Month: April 2011

Do You Need Two Spaces After a Period?

Do you need two spaces after a period? A can of worms, I’ll agree, but I’m pretty hardcore when it comes to the Chicago Manual of Style. Also, I’ve worked with editors and publishers out there in the writing world, and guess what? They prefer one space. Make their life easier and use one space if you can.

Here’s why:

From the Chicago Manual of Style in answer to a question about one or two spaces after a period:

The view at CMOS is that there is no reason for two spaces after a period in published work. Some people, however—my colleagues included—prefer it, relegating this preference to their personal correspondence and notes. I’ve noticed in old American books printed in the few decades before and after the turn of the last century (ca. 1870–1930 at least) that there seemed to be a trend in publishing to use extra space (sometimes quite a bit of it) after periods. And many people were taught to use that extra space in typing class (I was). But introducing two spaces after the period causes problems: (1) it is inefficient, requiring an extra keystroke for every sentence; (2) even if a program is set to automatically put an extra space after a period, such automation is never foolproof; (3) there is no proof that an extra space actually improves readability—as your comment suggests, it’s probably just a matter of familiarity (Who knows? perhaps it’s actually more efficient to read with less regard for sentences as individual units of thought—many centuries ago, for example in ancient Greece, there were no spaces even between words, and no punctuation); (4) two spaces are harder to control for than one in electronic documents (I find that the earmark of a document that imposes a two-space rule is a smattering of instances of both three spaces and one space after a period, and two spaces in the middle of sentences); and (5) two spaces can cause problems with line breaks in certain programs.

So, in our efficient, modern world, I think there is no room for two spaces after a period. In the opinion of this particular copyeditor, this is a good thing.

If you simply can’t break the habit (which you should try because in the long run it’s more efficient), make sure you reformat your document before submitting it somewhere professional. Look up the manuscript guidelines or style guides for particular publishers and agents, if they have them available.

Posted by Michelle D. Argyle in Writing Process, 45 comments

All About Queries and Publishing Terms!

Pub Speak: A Writer's Dictionary of Publishing Terms

I’m really excited to be a part of Tracy Marchini’s blog tour for her new e-book Pub Speak: A Writer’s Dictionary of Publishing Terms. This book is a valuable resource if you’re a writer who wishes to know more about the publishing world, whether you’re published or aspiring. Talk about a handy tool to have with you at a writer’s conference!

Today Tracy was kind enough to answer some questions for me regarding the querying process. I hope you find her answers as helpful as I did!

What is the number one most important thing you feel agents look for in a query?

I think the number one most important thing agents look for in the query is clarity.  They want to see that the author can hook the reader, explain their idea and tell us a bit about themselves in a clear, fluid way.  I would say voice or the writing itself, but the truth is that query letter writing and fiction writing are two completely different styles, and so it’s not always a fair assessment.  But if the query letter is confusing, or the plot summary raises some red flags, then it’s less likely that an agent is going to request to see the manuscript.

Do agents hate really long queries no matter how well they are written? I can imagine that sifting through queries all the time gets to be so tedious, and if I were an agent I think I’d favor brevity.

This is going to sound strange, but… query letters have first impressions too, and anything with a staple would give me a small pause.  There are very few query letters that need to be longer than a page.  If you find that your query letter is reading more like a synopsis than a pitch, then maybe what you really want to do is write a one page query letter that follows the traditional format and then include a separate one to two page synopsis.  This is a much better first impression, I think.

Do you have a general word count for queries that seems to work best?

I don’t really have a general word count, but you can’t go wrong with:

– A one to two line hook
– One to two paragraphs summarizing the plot
– A paragraph about the author
– A closing line or two

I’ve often had complicated formats for my novels, such as multiple story lines from different characters’ points of view. Does an agent want to know if a novel has story lines like these? For instance, in my novel, Monarch, I never mention in the blurb that it is told from other view points, even though they are essential to how the story plays out. I focus on one character only – the person most readers would say is the main character. My main question is how in-depth should a writer go when talking about the story? Does it matter as long as it is clear? 

I think it depends on the story.  If you have written a murder mystery and we occasionally hear from the killer, then I think you could write the query from the sleuth/main character’s point of view.  But if you’ve written a dual voice novel, where the two characters start as strangers and are brought together for some larger purpose, then I think most agents would want to hear about both characters’ motivations and the fact that it is a dual voice novel.

Writing from multiple characters’ POV is very difficult, kudos for accomplishing it!

But I think that most books should be able to summarize the important facts in a paragraph or two. If you can’t summarize what your story is about in that time, it does make the query reader worry that perhaps the manuscript isn’t ready yet.

What advice would you give to very new writers querying for the first time? Would you recommend waiting to query on a second or third written book instead of a first book? 

I think the best thing a new writer can do in regards to querying is to read the blogs (like Nathan Bransford’s, Janet Reid’s Query Shark and for children’s writers, Cynthia Leitich Smith’s Cynsations) and learn as much about the process as possible.  If you’re in a writing group, ask them to look at your query letter or find a conference or consultant who can give you a professional critique before you submit.  While you’re researching how to write the letter, you should also be paying attention to etiquette — when should you follow up?  How long does a particular agent or editor require if it’s an exclusive?  What is the proper etiquette if two or more agents request exclusive partials?

Assuming they wrote, edited and rewrote the best first book they could, I would encourage an author to submit because they’ll learn an awful lot about the process. I think it’s wise to keep in mind that most author’s first books don’t sell, but that shouldn’t stop you.  It’s like the lotto, “Hey, you never know!”

Tracy is a freelance writer and editorial consultant. Before launching her own editorial service, she worked for Curtis Brown, Ltd. for four years.  In this role, she developed and sold an original book concept for the Ogden Nash Estate (Line-Up For Yesterday), negotiated and sold audio rights, pitched merchandising ideas, gave editorial feedback on client and prospective manuscripts, and provided author care.

Posted by Michelle D. Argyle in All Things Publishing, 8 comments

Then If That Fails, I’ll Self Publish

I have a few strong opinions about the self-publishing vs. traditional publishing thing going on right now since I’ve traveled a little bit down both roads. I usually try to avoid hot posts like this that are following a trend. I hate following trends. Still, I get sucked in sometimes, and since I have heard many writers – in person – admit they are considering self-publishing, I’ve got to say some things here that weigh heavily on my little heart. So here are my two cents.

Also, none of this is aimed at anybody. It’s just my opinion, pure and simple.

(1) self-publishing as a last resort isn’t smart

You’ll end up sorely disappointed in everything. Your book. Your sales. Yourself. LAST RESORT means it was a LAST RESORT. Think about that. You’ll always have that other resort – the BIG dream you had hanging over your head. Those big dreams don’t just vanish when you click the “publish now” button in CreateSpace or wherever you decide to take your book. Go read this post and decide if you still want to publish as a last resort. In it I give my one main piece of advice to anyone considering self-publishing.

addendum: I just want to say here that some writers do publish their work as a last resort, and that it’s not necessarily a bad thing. Why? Because some work simply doesn’t fit into the market, and querying or going on submission made that very clear for that piece of work. Period. Still, I think an author should be certain about this before they make their decision.

(2) you will not end up with a two-million dollar contract

Repeat that to yourself. Over. And over. Your chances at ending up in the same boat as Amanda Hocking? Yeah, close to nil. That’s like you ending up like J.K. Rowling with traditional publishing. Shooting for the stars is great, but stay realistic or you’re never going to be happy with where you end up.

(3) you will probably not end up with any contract

It could happen, yes. It’s true. I ended up with a contract for Cinders (to be published as part of an omnibus), but that was after I secured a contract with my other novel through the traditional route of submitting a manuscript and having it accepted. Yes, your amazing under-appreciated novel could catch the eye of a publisher, but considering how often this happens compared to the percentage of those who self-publish, it’s unlikely. I’m just saying don’t count on it.

(4) self-publishing – to do it professionally – costs money 

That’s right. MONEY. The grand total I have spent on Cinders: $1,400. Yep. You got that right. I didn’t have to spend that much. I didn’t plan on spending that much, but between giving away free print books, book tour gifts, printing bookmarks, business cards, postage (postage is ridiculous), cover art expenses, release party expenses, etc., it adds up. You might think you can do it for free, and maybe you’re smarter than me and you can, but publishing is a business. Businesses cost money to start. Why people think self-publishing (and being professional about it ) should be any different is beyond me.

Even if you stick with e-book only, you’ll still have costs. I highly suggest hiring a professional editor. I also highly suggest paying for a service to convert your book to digital format if you’re not familiar with such things. Plus, you’ll still need a cover, and most writers I know are not artistically inclined enough to design their own professional cover. I did all these things myself, but if I was going to self-publish as a career, you bet I’d be paying for these services.

(5) self-publishing because you’re angry or because it’s a hot trend, isn’t the wisest course of action

If you’re deciding to self-publish your book because deep down you want to stick it to the traditional publishing industry, or because you’re upset that nobody gets you or your writing, or because you see everyone else doing it (mainly huge traditionally-published authors who already have a following and back list), you’re doing it all for the wrong reasons.

Why did I self-publish Cinders? Because I knew it was right for that book. Period. I wrote it to self-publish it. I had no idea I’d write two more novellas at the time. I hadn’t ever tried to traditionally publish or query or seriously get an agent at the time, either. I did it for the pure love of the craft.
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I think I’ve said all this stuff before. I loved self-publishing my novella, but it was a lot of freaking hard work. Notice I’m not self-publishing my other two novellas now that I have a traditional publisher. This is not because I don’t like self-publishing, nor because I think traditionally publishing is inherently better than self-publishing. It’s simply because I could not do both without going crazy and killing myself with the stress and work. If that doesn’t tell you something, I’m not sure what will.

I feel like it’s important that writers don’t delude themselves about why they would pick self-publishing over traditional publishing. Both are something to take seriously, and both are something you can’t do well without a lot of hard work and talent and sacrifice.

How do you feel about all this recent squabbling back and forth between which is better? Do you think it’s purely a personal decision? Are you considering the self-publishing route?

Posted by Michelle D. Argyle in Self-Publishing, 37 comments