Saturday, September 26, 2009

It's The Storytelling and punctuation

I'm not sure whether this is a good thing or not. For me, when I read through the pile of submissions what I am looking for first is a story that grabs my attention and holds it until the end. I don't see the flaws in the manuscript: the typos, the awkward passages, the verb tense changes, the improper grammar. All I see is the story. And that is what I make my decision on, the story.

For unpublished writers, this is a godsend. You can send me your brilliant, compelling story filled with grammatical and typographical errors and I will not see them when I read through the pile to decide which stories to include in an issue.

Short, long or no author's bio, your story is what determines your acceptance by me. I read the bios, but I don't use them when I am deciding which stories to accept or not. My contributors range from no previous publications to hundreds of previous publications. It's all about the storytelling.

The drawback for me comes in the editing process. People, learn the rules or proper punctuation and grammar. Specifically, learn when you use a comma before the word "and" and when you do not. I'll make it easy for you, here's a brief run down:

Use a comma before the word "and" when "and" is used as a conjunction joining two INDEPENDENT CLAUSES together. An independent clause is another name for a sentence.

Use a comma before the word "and" when you're giving three or more things. This is the serial comma or the Oxford comma which comes under debate. Some people don't use it, some people do. I do. For clarity, consistency, and pure laziness on my part, I use the serial/oxford comma. (side note, why is it called the oxford comma when it's not commonly used in the UK?)

Do NOT use a comma before the word "and" when you have a compound subject, verb, predicate, noun, adjective, or adverb. A compound noun, verb, subject, predicate, etc. is TWO things. Bill and Tom ... run and jump ... lovely and charming ... laughing and smiling ... tall, dark building and small, tiny cottage ... TWO things, the word "and" -> NO comma.

I'm really easy to get along with in the editing process. Contributors get three choices to my suggested edits: agree, explain why it should be left unchanged, or rewrite it. I have misunderstood a sentence and my suggested edit would have changed the meaning of it, giving the contributor the option of rewriting it came out with a better passage.

Even so, I get one person each issue who has to reply with some snippy, snarky comment regarding my suggested edits. And they were in the wrong. If you're going to get snippy with me, make damn sure that you are right. Otherwise, you get labeled a "pain in the ass to work with," and I will think twice about accepting a story from you again.

I'm only working with short stories, I can imagine what it must be like for an editor of a novel to have to work with one of these people.

Sigh, unfortunately, everyone who is reading this and thinking, "I wonder if she's talking about me," aren't the ones I am talking about.

The point of this rambling post is: Writers learn the rules of punctuation and grammar. It will increase your likelihood of getting accepted by other publishers.

As for the typos in this post: Do as I say, not as I do. :p


  1. I can't understand not being polite to suggested edits, even if you vehemently disagree.

    I once had an editor do a hatchet job on one of my stories: edits changed meanings, illogical cuts, a narrative explanation was turned into dialogue by a character who would not have said it ... I must have gone over my response five times to be absolutely sure I was civil throughout. ... editor still dropped the story without ever a return note.

    The ideal editor is one open to polite negotiation. So - kudos.

  2. I've always had trouble with commas and "ands"

    Thank you for clarifing!

  3. Lindsey, it's the horror stories you and others have shared regarding the editing process that helped me determine how to handle the editing process.

    Aubrie, quite a few people mix up the rule regarding the comma with the word "and." They put it in a compound noun, etc, but don't put it in when it's used as a conjunction. I think somewhere along the way, they switched the two.

  4. I don't know how I ended up sending in my story with so many of those mistakes! I think I must have sent in the wrong edited version because I tend to be pretty good about my commas. After all, I TEACH these rules!

    Oops. Thank you for not holding it against me, Diana! Same thing going forward, I hope!

  5. The comma with the word "and" rules gets switched around by a lot of writers. This was just a public service announcement. ;)