In a few minutes, I’ll leave to teach a class called “The Practical Guide to Getting Published.” I’m all prepared except for changing out of my jeans. I have this nifty 14-page handout with all sorts of resources, and I have tons of stories.
I tell all my students this: “You might not like what I have to say, you might disagree with what I have to say, but please know, that what I tell you is the truth according to my experience or the truth as I’ve heard it from other authors.” I say this because invariably someone will argue with me. They will explain to me very patiently that they don’t need to worry about grammar because an editor will do that. Or that they aren’t concerned about word length in a book or article because that’s the editor’s job. Or that their book is different from every book that’s ever been published, so the “rules” don’t apply. Or that they intend to self-publish and, therefore, using a style manual isn’t necessary–and besides, they can’t afford a good proofreader. Or that their mother/sister/brother/in-laws/high school teacher told them their book was worthy of publication, so surely it is.
And they might all be right.
It’s just that, in my experience, authors who get published:
1. Learn the rules of grammar and usage. (Come on, people. Mastering comma placement is NOT that difficult. I suggest you get a copy of Eats, Shoots and Leaves at the very least.)
2. Look stuff up all the time in a style manual. (For example, I get confused as to whether “was” or “were” is appropriate when there are conditional circumstances which must be considered. So, I’m always looking that up.)
3. Spell-check and rigorously edit their own work. (And often submit their work to other authors/friends to help them proofread. Many published writers belong to critique groups and welcome criticism. Sometimes they just swap stuff back and forth between good friends like Shirley Damsgaard and I do.)
4. Understand word counts and adhere to them. (MS Word has a function in the tools area which gives you word count. That’s close enough. No one would quibble with whether a word like “get-together” counts as two or one of its kind.)
5. Read about their intended markets and submit work that fits within listed guidelines.
But then, what do I know?