You Don’t Have to be a Comma Nerd to Appreciate One

A friend recently sent me the link to an article by Mary Norris, Between You & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen. Here’s the article. It’s a fine read, even if you have little interest in commas. (I’m guessing the article might pique your interest, though.)

I’ve had many different jobs in several, quite different book publishing houses. Copy editing was my least favorite, in part because I dithered. Did this rule apply–or that? Was it a restrictive clause–or not? Later in my career, I used to drive a managing editor who went through comparing author and proofreader changes to distraction by telling her that grammar was an art, not a science. I also told her that, in all but the most egregious instances, the author is always right. If you are the author it is, after all, your name on the front of the book.

I worked with one writer who took a leaf from Kurt Vonnegut about semicolons. To wit: “Don not use semicolons. They are transvestite hermaphrodites representing absolutely nothing. All they do is show you’ve been to college.” The copy editor and managing editor on the project did not share this view. Many semicolons were added. The author took them all out. The managing editor put them back in. The book was typeset and sent back to the the author and the proofreader. The author blew a gasket at that point and called me. The author, as I said, is always right. The semicolons went. The staccato sentences stayed.

I am not a very good copy editor. I have great admiration for good copy editors. They save writers from grief. They make the illegible legible. Sadly, except at venerable institutions like the New Yorker, copy editing is becoming an archaic activity. Computer programs with spelling and grammar checks are not copy editors.

My takeaway is this: read the article if you wish. But, whatever you do, before you publish a book, pay attention to the copy editor. I always tell authors that he or she is the first disinterested person to read your work. Pay attention to queries that essentially say: I don’t understand what you’re getting at. If a person who’s being paid to read is getting kicked out, imagine how your readers might react. And, if you’re publishing independently, do yourself a big favor. Hire a copy editor.

Now I’m going to post this and wait for the friend who sent me the article to correct my post. He’s a much better copy editor than I am.

 

 

YA Books That Strike a Chord

It’s a good thing I clean out my email inbox every once in a while. I see the most amazing things there. I found an article about a Women’s Media Group meeting last month where editors and agents gathered with interested others to talk about YA novels (mostly) and what’s hot and what’s not. And what’s interesting to them right now and why. See the article here. If you write (or read) YA fiction, I think you might like this article.

Websites Galore, or Keep This List Handy

Okay, old person alert. When I was young I wrote my first stories and poems on a manual LC Smith typewriter. Then there was a little portable electric, a Royal maybe. Then, oh Frabjous Day, an IBM self-correcting Selectric, at least I think that’s what it was called. And then an Apple, Two-ee was it’s name I believe, followed by a long string, Macs and PCs both. Who knew there would come a day? A day when there would be so many websites and resources for writers of all ages and stripes that someone would think to name the 100 best, for several years running, in fact.

It’s a huge list–an ice cream super duper sundae with three flavors of syrup and whipped cream and a cherry on top kind of list. I’d bet my IBM Selectric (if I still had it) that no one person is going to find use for every website on this list. But I’d also bet that if you’re a serious writer and you’re looking for one sort of resource or another–from help with independent publishing to research ideas to editing help to finding a writer’s group to who-knows-what–you’ll find something on this list useful. So pin it up on your cork board, or maybe just bookmark it. You might find it useful.

And here it is: 100 Best Websites for Writers

Write on!

When Do You Need an Agent? Do You Need an Agent? Where Can You Find One?

This article about when do you need an agent describes one writer’s journey to agent and published book, in a pretty traditional trajectory through an MFA writing program and beyond. It’s a great description of that, but not exactly a how to. You most likely need an agent if you’re trying to traditionally publish a novel with a traditional publishing house, or most anything with one of the so-called Big Five. Obviously you don’t need an agent if you’re going to independently publish. Then you need an editor, a cover designer, maybe a consultant to walk you through your various options.

If you decide you want to look for an agent, the best things to do are described in the first paragraph of this article. Network, check out the acknowledgments in your favorite books, research on the internet.

My last little piece of advice here is to follow each agent’s submission guides (almost always available on their websites) to the T. Do not send them anything more than they ask for, or anything less. Rewrite your pitch until it’s razor sharp. Tell them who you are, what you want to write, and what you’re doing to get that writing out into the world. All in the briefest most direct way possible.

Research your options as you write your book. Write on!

Free Advice Is Worth Way More Than You Pay for It: If It Inspires You to Write

I once had a colleague who loudly opined that free advice is worth what you pay for it, a curmudgeonly attitude even in those pre-internet days. But who can put a value on what spurs you to write what you’ve always wanted to write? And who can put a value on your writing?

The tips in this article may come under the category of free advice. But they’re good and sold. Check it out. You may or may not be motivated by writing for yourself as opposed to others. You may or may not have the inclination and wherewithal to attend a writers’ conference and look for an agent. Read it once, maybe twice, then go to your computer or pick up a pen and just do it.

Take what you can use and leave the rest. Write on!