Tuesday 28 December 2010

Professional Formatting

Professional Formatting
There is a standard, acceptable way of formatting work. Advice is given about this in the Writers’ and Artists’ yearbooks. It is relatively easy to get right. At Bridge House and The Red Telephone we spell it out.
Not that we ever reject people because they format incorrectly. However, it is noteworthy that many of our “maybe” texts are poorly formatted and at this point those that are correctly formatted tend to be put ahead of those that are not. It is certainly the case that the writer who has not followed the industry standard will also be less experienced in their writing and less able to handle and react positively to editorial comment.
It can be tedious, getting this right, but a professional will take the time to do so. Occasionally we may need to use something slightly different if layout and general appearance are important. However, even in the latter case it’s a good idea to submit a conventionally formatted text alongside the visual version.
Here is what I suggest:
Formatting Fiction
It is normal practice, when submitting fiction for publication, to double space work. It is also normal to start the first paragraph “full out” i.e. right up to the margin. Notice also that we generally use “ragged right”. Rumour has it that this is to enable hard-pressed London-based editors to keep their place when they read in bed or on the Tube.
         Second and subsequent paragraphs are indented. Note that you do not double double-space. This and what is described above are not Word defaults but can easily be set up in Word. Use the Paragraph function.
Note also that publishers prefer standard fonts. The two most widely accepted are Times New Roman 12 and Arial 10.
      It is also helpful to include your title and your name on each page. It is also useful to include a page number and an indication of the number of pages. Again, this is very easy to set up, using the Header and Footer functions in Word – found under View in older versions and under Insert in the 2010 version.
     Come on folks, get it right. It’s easy if you try.

Thursday 16 December 2010

Take Care about Who You’re Calling Careless

As a publisher who is also a writer and a creative writing teacher, I do often find myself reading a book published by a big, respected house and thinking to myself What the heck was the editor thinking? I also review books and recently refused to write a review as I had been given an uncorrected proof and in my mind this book was not ready to go: an important plot point had been edited out and the writer had talked of “coals” from a wood fire! What was the editor thinking?
Yet as a writer I think “Woah!” when I read a reviewer of my own work mention in an otherwise friendly review that one more edit would have benefited the work. The clever reviewer had found a couple of avoidable mistakes. Now, that particular work had had eighteen edits by myself, two general edits by readers and two copy-edits. Something similar has been done to its sequel and now as I put the finishing touches to a final (?) edit after the feed-back from the second copy-editor, I find a few more mistakes that no-one had noticed. In fact the first copy-editor prides herself on finding, on average, fifteen typos and at least a couple of punctuation mistakes in every published book she reads. And that’s without trying. If she actually did another copy-edit…
I’ve recently looked at a piece of academic work. A colleague second-marked it and said that the writer should have edited it once more. Though I agreed with my colleague about the types of style weaknesses, the poor expression in places and the common typos and punctuation problems, I disagreed that we can make any judgement about how conscientious or not a student has been. Only they can know that.
The types of mistakes that occur despite the extreme care of everyone involved are a nuisance. Some may make your eyebrows rise. But never, ever do we have the right to judge about the efficiency of or the intention behind another’s editing process. Possibly where mistakes still exist it’s a matter of editing smarter, not more.

Tuesday 23 November 2010

Launch of Calling for Angels at Caffe Yum, Hertford

This was a truly fantastic occasion. I think I counted 45 guests in total. 50 were invited. Not bad. Every party that came bought a copy of the book. We had just one left at the end of the evening.
The author, Alex Smith, signed copies of the book and read a passage from it. I made a little speech about how good it was, how it had stood out a mile in the competition, and about how page 143 always gets me, even though I’ve read the book four times. But if you buy the book, don’t go there yet. It may spoil the plot for you.
Alex is just 17 but actually wrote the book when she was 14 – which may explain why she got the 14-year-old voice so right. On the back of this, she is now a reviewer for the Guardian.
It’s amazing that our publicist / second editor, a young man and our designer, second editor, an older man, also really enjoyed the story. Even though Calling for Angels is definitely a girlie book. So, it’s impressive that she impressed them.
Caffe Yum was an excellent venue. It has everything you’d expect in a café – the full range offered at the giant high street coffee shops and juice bars – and some. And so much fresher and more individual. All guests were treated by Alex’s parents to a smoothie and a pink or chocolate angel cake. They were decorated with tiny rice paper angels.
Book available from The Red Telephone.
Caffe Yum

Wednesday 17 November 2010

Exciting book launch coming up

I’m really looking forward to Friday. That is when Alex Smith launches her first novel, Calling For Angels. Roll over Daniel Radcliffe and co. Alex Smith is much more important. She is the winner of The Red Telephone’s novel competition and is just 17. She was 16 when she entered and completed the first draft when she was 14. No wonder she has the voice of the 14-year-old protagonist so beautifully presented.
When I read The Red Telephone’s competition entries, I had no idea I was looking at the work of such a young writer. Alex’s novel stood out as a clear winner. We had three other very good novels and it was difficult to decide amongst those which should be second and third. In the end, we went for second, third and highly commended.
I’ve now read Calling For Angels four times. Every time page 143 brings a lump to my throat. No way am I telling you what happens on that page though. I’m rather hoping you will buy the book. It is available from The Red Telephone’s web site and all good bookshops.
Calling for Angels is a romance but it’s not chicklet-lit. It’s a jolly good read for any young girl. And another editor at The Red Telephone, a youngish male, and the quite middle-aged male designer have also made remarks along the lines of “blooming good” and “better than the stuff by most of the experienced writers we publish”.
The launch is at 7.00 p.m. on Friday 19th November from Hertford’s Café Yum. I’ll be there. So will Alex. And so will multiple copies of Calling for Angels and order forms in case we run out of books. If you’d like to join us, contact me and I’ll get you an invite.

Monday 8 November 2010

A Dreary Book Fair

The Book Fair at Crosby’s Civic Hall yesterday was actually much as I’d feared it might be: not enough footfall through the building, no need for the ridiculously early start and not a book sold. Having got there just after 8.30 we were not able to set-up until 10.300 for an 11.00 o’clock start. As normal, it only took ten minutes to set up. Ironically, we were long gone by the time the most promising crowd arrived. There was a children’s show on at 4.00, our finishing time. The audience would have been more likely to buy books on the way out that on the way in when there was too much anxiety about getting their seats.
I used to do craft fairs a lot and had similar experiences there.
There were some other irritations as well. We gave away a lot of free information, yet those people who were prepared to stop and chat for ages were not willing to buy a book and support an industry they claimed they wanted to be part of. Several people asked us how much we charged out authors for publishing their books. We are not vanity press. We do not help people to self-publish.
However, I still found it enjoyable. It’s possible that a book fair for independent publisher isn’t just about selling books. There was the opportunity to network with other publishers, put a few names to faces and actually make a few more connections with the general public. We pointed several people to our web site. Who knows what that might lead to. And we gained a fair number of new ideas from our competitors.
It also had one great advantage over the craft fairs I used to do: we didn’t have to pay a penny for having a stall there.

Monday 1 November 2010

Why some people did not get into Bridge House's latest charity anthology

I've just finished selecting the stories for Bridge House Publishing's latest anthology, the one that will support the Children's Hospices. Some of the reasons are listed below.
There was really no story. This happens so often. I'd even query some I've seen in the New Yorker and in the Sunday Times colour supplement. Good writing has made some authors there get away with it. But you can't in an anthology for children. You have to have a story that works.
The plot was clichéd. Oh, dear, we’ve read this over and over....
The story was not for the junior school child – content or language was too old or too young. Only reading more and more of this material will help the author to get this exactly right. Some contact with junior school children would also be useful. Start offering author visits or do some voluntary work at your local school.
The story was too far-fetched. Back to the problems of story again. Only this time it’s the opposite problem. Some stories were just too melodramatic and not convincing.
There was too much telling and not enough showing. That old chestnut. But it is really important in short stories especially those written for children.
The story was too sad for this particular collection. We did stipulate that we wanted uplifting stories.
There was a roving viewpoint; this does not suit stories as short as these. This is also a very common problem amongst inexperienced writers.
We couldn’t give individual feedback but at least we let people know the points above. And now we’re letting the wider world know.
Happy writing, everyone.

Tuesday 12 October 2010

Competition winners announced

Well, at Bridge House we finished reading our competition entries at last. It was close. We had a futuristic setting with a story of everyday people facing the same sorts of problems that we do. We also had an hilarious if slightly unbelievable romp. Both were well written and both would need some editing.
Both judges came down slightly in favour of the futuristic one. It’s very difficult to establish exactly why. Maybe a little more believable despite its futuristic setting? Maybe slightly less editing needed?
It just shows that in this competitive world much actually depends on what else is available.
My publishing partner has just had the thrill of contacting the people and letting them know.
So, soon we’ll be editing another novel and preparing it for publication.
Another day in the life of a small publisher.

Wednesday 6 October 2010

Proof Reading

Some really interesting points come up at proof-reading stage.
For instance, some writers are worried by changed formatting. Publishers often have change formatting either because writers have not adhered to either a set formatting style or the formatting style the publishing company requires. Also, manuscripts tend to be submitted ragged right but books are published with block text. This means that sometimes you words spread across a line. This happens in almost every book – except in a few children’s where the text is set either ragged right to aid continuity for less experienced readers – the eye can follow the text more easily – or where the text has been set so as not to have words dripping over lines. The latter can lead to lines being very spread out and looking clumsy. The odd thing is, most readers only notice words have been split across lines it when it happens to their work. But it is there everywhere.
Often one doesn’t notice until design stage that the writer has a quirk – for example putting too many speeches ending in “…” a lot. We then realise we do need to address this. When we make such last minute alterations the writers often don’t notice.
The final proof stage is never the time to make massive alterations. These should have been made ages ago in former edits. It is tempting, though, for writers to do this: they continue to grow and if they haven’t seen their text for a while they may be tempted to twiddle. Final proof stage is the time for abandonment. Leave the new ideas for the next piece.

Tuesday 17 August 2010


Many publishers these days ask for a certain sort of formatting. This isn't because they're being awkward. It's usually because they want to get your work out there as quickly and as accurately as possible.
I tend to be old-fashioned enough to still like double-spacing for when I'm selecting and editing texts - I can see them better that way. I go for something quite standard in fact - paragraphs indented by the default Word offers except for opening paragraphs. To be honest, I don’t really notice if the formatting is wrong to start with – but if a text isn’t double-spaced and paragraphs aren’t indented, it immediately shouts “amateur”.
I do request one or two other things for some short stories I edit and select for Bridge House Publishing:
  • That authors use a Word 2003 or newer
  • They use standard Word formatting
  • They use double curly quotes for speech
  • That they put their title and name by which they wish to be known in the header
  • That they put their contact details, including email, in the footer.
Generally, if the above are wrong, I don’t notice until it is too late. Then, it just becomes annoying. I don’t reject just because of the above though really I ought to. The last one is particularly infuriating. I read an excellent story for one of our anthologies and could not contact the writer. The submissions came in through a colleague. So, it was going to be very difficult to wade through a pile of emails looking for this author. Haystacks and pins come to mind. Consequently we didn’t publish what would have been a very good story.
Some people don’t use the Header and Footer facility correctly and type them on by hand. That is of course an immense waste of their time. As I edit, and have to delete these offending items, not only am I also taking a lot of time, I’m failing to concentrate on the really important parts of editing.
Likewise with single quotes. It’s not just a matter of finding and replacing – after all, we don’t want lots of double curly quotes for apostrophes, and Heaven forbid how daft we’d look / do look if we miss one.
We don’t really notice odd line formatting until it comes to design. As your text turns into a PDF, the computer detects where you’ve forced a break … and often then does something weird. We try to spot each one and alter it manually. Time-consuming for us. Time-consuming for you. And leaving margin for error.
Publishers always ask for your work in a certain format for a reason. They’ve usually thought out very carefully how they need your submission to look. Please try and comply.
At the university where I teach, students are marked on presentation as well as seven other categories. We teach academic and industry standard. They have some tedious rules to follow but at least there are rules and they can get this bit of their work right. Likewise when you submit work to a publisher. If all else is equal, we’ll have the one with the correct formatting, thank you very much.

Thursday 12 August 2010

Why we’ve had to reject this time

Why we’ve had to reject this time Why we’ve had to reject this time
I’ve just finished reading a whole pile of submissions. This was for an anthology of stories for infant school aged children. I’ve had to reject several in which there was nothing wrong with the writing. Reasons include:
  • The story was too long.
  • The writer hadn’t quite got the age group right.
  • Some of the language was too complex.
  • A though this story is good it is too similar to another which is even better.
  • The content goes against the ethos of one of the companies with which we are associated.
And of course, there were some where the writing or the story-crafting just wasn’t up to par. I do have to say, though, that none of the writing was too dire. In every single case it would be worth people trying again – maybe not with that particular text but certainly with another. We learn. We grow. All the time. And we have to keep on trying.