Vision: A Resource for Writers
Lazette Gifford, Editor
Vision@sff.net
Holly Lisle's Vision

Revision and Submission

By Heidi Elizabeth Smith

© 2002, Heidi Elizabeth Smith

After spending an enormous amount of time slaving away at the computer, risking ergonomic injury in order to get the work in progress (WIP) finished (at last), the first thing most writers want to do is print out their spoiled eighteen-year-old with an attitude the size of Texas and ship it off to the nearest editor. Sure, after investing hours of work, listening to the WIP’s cries and demands, who wouldn’t want the brat out of the house?

Hey. Not so fast. It’s not that simple. The first thing you should do is wait. Yes, I said wait. That means print out the manuscript (or leave it on the computer, if that’s easier) and stash it away in a drawer somewhere for a couple of weeks (this varies by person; some need only a couple of days and others need months). During this time period, do whatever you want -- take a vacation, hold a party during your normal writing hours, or get to work on the next story/novel.

At the end of these two weeks, get your manuscript out of the drawer and read it front to back. Be prepared: it will not look anywhere near as “perfect” as it did when you finished it. In fact, you might even wonder, How the hell did I ever think this was any good? This is the time for revision. Read through your manuscript and mark plot holes, clichés, character stupidities (i.e., where the only thing keeping the story going is the characters acting like idiots), inconsistencies, and so on, and fix them. For this article, let’s assume that your manuscript has a minimal number of those problems. Once you’ve fixed them, read the manuscript again -- aloud. This time, you’re reading for basic style, word choice, and spelling/grammar errors. Even if you are completely positive that there are no spelling/grammar errors, do it. I guarantee it; you will be amazed at how many things you’ve caught -- especially spelling miss-steaks. There are a lot of things spell-checkers won’t catch, especially if you type fast. When I type fast, I have a tendency to transpose letters--usually the checker will catch them, but not all the time. For example, I often mistype “bear” as “bare,” and vice-versa. Now, an editor will assume that you don’t know how to use the word properly, and this will not act in your favor.

Also, sometimes the keyboard won’t register a keystroke; I’ve had many inadvertent gender-changes (“she” to “he”) that way. But the worst result of a lost keystroke was when I meant to type “Her heart jumped into her throat”; instead, it came out as “Her hart jumped into her throat.” The two are not quite synonymous...

Okay, so the spell-checker sucks -- what about the grammar checker?

I hate to break it to you, but the grammar checker is even more unreliable than the spell-checker. If you have a good grasp of English grammar, it’s a good supplement for the things you don’t catch, but if not, you’re better off without it. (If you don’t know English grammar, buy a copy of Strunk and White’s Elements of Style, or find it on the Internet -- now.)

Seriously, the grammar checkers are no good if you don’t know grammar well enough to recognize when it’s wrong. Here are some examples of “incorrect” grammar, according to Word 2000, and the recommended fixes: 

“Yes, Father,” Julienne replied obediently, while inwardly snarling. (Word 2000: Should have a comma after “Julienne.”)

She stopped for a moment as the Duke’s voice rose an octave. (Word 2000: “Rose” should be “raised.”)

If it wouldn’t have caused such a huge scandal, she would’ve worn one of her mother’s gowns. (Word 2000: “Have” should be “had.”)

“Shouldn’t--argue--with--my--betters?” Sirola repeated, ... getting angrier and angrier as she accentuated each and every word with painful accuracy. (Word 2000: “With” should be “at.”)

(Now for the best...) 

With that, she stepped around the bench and was about to dart for the door when Aarmin caught her arm and swirled her around so their bodies touched. (Word 2000: “Their” should be “there.”)

All of these supposed “corrections,” had I used them, would’ve made my manuscript so grammatically incorrect that it probably would’ve been rejected out of hand. This was by no means a comprehensive list...these all were the best from two chapters in a single manuscript.

In an ideal world, editors would be kind and forgiving towards human and computer error. Most are, to a certain extent, but they are also quite swamped. They don’t have the time to wade through a typo-ridden, grammatically incorrect manuscript. Check your manuscript thoroughly before submission. Reading it aloud is the best way to ensure that you’ve eliminated most errors. Maybe you won’t catch every single one of them, but at least you’ll have cut them down tremendously.

Okay -- you’ve checked your manuscript and have fixed plot problems, inconsistencies, and spelling and grammar errors. Now what? Well, you can do one of two things. You can wait another two weeks and check the manuscript again (do I hear a groan?), or you can prepare it for submission.

First of all, choose the publisher you want to submit it to and find their guidelines (which will usually be on their website; if not, try places like Writer’s Digest [http://www.writersdigest.com ] or Ralan’s Webstravaganza [http://www.ralan.com] for speculative fiction). Pay attention to them!  If they say “No Talking Computer Stories,” and yours is about a talking computer, this is not the place to send it. Some of the guidelines will note their preferred manuscript format; follow it. If they want you to send the story on pink and purple striped paper written in 8-pt. script with a dot-matrix printer, do it. Most publishers, however, will take one look at the above-mentioned formatting and reject it. If there is no mention in the guidelines about a preferred format, use standard manuscript format. 

What is standard manuscript format, anyway? 

Generally, your manuscript should be double-spaced in 12 point Courier or Courier New font. Some publishers don’t mind fonts like Arial or Times New Roman, but Courier New is the standard and, to the best of my knowledge, will be accepted by everyone. Print on only one side of the page (and use white paper; bright colors are hard on the editor’s eyes). 

DON’T:

  • ...Submit a handwritten story, no matter how legible; it may have been acceptable once, but with the advent of the personal computer, editors are no longer willing to strain their eyes in attempt to read someone’s handwritten manuscript. If you don’t have a computer, ask a friend who does if you could type it up on hers and print it.  Or check around town -- most libraries have computers now, and so do many community colleges.

  • ...Use “script” or “novelty” fonts -- these may look good on the screen, but they’re as bad as handwriting for the editor.

  • ...Double-space the manuscript by adding an extra space after word. Double-spacing is when you have an empty space between each line of prose. It’s a feature usually found under “paragraph” and “line spacing” in MS Word.

  • ...Staple your story together; use paperclips.

  • ...Send your manuscript in a Pampers box liberally dusted with baby powder; it’s been done (and it wasn’t that original to begin with).

  • ...Send money. The editor, if honest, will just send it back; if he’s not honest, he’ll just write and ask you for more (can you spell “s-c-a-m”?).

  • ...Send pictures of yourself. The editor doesn’t need to know how drop-dead gorgeous, or vice versa, you are; the only thing that matters is the story.

  • ...Say that your story is the greatest ever, that it’ll make the editor rich, that you’re the next Hemingway, etc., in the cover letter. It just makes you sound like a babbling buffoon.

 

A lot of writers confuse novel cover letters with short story cover letters, and will send a synopsis for a short story. Do not do this!

There are many great articles on cover letters on the Internet, and they’re not hard to find. Speculations [http://www.speculations.com] and SFWA [http://www.sfwa.org] are good places to start, although they’re mostly geared towards speculative fiction writers. They also have some more extensive articles on standard manuscript format, if you need more information.

Well, now that you’ve proofread your manuscript and formatted it properly, you’re ready to go. Paperclip the hummer together, slap it in the manila envelope with a cover letter and an SASE, toss some stamps on, and head for the mailbox.