I got an email today from one of the bold brave editors of a journal soon to be released by our local writers’ group. She complimented me on the fact that there were fewer egregious errors this year than in last year’s document. The reason, mostly, is I learned from last year’s mistakes and from her excellent efforts in editing them.
A good friend collected all the submissions (over thirty of them!) in files and directories online. Then I spent a week-and-a-half (ask my long-suffering husband–really I did), combining those multiply-formatted documents together, sorting and ordering, setting the styles, and finally doing those painfully slow steps of minimal editing. At the end of it all iI’ve developed a whole new appreciation for publishers. No wonder they have submission guidelines, or they and their long-suffering spouses would all go crazy!
So here, in case you’re interested, is the task I set myself for that week-and-a-half. It’s also the reason I haven’t had time to send in submissions, edit novels, or write any halfway decent blogposts. But I’m sure my novels will be all the easier to read because of what I’ve learned.
General Stuff after formatting the files
- Headers: Are the titles consistent—THIS STORY by This Author
- Sections: I’m trying to start each section strong and end with a link to the next. Ordering the stories is Aghghghgh!
- Contents List: Making sure I don’t lose anything. And
- Separators: We settled on single-blank line separators, not stars, not dots, not multiple lines.
Then there are the details
- Dashes: e.g
- “He followed the girl—the one he’d seen before,” with a long dash and no spaces.
- “counting 1 – 10” has a long-ish dash and two spaces.
- And “long-ish” has a short dash within a word.
- Ellipses: Three dots within a sentence, no spaces to either side: four dots (three plus a period) at the end. But do we want the Word ellipsis or just the periods?
- Paragraphs: Ah, the joys of entries with hard tabs, or, even worse, hard spaces and hard returns! Aghghgh!
- Numbers: e.g. two or three, not 2 or 3. But what about dates and times and measurements (I’ll get them right next year).
- Italics: for internal dialog, emphasis, and air-quotes. No underlines!
- Quote marks and apostrophes: Change vertical ones to “ ” and ‘ ’, (The trials of people using such different programs). Then remove leading and trailing spaces, and make sure punctuation works:
- He said, “Go away.” The period goes inside the quote, and there’s a comma before the quote.
- “Go away,” he said. There is a comma before the quote mark.
- Did he really say, “Go away”? (This is an exception. Since his statement wasn’t a question, the question mark goes outside the quote.)
- She said, “What did he say?” (Here her statement was a question, so the question mark is within the quote.)
- More About Apostrophes: e.g
- Apostrophes replacing missing letters should be of the end-quote style: e.g. ’cause we need ’em, not ‘cause we need ‘em.
- No apostrophes for plurals and dates: e.g. 1960s, not 1960’s, IQs, not IQ’s. But note, the ’60s does have a leading apostrophe (for the missing 19).
- More About Quotes: e.g
- Quotes should start and end with quote marks. If the same quote continues don’t use a quotemark at the end of the paragraph, but start the next with one.
- Otherwise changes in speaker should match up to changes in paragraph.
- Use commas. He said, “Okay,” not He said “Okay,” And “Hey, Mom,” not, “Hey Mom.”
- Dialog tags should be possible: We can nod, but we can’t nod words.
- Capital letters: start sentences and names. Non-names start with non-capitals: e.g. “He asked his mom,” not, “He asked his Mom.” But, “He asked Mom,” not “He asked mom.”
- Commas: e.g
- They bought apples, pear, and bananas. We decided to keep (therefore have to check for) the serial comma.
- He bought apples, and she bought bananas. Commas if the clauses are complete sentences.
- He bought apples and went to the bookstore. No comma if the clause isn’t a complete sentence.
- Run on sentences: e.g. “It won’t work; there’s nothing to be done.” Not “It won’t work, there’s nothing to be done.” But don’t change the author’s style.
- hyphens and compound words My favorite bug-bear, or should it be bugbear. We’re going with whatever Word says is right. And finally…
- First person pronoun: e.g. I will format, and the file comes from me, so “You and I” will edit now, and the file comes from “you and me.”
Sheila Deeth is the author of Divide by Zero and its soon-to-be-released sequel, Infinite Sum. She runs a writers’ group at her local library and is helping them compile their fourth anthology.