So You Want to be an Author?
English usage and grammar textbooks, at least those volumes when in paper print, are so big, so heavy…so complete. Students toting books and laptops in backpacks need relief, just as home authors can use more space on their reference bookshelves. So You Want To Be an Author? takes up little space and weight but most importantly provides immediate answers to questions about grammar, spelling, punctuation and writing style. No searching through voluminous chapters in textbooks or scrolling incessant computer files. Pick a subject and go right to it for realistic examples of literary usage drawn from the author’s more than four decades working both sides of the editorial desk. Let his experience as magazine Editor, Managing Editor, Editorial director; independent book editor; and his four hundred articles and thirteen books as a fellow author, be your compact and shortcut guide along the path to literary success.
INTRODUCTION TO THE REAL WORLD OF PUBLISHING
Acquisition Editors at the book publishing houses, and literary agents, big and small, are overloaded with work. Thanks to the computer age, thousands upon tens of thousands of manuscripts are submitted to them every year, and the numbers continue to grow. While the publishers are reducing their payrolls by cutting down on staff just to stay afloat in a tenuous economy, the agencies, many of which are single-staff proprietors, simply cannot handle the increase of prospective work that crosses their transoms. Reduced editorial staffs and inundated agents coupled with the ever-increasing numbers of submissions to those offices have resulted in a logjam of manuscripts that seems to grow in quantum leaps.
It doesn’t take much of a perceived problem with a manuscript to cause it to be tossed out as unworthy of the editor or agent’s already crowded work schedule; they look for reasons to diminish the backlog. It may be the cover letter; it could be the paper stock on which the manuscript is printed; but more than likely it’s the grammar, punctuation, spelling, usage and structure of the first two or three pages . . . and that’s all that will ever be read!
The first strategy in combating the problem, to allow the editor or agent to get further into the story to find out how really great it is, is to ensure that grammar, punctuation, spelling, usage and structure are as perfect as they can be made to be, by double and triple pre-editing before submitting the manuscript.
We’re not talking style or storyline here; no amount of diligent copy-editing will build a stronger plot or develop more interesting characters. Those must come first with talent (which, of course, we all have in abundance), then guidance from qualified instructors and critics (not your spouse or best friend), and then the tedious re-write(s).
It could appear to some that the answer to getting published is simply to circumvent the overcrowded, overworked system, and become your own publisher. The proliferation of information technology has spawned numerous avenues for self-publishing. According to which publishing newsletter or website to which you subscribe, there are perhaps half a million or several million self-published or vanity-published or web-published book titles on the market. However, the buying public can be just as critical if not more so than the professional editor or agent. A poorly done book, poorly written and poorly edited, will quickly get the bad name that will inhibit future sales. Self-publishing is not altogether an ill-conceived idea, but putting out a nonprofessional book, regardless of the publication and distribution media, is bad for the industry and the author.
Subsequent sectors in this book will offer tips and insights on, and examples of, those little glitches and gremlins that can turn an editor or publisher away from your own potentially great article, short story or novel. Of course, any advice treatment must include a disclaimer:
This book is not an English, grammar, spelling or punctuation textbook for the classroom. It does, however, serve as a useful adjunct to those textbooks, and reflects the practical side to all those literary disciplines as viewed by an author/editor who has worked both sides of the editorial desk for a lifetime. Teaching professionals will view the lessons presented here as incomplete, and that would be true if it were intended to be a course-study textbook. It does not pretend to contain all the answers to writing in the English language, but rather is designed, by use of examples and referral to the author’s personal experiences as both editor and author, to make writers think on their own and produce manuscripts less likely to be rejected prematurely. If you remember no other rule of commercial writing, it is this: The Editor is always right.