It’s been a wild and crazy week at my house, which comes on the tail of a wild and crazy four months. All of this wildness and craziness has amounted to no writing time. So I spent the last few days trying to decide what to blog about. My first chance to write something in months…precious beyond words…or perhaps not since here I am putting this down in words. Well, I woke this morning still uncertain what to write about and then I re-read Morgan’s spot-on contest post from yesterday and inspiration struck.
As someone who has long been involved with the contest circuit in some facet, I have seen plenty of those red pens and axes at work. Authors tend to get hung up in the “rules” and lose sight of the big picture along the way. They start to heavily sweat the small stuff. I can testify to the fact that I belong to this “perspiring” group. For a long time, I dwelled on each element of my story; agonizing over word count and lines per page, that each comma had its place, that my margins were exactly 1” with the header space factored in, and so on and so on. And then I became published…and I sweated all the harder.
Fortunately, that particular sweating has since ceased. It hasn’t come easy, rather taken nearly three dozen tales and several editors to move past. But I now know that the small stuff is truly incidental. Basic grammar comprehension is a must, as is proofreading your work, and making sure you use a font size that is readable, both in size and type style for the sake of saving your editor’s and/or agent’s eyesight. Much of the other stuff we authors, particularly early in our careers, spend so much time worrying over is quite trivial.
It honestly doesn’t matter if your margins are 1” or 0.9 or 1.1, etc. So long as there isn’t glaring white space running around your paper with a tiny bit of text in the center, you are fine. A few typos are not going to break the publishing bank or lose you that six-figure deal, and many houses nix the majority of commas these days, so wasting time agonizing over those is futile. What matters is the story. If the story is worthy, an agent or editor is going to read it. They can fix typos, commas, subplots and even minor holes in the primary plot. Most of my editors now ask for electronic submittals, so fixing margins and type face or style is as easy as selecting all and changing the layout to what they most prefer. Computer count and manuscript count are close enough that for the longer story (over 60K), it really doesn’t matter which you use. For the shorter stories and ones that rely on publishing to a certain page length, such as novellas and category novellas, you should check the editor’s or house’s preference.
The bottomline is focus on the story, the characters, breathing life into each word and setting the scene so that the reader feels drawn into it. Then share that story with your critique partners or the contest circuit. When you get feedback, weigh it and use it at your discretion, but for those who are nitpicking at commas, margins, type style, etc., don’t waste your time worrying here. These elements should be as simple as a cursory sweep, margins should go where they feel natural, and the rest should be left up to each individual editor or house. Everyone has a different style, and so to change your style to suit anyone outside of the editor or house your story finds a home with, is just a waste of time you could be spending on crafting another masterpiece to net that next six-figure deal.