Post #25 – Spaces

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6/14/18

How many spaces should follow the end of a sentence, one or two? I grew up using, and continue to use, two spaces. I’ve read several articles claiming one space now is the norm. The are two arguments for this.

First, we, as a society, have gotten away from using monospaced fonts. When every character takes up the same amount of space, including a period, like in a monospaced font, it’s easier to differentiate between two sentences with two spaces at the end. Most print does not use monospaced formats any more.

The second argument states people read most content online now in shorter bursts, so one way to save space (no pun intended) is to eliminate a space after each sentence. Supposedly, the formatting is better online when there’s only one space.

It’s true monospaced fonts are not the norm in the writing I see every day, and I know nothing about online formatting. Still, I still don’t buy it. For starters, many of the submission guidelines I read want a story to be in a monospaced format like Courier. If that is a requirement, then it follows two spaces to end a sentence should be required.

Not even that argument addresses the main reason, at least for me, to use two spaces. That is to eliminate confusion. It doesn’t happen often, but what if a sentence ends in an acronym with periods? With only one space after that sentence, a reader won’t know a new sentence started. The more immediate reaction is there is a typo. For example:

“The regulation finally was passed by the members of the E.U. When the matter first appeared, the initial response was appeasement.”

Putting aside the passive voice, which is prevalent in everyday writing, my initial reaction would be the capitalized “w” is a typo. A reader doesn’t know otherwise until finishing the sentence. By then the reader is confused, and the flow of the story is broken.

Most submission guidelines and the standard manuscript formats cited therein say it doesn’t matter whether one or two spaces separate sentences. However, I know of one Australian market’s guidelines requiring one space. I’m planning to test Word’s find and replace function the learn if it can remove a space after each sentence. Since I’m a two spacer, all my manuscripts don’t comply, and I don’t plan to take the time to remove those spaces for this one market.

Because I want to deny I’m getting older and out of touch, I’ve experimented with training myself to use only one space when typing these blog entries. (You may have noticed.) It hasn’t gone well. I regularly must go back through an entry and make the number of spaces consistent, usually using the number of spaces most prevalent. Not to discount the wise sage Yoda, but it’s hard to unlearn what you have learned.

Now there is scientific proof that two spaces are better than one! According to renowned (or not) Washington Post Magazine humor (or slightly funny) columnist Gene Weingarten, a Skidmore College experiment found two spaces after a sentence enhances clarity and makes reading easier and faster.  That’s enough for me.

Let me know your thoughts on the great space debate.

Photo credit: LUM3N via Pixabay

Post #24 – Submission Guidelines

6/7/18

Aeryn Rudel addressed some of this on his Rejectomancy blog post titled New Author Starter Kit – Submission Prep. Here are my thoughts.

For starters, I will echo the first thing most editors include in their submission guidelines: before submitting READ THESE GUIDELINES CAREFULLY. Do it. Don’t skim; read all the way through. Then go back and read them again.

Like the pebbles on the beach in this post’s featured image, every set of guidelines is different. Even if I’ve read them five times, I read them each time before I submit in case they’ve been updated. Then I read them again. On the second time through, I make each required formatting change to my story as it appears in the guidelines, just so I don’t miss any. For example:

Editor prefers Times New Roman. Check. Editor wants all identifying info removed (author name and address, byline, last name in page number header, author listed in the metadata). Check. Editor requires document saved as an .rtf or .doc file instead of .docx. Annoying but check. Editor accepts submissions only via email with “[New Submission]” in the title. Check.

There are too many permutations to remember when, like me, you’re submitting 15+ stories to a dozen or so markets.

I also recommend periodically double checking that the editor for a market hasn’t changed. It can’t look good if you address your cover letter to the editor who left the magazine two months ago. Editorial teams change, and submission guidelines often change with them.

Submission guidelines are a great resource. An editor is telling you exactly what he or she wants, which means your submission will have the best chance at acceptance. If you’re a salesperson, which we writers are, in what other industry are you able to know your customer’s personal preferences so as to market your product to them most efficiently? Okay, I’m choosing to ignore the new world of Facebook, Google, and Amazon where the sales companies know everything about us.

My only complaint is how much of a time suck reading and complying with the various guidelines is. I realize each editor has different preferences, so each editor’s guidelines will be different. But the time it takes to conform a story and submit it according to the guidelines is time I’m not writing or editing. Can’t they all agree to use the same guidelines, personal preferences be damned?

Many submission guidelines say to use a standard manuscript format.  Most cite Shunn’s manuscript format for short stories.  However, a few cite an alternate version posted on the SFWA website here.  They essentially are the same.  Luckily, the manuscript template in Microsoft Word follows these formats for the most part.  It’s when an editor deviates from the norm you must be careful.  That’s why you read the submission guidelines and then read them again.

Let me know in the comments your experiences with submission guidelines.

Photo credit: globenwein via Pixabay

Post #19 – Help, I Need Inspiration!

5/3/18

This is what I feared when setting my writing goal this year. I’d run out of ideas. That was part of the reason I set a goal of 50,000 words for 2018 instead of doubling that.  After a very productive first quarter, I’ve written all of 1250 words in April. I’ll need to average 5625 words each for May and June to stay on track, but inspiration is lacking.

That is not to belittle those 1250 words. I’m proud of them. Next week I will discuss how I wrote the last 650 under unusual circumstances on April 29. For the first 600 words, I received inspiration one morning from the title of a song I heard at work while listening to Google Play. During the walk back from a haircut at lunch that day, I ironed out the plot details. I then hammered out the story that afternoon. It must have been a slow day at work. I already finalized and submitted that story to a new market for me, one that only publishes flash fiction of 750 words or fewer.

If it weren’t for that flash of inspiration (pun intended) and the unusual circumstances on the 29th, I’d have written nothing the entire month.

I’ve kept up my submissions though. In addition to the 600 word story above, I submitted three other stories in April for the first time. I also revised two existing stories. The first was an flash fiction piece, which was a sequel to another story. Both stories have been rejected on their own a couple times, so I decided to make the flash story the last chapter of its predecessor. One of my beta readers felt the sequel wasn’t working on its own as a stand alone story, too much exposition to catch the reader up on the events of the predecessor, especially for a flash piece. By combining the two, I cut much of that exposition. I already submitted the combi-story for the first time and am hoping for more favorable results.

I also revised a story written in response to a call for submissions with a very specific theme. That market rejected the story. However, I am proud of that story too. It’s a humor piece I really enjoyed writing, and my beta readers all said it was funny. A couple also said a certain element did not go in the direction they anticipated, and they enjoyed that surprise. In anticipation of sending this story to other markets, I changed many of the details specific to that theme. I’m also including several revisions suggested by one of my beta readers, who was not able to review the story before I submitted it to meet the call’s deadline.

Now I must decide when to submit that story. In Clarkesworld‘s submission guidelines, the editor, Neil Clarke, has a list of hard sells, one of which is “stories originally intended for someone’s upcoming theme anthology or issue.” Everyone will be circulating those to other markets, so he suggests waiting a while. But how long is a while? It pains me to have a story finished and not submitted somewhere.

Unfortunately, these revisions don’t add to my word totals. If anything, they subtract from those totals since they usually involve cuts. Next week I also will discuss where I plan to find inspiration.

Post #17 – How Soon Do I Edit, and How Much?

4/19/18

I’ve read a writer needs to let a first draft breathe, like a fine red wine. I take that last part on faith since I don’t like red wine, but I agree with the basic premise.

In On Writing, Stephen King states he lets the first draft of a novel sit for 6 weeks. He wants his story to be familiar but foreign enough he isn’t afraid to tear it apart.  In other words, he needs to be able to step back. He believes too often a writer is too close to the story and characters immediately after completing the first draft. Once the 6 weeks pass, King completes a first edit where he focuses on strengthening themes he either consciously or unconsciously included in the first draft. Then his wife reads it, and he revises according to her suggestions. Next, he hands the draft over to his beta readers and edits accordingly. Finally, he sends the draft to his editor at the publisher.

I take a somewhat different approach, though my edits to date are of short stories or picture book manuscripts not novels. I try to do a clean up edit immediately after finishing the first draft. I don’t want to stumble over those errors when I do my first content edit. When time permits (meaning I’m not attempting to beat a closing submission window), I wait about a week before that first content edit. I’m usually over eager to get a new story out to my critique group while it’s shiny and new, so I’m always battling that impulse when allowing a story to breathe.

I conduct a second content edit after receipt of comments from my critique group members. The last step is handing the draft to my very understanding wife who acts both as my final beta reader and copy editor.

But wait there’s more. I know, I already talked about the last step. However, I like to read a story one more time after my wife’s review. Sometimes I find a typo everyone else missed. More often I find a typo that I made entering my wife’s edits.

All this amounts to 4-5 drafts for a short story. I doubt professional writers do that many for anything other than a novel. However, as I’ve stated before, I expect their first drafts are significantly more polished than mine. Hopefully, as I become a better writer, my work will require fewer rounds of edits.

Sadly, what I’m not including as an official edit is the formatting changes often needed to comply with a market’s submission guidelines. That’s a topic for a future blog post.

Let me know in the comments how soon you edit and how much.

Post #15 – 1Q18 Update

4/5/18

I thought it may be interesting to post a quarterly goal update in addition to a year-end tally. When I started drafting this post a week or so ago, it had a significantly different tone. Then, after going 0-31 on acceptances since I started submitting, I received my first acceptance last Friday! That’s right folks, I’ll finally be a published author. Full details will follow once those are finalized.

Until then, for the first quarter of 2018, below are my totals.

Words written = 17,400

Submissions = 24

Rejections = 17

Acceptances = 1!

Of course, a lot of rejections means a lot of submissions.  The editor of Arthur’s Publish, Caitlin Jans, says she caps the number of submissions she has out at any given time to 20, but she likes to keep it roughly at that number. I’m fast approaching her number with 11 works out currently and four more nearing submission status. I feel tracking rejections, resubmitting, and tracking what I resubmitted and where now eats up much of what would be my writing time.

I spent so much of the beginning of this quarter editing I thought I wouldn’t get to a quarter of my yearly word goal. Luckily, I had a late quarter burst of productivity putting me over my 12,500 word quarterly goal. I’m pleased with my words written, but I’m more pleased that word count includes first drafts of five stories, four of which I started during the quarter. Each of these four I decided to write only after reading a call for submissions. I was pleased with how quickly inspiration struck and how quickly I worked through the first draft of each. Oddly, three are humorous speculative fiction pieces.

I’ve come to realize the number of words written is not necessarily an accurate reflection of the writing I’ve done. The amount of work that goes into editing and submitting stories is staggering. While I wrote 17,400 words, I edited seven stories and started submitting those this quarter. I also re-edited several stories finished last year, which were rejected by one or more markets, before submitting them to other markets.

All of that takes time and effort. It takes me a couple nights to edit a 6000 word story. And then another night to reformat it to comply with a specific market’s submission guidelines.

In On Writing, Stephen King says early in his writing career, he receive a form rejection for a short story but with a handwritten note: 2nd draft = 1st draft – 10%. As I track my word count from initial draft to final draft, I seem usually to follow that advice without realizing it. I rarely add substantially to a story after the first draft. I’m usually cutting it down. What I haven’t figured out is what word count to use towards my yearly goal. Do I use the higher first draft total? Or do I use the smaller final draft total because that’s what I submit? I’m leaning towards the former. Last year I used the latter most often, which I think cut about a thousand words from my total. I’m not heartbroken by this; another thousand wouldn’t have gotten me to my 50,000 word goal. Still, going forward, why not give myself credit for those first draft totals? I wrote them. Of course, if the finished story has more words than an earlier draft, I’m using that number. I wrote them too.