The “Rules”

Years ago when I completed my first “professional” novel, I anxiously scoured the internet to find out how to get it published. I got a lot of advice, from split it into two books to put it on scented paper to get an editor’s attention. Seven years on, I have learned a lot, not the least of which was most of that early advice was wrong. Not just wrong, but ommigodhowcanpeoplebesonaive-wrong.

So today I’m going to start a series that will explore some of the myths out there that new authors fall for – and rightly so, since the source of the “advice” is generally someone who seems to be a seasoned pro. Which I’m not. However, I have learned a few things the hard way, and am willing to share.

First off, let’s talk about manuscript formatting. Oh man, are there a million ideas out there on this one! I was told that if my margins were not just so, if my itaclics were not underlined, and if my mauscript was not at EXACTLY 25 pt, it would never sell. Yeah, whatever. As a general rule, I like to write double-spaced with one-inch margines and in Courier Dark. However, if your manuscript is in Times New Roman, and your italics are underlined, if it’s a good story, it will still sell. The key here is to do your research. For example, Samhain wanted TNR, so I changed the font on my manuscript before I sent it in. If the agent/editor you want to submit to wants it in a specific font or with specific characteristics, follow their rules. It proves you can read and follow directions. However, if they do not specify specifically what they want, basic proffessional formatting is perfectly acceptable, italics and all.  Don’t put it on colored paper, don’t put it on scented paper, and don’t get cutesey. Those are the things that will get your manuscript shoved into the slush pile faster than you can say “I’m the next J.K. Rowling.”

Then there’s the whole, “You have to have an agent before you can sell” myth. While it helps to have an agent first, and sometimes advisable, I am living proof you can sell without one. In fact, I would say there are certain times that selling a book prior to being agented is a good idea, and I believe my situation is one of them. There’s a variation on this one that goes, “You have to enter contests/attend conferences to get a book deal.”  Not that I am anti-contest, by any means, but contest wins, with a few notable exceptions, mean very little to most agents and editors. That doesn’t mean you don’t gather valuable information from feedback recieved from contests, and if you’re into it, go for it! However, don’t feel it’s a requirement. As for conferences, I highly recommend them. You get to know other writers, agents, editors, and even readers in a face-to-face situation. You can make yourself memorable this way – in good ways and in bad, so remember to be a professional. Have fun, but keep it business-like. (And no, do NOT pass your manuscript to an agent or editor under the bathroom stall. Bathroom time is alone time.) However, conferences are not manditory, either. I live in a part of the country where I am far away from most everything. I allow myself a conference every year or two, but life has gotten in the way and I’ve not managed it. Don’t go bankrupt getting to a conference, but do try to attend. Really. Great time and valuable eperience.

Enough lecture for today? Don’t worry, I have more coming soon.

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