45 pm (UTC)
I can only speak for myself and what I've heard and experienced at my own (trade publishing, children's imprint) house, but when I'm reviewing a submission, all I'm looking for is that it is readable and well-written. As Diana said above, double-spaced is key for the readability issue. Grammar goes in both categories. You want to make sure your contact info is on the first page so we can tell you we like it and want to buy it, if that should be the case.

Other than that, the rest of the stuff doesn't matter to me. Binder clip/rubber band/staple/paperclip doesn't matter -- but use SOMETHING. I hate pulling out a manuscript or a partial only to have it fall apart once it's free from the envelope. Format doesn't matter, but again, as long as it's readable. Despite my above comment about Courier, font really doesn't matter unless it's not readable (a pattern begins to emerge).

Other than that, the best thing to do is really to check each house's submission guidelines. Not only will it tell you exactly how the house likes to receive projects, but it will tell you IF the house would like to receive projects (some, like my house, do not accept projects from unagented authors unless you attend a conference event that we're participating in). And please, I beg of you, don't try and submit to one of those houses anyway, with a cover letter about why they should look at yours and no one elses. Not only is it a selfish thought to have, but it will most likely get sent back (immediately or maybe months and months later) and it will be a waste of your postage and the editor's assistant's time (who is trying to work on a career and a list of their own).

I hope that was clear and not too rambling. I sorta went stream of consciousness after a while.
elialshadowpine
May. 14th, 2008 05:41 am (UTC)
I think there are very few hard and fast rules when it comes to writing, despite what some people might say. There are always exceptions to virtually every rule.

There are reasons why Standard Manuscript Format exists. It is to make life easier for the editors and the copy-editors. Since the editors are going to be the ones (hopefully) buying your work, make it easy for them to read. :)

General rule-of-thumb is some variant of Courier, double-spaced, with 1" margins. That's basic. Add page numbers to the header or footer, and make sure that your name and project title are in the header as well. Also, have your contact information on the manuscript front or cover page, whichever way you format it.

But really, it's nothing to worry over. If you keep to the basics, you're good. Precision isn't going to do you a damn bit of good if your story sucks like a cheap whore who's forgotten how to blow. And conversely, overlooking minor details of submissions format won't get a great story rejected. (As long as the font type isn't Wingdings! LOL)

I've been hearing nit-picky questions about submission from other writers for years. Honestly... stop worrying about it so much. Do the basics and you're gold. The story is where you should be putting your focus, not whether the margins are just exactly perfect. The editor cares about a good story more than anything else. I think a lot of writers need to have that tattooed onto the inside of their eyelids, by the amount of times I've seen these questions pop up over the years. LOL
jbattis
May. 19th, 2008 02:45 am (UTC)
"Precision isn't going to do you a damn bit of good if your story sucks like a cheap whore who's forgotten how to blow."

That's so incredibly offensive and degrading, I don't even know how to respond to it. But it made me furious when I read it.
(no subject) - elialshadowpine - May. 19th, 2008 04:30 am (UTC) - Expand
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(no subject) - jbattis - May. 19th, 2008 05:32 am (UTC) - Expand
jeanne_stein
May. 14th, 2008 03:38 pm (UTC)
The "rule" that tuned out not to be was the one that said New York would never touch anything that had been published by a small press. My book The Becoming has already been published by a small house in CO. I used it to query an agent and the rest, as they say, is history.

Jeanne
( 43 comments — Leave a comment )

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