Vision: A Resource for Writers
Holly Lisle's Vision
Revision and Submission
By Heidi Elizabeth Smith
2002, Heidi Elizabeth Smith
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?
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
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.
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
so the spell-checker sucks -- what about the grammar checker?
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.)
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:
for the best...)
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.
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
-- 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.
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
] 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.
is standard manuscript format, anyway?
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).
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!
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.
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.