Okay, so I know my articles about the technical aspects of writing are nowhere near as popular as steamy excerpts of new releases or anything sex-related.
On the other hand, some of you who visit the Naughty Nights Press blog are writers looking for information on what, exactly, the publisher looks for when looking at submissions. It's one thing to read the submissions guidelines for what the publisher looks for, and another to be able to find out things like pet peeves or the exact kind of cover letter the publisher likes best.
Because, as every submitting author worth their salt knows, the more you can tailor a submission, the better your chances are of getting your manuscript accepted.
So if you're here because you're following through on your research, I commend you. More author-hopefuls should be like you.
Recently, submissions at NNP --from established authors and new submissions, alike-- have taken a shine to hyphenating everything, and inventing new contractions. We'll take these as two separate issues, but let's step back and look at the larger picture for a moment:
Overuse of an uncommon punctuation mark reveals three things about you:
1.) You don't know how punctuation works, which means...
2.) You've never sat down to learn it, really, and being an author you...
3.) Either don't know about or don't care about learning your craft enough to know how to use the very tools you need in order to be writing publish-quality work.
For a publisher, this is a problem that screams on the page. It's off-putting, and it says a lot about the quality of writing you're willing to accept from yourself.
Why it's a problem
If you want to be published, if you want the respect of your publisher and editor, you need to first show you're a person they'd love to work with because you know what you're doing.
Do you have to be a Grammarian Master? No. Especially with English; there are contradictory rules and complicated exceptions, and commas before incomplete clauses when there's a vague modifier and ugh! It can be a pain.
But you do have to have a firm grasp on the basics. And a good foundation for writing includes knowing your punctuation.
Even your uncommon ones.
Without your basic tools, you look sloppy. You look unprepared. You look like you're cutting corners while there are plenty of others who are sending in clean query letters, first chapters, and full manuscripts. Side by side, which piece of work do you think the publisher is going to choose to pay closer attention to, and consider accepting?
The well-written one, of course.
Now, don't get me wrong. New submissions aren't the only ones guilty of this. Sometimes established authors get lazy and start neglecting their technical writing. They think, "I'm a writer. It's all about creativity," when there is even more work that needs to happen. Whatever you learned in elementary school about grammar isn't enough.
Unless you write children's books. But since this is the blog of an erotica and romance publisher, I'm going to guess we're not here to discuss Horton Hears a Who.
No offense to Dr. Seuss.
The other problem
The other problem has been the invention of new contractions. Now, we all know contractions are a shorthand combination of words with an apostrophe indicating the missing letters.
can + not = can't
she + will = she'll
who + is = who's
I + would = I'd
That's pretty basic, yes? In fact, in some extremely casual reading, or some fancy dialogue, you might've even seen the occasional double contraction, such as "I'd've," which stands for I + would + have.
I'd recommend not using such unless you are A.) extremely comfortable with proper use of contractions, B.) know your tenses, and C.) demonstrate you know the rules of your punctuation well enough to follow them the other 99% of the time in your writing.
There's no sense to break the rules if you don't demonstrate you know them well enough to follow them. Know the rules first, and follow them with dedication. Show you're a serious writer by taking your basic tools seriously. Then you can break them in creative fashion.
Not the other way around.
"Would of" is NOT the longhand for would've. Would + have is.
It's is the contraction for it + is, not for the possessive form. (The possessive form would be "its," as in "The dog chased its tail." And no, the two are not interchangeable.)
The cure is very simple: learn the rules of the language in which you are writing. When in doubt, there are some fantastic websites out there to help you learn proper grammar and punctuation, both basic and advanced. I've put a few helpful links below.
Yes, writing is a creative endeavor. This does not mean it does not have its own rules to follow. No, your third grade teacher telling you to put a comma wherever you'd pause to take a breath is not an acceptable excuse for not knowing your basic comma usage. Doing a few sentence diagrams in sixth grade doesn't make you an expert.
Research and practice over time make you an expert.
Am I saying you have to learn to write perfect and flawless manuscripts before you can query? Not at all. All I'm saying is that the better your writing, the more knowledge you demonstrate of technical skill, grammar, and punctuation will show your level of skill, professionalism, competency, and willingness to work and learn.
Those are far more valuable to a publisher in the long run than, "I'm super creative!"
Trust me on this. Published writing is a business every bit as much as it is a labor of love. Once the fun is over, the work begins.
Isn't that why I have an editor?
And no, filling in for and fixing your lack of knowledge is not your editor's job! Your editor's job is to find those typos resulting from being up until 2am hashing out your fifth draft, when your eyes feel like bags of sand have been poured into them and your heartbeat is thready from your sixth pot of coffee.
Your editor is there to fix "becaue" into "because" when your fingers just don't seem to want to hit that 's' key. They're there to find --and repair-- continuity or logistics issues, like when a character has green eyes on page 14 and brown eyes on page 148, or if a character leaves with an entourage in chapter 9, and at the beginning of chapter 10 is walking through a door as if they never left. Your editor is there to suggest changes to make your story stronger, tighter, and a host of other things.
But never is your editor there to make up for your lack of basic writing knowledge. Your editor isn't there to pour over your first draft; the poor thing has far too much else to do and not a lot of time in which to do it. It's your job as the author to polish your writing.
And remember: the more polished your writing is, the more you present yourself as a professional and serious writer.
Hamilton College Writing Center: Seven Sins of Writing
Grammar Girl: Troublesome Contractions
Grammar Girl: How to Use a Hyphen (but don't take her "sometimes it's open to interpretation" advice to mean "I can use them how and when I want to because I'm creative and using my own interpretation." That would be lazy. When in doubt, be smart and research it. Or, at the very least, ask your editor.)
Writing is 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration. That inspiration can
carry you through the 90%, but only by understanding the tools at your
disposal. Delena knows a thing or two about writing tools and how to
make the most of your writing. Want her to prove it? Visit her blog The Printed Fox and check out her series For Writers, By Writers. Delena Silverfox is a historical romance author with Naughty Nights Press.