Thursday, February 25, 2010

Clean up your act

A few days ago I received a copyedited short story manuscript back from an anthology editor with a note that it's "always a treat to edit a story that doesn't need much editing."

Of all the things an editor can say to me, that's probably the best. I strive to produce clean manuscripts that, if not perfect, are as close as I can get.

Why? Because I also sit on the other side of the desk and see the God-awful manuscripts many writers submit--manuscripts filled with spelling, grammar, and stylistic errors; manuscripts filled with extra spaces and inconsistent paragraph indenting; manuscripts that make me scratch my head and wonder just what the hell the writer was thinking when he hit the send key or stuffed hardcopy in an envelope.

I may never be an artist of staggering genius whose name adorns magazine covers or whose stories open or close anthologies, but, by God, I'll be one of the craftsmen editors rely on to fill a magazine's back pages or an anthology's middle section, one of the craftsmen he knows will produce solid stories requiring minimal editorial effort during editing and production. It's a good thing to be.


sandra seamans said...

Good advice, Michael! It took me a long time to realize that getting it right was my job, not the editor's.

Punctuation is my problem spot. I spend a lot of time adding and removing commas. I took Jack Bludis' advice about semi-colons to heart - "If you don't know how to use them, don't."

Michael Bracken said...

Comma use is a problem for many writers. Two comma errors I see almost every day that are easy to correct:

1. Commas should surround a state name when the state name follows a city name. For example: She lives in Waco, Texas, but shops in Temple. Many writers remember the first comma and forget the second one.

2. Commas should surround the year when used as part of a complete date (month, day, year). For example: On February 26, 2010, Michael posted a response to Sandra. Many writers remember the first comma and forget the second one.

Kevin R. Tipple said...

Many editors are no longer going with the second comma in either situation. Having had them removed and comments made to me about them, I don't often put them in anymore unless I know for sure the editor wants/expects them.

Michael Bracken said...

If that's so, Kevin, ask the editors which style guide they use. Both the Associated Press Stylebook (used primarily by magazine and newspaper publishers) and The Chicago Manual of Style (used primarily by book publishers) advocate use of the second comma. I don't have a copy of the third most popular style guide--the APA--to check its comma use guidelines.

And, just because an editor is ignorant of proper punctuation is no excuse for us, as writers, to deliver improperly punctuated manuscripts.