Burn, Which, Burn!

By Richard Curtis

Of the million ways that digital technology has impacted on publishing, one that has not been noted to my knowledge is the significance of manuscript submissions online. Only a few years ago, the only procedure for submission of manuscripts by authors and agents was US mail or, in urgent cases, courier or messenger. Emailing manuscripts as attachments unless expressly requested by editors was a breach of protocol to say nothing of good manners.

Two or three years ago that changed. Though unsolicited material was still prohibited, email submissions by recognized authors and agents were accepted, and today this practice is commonplace. But until the introduction of the Sony E-Book Reader and the Amazon Kindle, editors receiving emailed manuscripts printed them out and read them in the traditional way – on paper. Agents and authors rejoiced because the cost and bother of printing and mailing manuscripts was shifted to publishers. And though publishers bore these burdens stoically, the scramble for photocopier time, the expense of purchasing and maintaining high-speed machines, and the wasteful generation of paper were just further proof that publishing was still stuck in a twentieth century brick and mortar/mechanical business model.

Last summer, an editor told me at lunch that her company had experimentally distributed Sony E-Book Readers to its editorial staff and encouraged it to download manuscript submissions into the device and read them that way. She said she was deliriously happy; it solved a million problems from schlepping heavy manuscripts in back-straining briefcases and backpacks, to shameful waste of environmental resources. Some other benefits were the ability to read books on crowded buses and subways without having to shuffle pages.

Since then, publisher after publisher has followed suit. As a great many editors commute between Brooklyn and Manhattan, the subway line between the boroughs has been nicknamed the Sony Express. (Some editors prefer to read submissions on Amazon Kindles.)

An unexpected byproduct of this innovation is that Word for Windows documents, the format of choice for most authors, display typographical and grammatical errors in the forming of glaring underlines, which I call Reddies and Greenies. Misspelled words elicit a squiggly red underline informing the viewer of a typo. Incorrect grammatical usage elicits a squiggly green underline. Authors can call up correct spelling and grammar at the stroke of a key, and at another stroke substitute the correct usage for incorrect or override the computer’s didactic but almost always correct remonstrations, such as an oddly spelled proper name or a deliberate misuse of grammar for special effect. The word processing functions generating these corrections are known as Spell Check and Grammar Check, but I refer to them as those schoolmarm twins from Eastern Europe, Spelczek and Gramaczek.

Unfortunately, all too many authors ignore the finger-shaking of those schoolmarms and submit their manuscripts replete with reddies and greenies. And if you are guilty of that sin I am here to tell you to mend your ways. For one thing, the rainbow display of underlined words and sentences is a serious distraction. Editors are conditioned to spot and correct errors in manuscripts and will unconsciously – or, even worse, consciously – stop reading to ponder some solecism beckoning for attention on their screen. If they loaded your manuscript into their e-readers hoping for a page-flipping experience (as your pitch promised), they will instead find their eyes lurching from one red or green flag to another.

What’s worse, the display of all those flags may give some editors the impression that you simply can’t write.

To demonstrate my point, the link below will take you to this selfsame article, except that I have deliberately ignored spelling and grammar prompts and sprinkled it with a handful of errors. Fasten your seat belts; it’s going to be a bumpy ride. It will also be an educational one. You will become a better speller and a better grammarian. You may even catch Spell Check or Grammar Check in an error! (I have a running quarrel with the latest version of Spell Check, which insists on changing “dialogue” into “dialog”. Bill Gates, where did you go to school?)

It is incumbent on every writer to review his or her manuscript for spelling and grammatical errors. Getting published is hard enough without saddling yourself with the excess baggage of being judged incompetent in the tools of your craft. And shedding that baggage could not be easier. On your Word for Windows taskbar, click on Tools to enable the Spelling and Grammar function, then following the prompts and either correct your errors or ignore and override them. When you come to the end of the manuscript there will not be a reddie or greenie in sight. Hit Save and you’re all set. Gazing at a clean black and white page, you will experience pride and professionalism and you will be able to submit your manuscript with confidence that whatever else may be wrong with it, sloppy spelling and grammar are not among its faults.

As those twin schoolmarms Spelczek and Gramaczek would say – Neatness Counts!

To see a version of this text with errors, download the following Word file, BWB_errors.doc, and take a look at how Word approaches various grammar and spelling mistakes.
Richard Curtis is president of Richard Curtis Associates, Inc., a leading New York literary agency and founder of E-Reads, a leading e-book publisher dedicated to bringing out-of-print books back into electronic and printed forms as well as publishing new titles. He is an author, as well as an author advocate and writes a blog on the future of publishing, Richard Curtis on Publishing in the 21st Century.
Photo by © 2008 Leslie Curtis

A Market for Your Book

By Anthony S. Policastro

You have arrived! Your book is scheduled for publication or it is already on the shelves in bookstores all over the country. You couldn’t be happier.

The publisher has set up a national tour for book signings and the marketing of your work. This is now the hardest part of being an author – promoting your work. With more than 170,000 new titles published each year by traditional publishers and over 100,000 print-on-demand titles, you’ll have to do something pretty drastic to garner attention to your work.

What you do have going for you is your genre. Your genre will attract its own fan base and this is your market.

I recently attended a book signing at Quail Ridge Books here in Raleigh, NC by Carolyn Hart for her just released book, DEATH WALKED IN, her 19th murder mystery series and her fortieth book.

As I took my seat, I counted the number of people in the audience. There were 28 including myself. Out of the 28, only four were men, two were with another female (probably their wives), one other and myself. This was a sampling of Mrs. Hart’s readership – women who love to read mysteries.

Unless you have written a book in the caliber of Stephen King, Jodi Picoult or James Patterson, market your book to your niche audience rather than a general one.

One thing Mrs. Hart said that stuck out in my mind was that she had been writing mysteries for years, but could never get a publisher interested in her work. She wrote seven books in seven years and didn't sell any of them. Her break came with DEATH ON DEMAND her fifteenth book and her first best seller published in 1987 and still in print.

She said that prior to the 1980s, most publishers bought only two kinds of mysteries – the hard-boiled private eye plot with male protagonists and traditional mysteries written by dead English ladies. What changed that were three woman writers, Marcia Muller, Sarah Paretsky and Sue Grafton, who wrote a traditional “American mystery” with a private detective as the protagonist. The old genre now with a new twist became extremely popular and still is today evidenced by Mrs. Hart’s 2.7 million books in print and the success of mysteries written by women.

As I mentioned before in earlier posts, not only do you need a well-written book with a unique story, the market has to be ready for your work.