Do you want to be taken seriously by editors, readers or reviewers? Do you make errors in your fiction writing? This book is for you.
Mike Reeves-McMillan is a fiction author, reviewer, and former copy editor and technical writer. He's analysed the errors he's found in over 250 books, both indie and traditionally published, and written a simple, clear guide to avoiding the most common issues.?
- Why editors reject 90% of what's submitted to them—and how to increase your chances.
- How to get punctuation right every time.
- The special conventions of dialog.
- The most common word confusions, typos, and research errors—and how to check for and eliminate them.
Revised and updated in 2020.
"I recently donated a large box of writing books to the library, including my copy of The Elements of Style. I'd owned it for a long time and had never found it useful for what I actually needed in my writing. Enter Mike Reeves-McMillan's new book, The Well-Presented Manuscript."– Author Amy Knepper on Goodreads
"This briskly paced guide… illustrates the most common pitfalls of grammar, punctuation, style, etc., that make readers focus on the language in your manuscript, rather than immersing in your story… Wouldn't you like your next manuscript to be cleaner and more professional? Go on, then. Read this book."– Author Richard Kendrick on Goodreads
"An excellent resource for writers. Grammar explained in practical terms for novelists, and, surprisingly, not at all boring."
More than 90% of what gets submitted to editors—both fiction magazine editors and publishing house editors—is rejected as soon as a reader sees it, often because it doesn't meet basic standards of competence in presentation and language use. This book gives you a guide to meeting those standards.
Meeting them will help with self-publishing too, since discerning readers also reject books that don't meet them. A review, or, even worse, multiple reviews that mention basic errors in your prose can do a lot of harm to your sales.
Even worse, you may be missing out on sales because you're making simple mistakes in your blurb, and putting people off before they read a word of your book. I can't count how many books I've dismissed sight unseen because an error in the blurb suggested that the book would contain many more distracting errors. A blurb is a job interview. Dress nicely.
Beyond just getting past the gatekeepers (including readers and reviewers), developing the skill of communicating clearly with correct punctuation, grammar and usage will help you become a better writer. A musician plays notes; a great musician knows why those notes, in that relationship, work together, and what effect that will have on the audience, because a great musician thinks about the notes, and plays only the ones he or she means to play. For us as writers, words are our notes.
I review a lot of books, and I see the same easily-corrected errors over and over. In fact, I have a habit of marking the errors I see as I'm reading, and since I do this on my Kindle, I have a record. Since I first got a Kindle, I've found almost 7000 errors in 250 books, most of them published, a good many of them traditionally published. That's more than two dozen errors per book, on average, which I've noticed on a casual read-through. And as part of writing this book, I've analysed them to figure out which basic problems are most common.
I'll especially address the short story market, because I've done a lot of short story submitting recently. I have also been an editor in a major publishing house, though, and a lot of the advice also applies to submitting novels, or even nonfiction, to traditional publishers. And, of course, if we self-publishers are to fight the common perception that our books are badly edited, we need to master these skills.
So here's some of what I plan to cover in this book:
•How editors select what to publish (and what not to publish)—and how to increase your chances with them.
•Style and voice, and why I'm setting out to help you write "invisibly".
•Understanding how a sentence fits together, so you know how to punctuate it.
•The special conventions of dialog and its punctuation.
•The most common typos and other errors, and how to check for them.
•Names, words and research.
When it comes to punctuation, I'll work in two directions. First, I'll talk about how the structure of the sentence tells you how to punctuate it. Then I'll go through the different punctuation marks and talk about when to use each one. That will involve some repetition, but repetition is good for learning, and presenting the material in two different ways will, I hope, make it clearer and easier to grasp.
Note that this book isn't about writing the actual story, which is another set of skills above and beyond these. It's about meeting the basic standards that will get your story read in the first place.
The aim is to provide just enough information to help you look competent, so I won't go into the finer details in some cases. For example, there are some arcane comma rules that are really only known or understood by advanced editors and grammarians, and if you don't observe them, nobody but a serious pedant will dock you points. I'll point to places where you can find details about those rules if you want—if your comma usage is generally good already, knowing these rules will make it excellent—but if you struggle with the basics of commas, you don't need to confuse yourself with these more advanced rules.
Does every editor care about these things? No—as poorly-edited books from major publishing houses demonstrate—but most will. Does every reader? No—as five-star reviews for books that are full of errors demonstrate—but some will. If you want to communicate "I am basically professional" so that people who read your writing won't be distracted by simple language mistakes and can concentrate on your story, this book is here to help you achieve that standard.