How “clean” should your writing be when submitting it to literary agents and publishers? What if you have some typos? What if your grammar isn’t perfect? How good… is good enough?
Although I won 1st place in my school’s spelling bee in the first grade (I got a ribbon and a trophy), I still make plenty of mistakes as a writer: spelling mistakes (though hopefully not in today’s article since I’m stressing the importance of not making mistakes), extra words (caused by too much cutting and pasting or changing the structure of a sentence during the editing process), and grammar goofs (I’m good enough to get by, but I’m definitely not a grammar guru).
What about you?
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The Down and Dirty Dish
When it comes to submitting your work to literary agents and publishers (query letter, book synopsis, book proposal, chapter outline, sample chapters, and/or complete manuscript), I have good news and bad news. Let’s do the good news first. If you have a few typos and mistakes in your manuscript, it shouldn’t be a deal breaker (as long as they’re not on the first 5 pages). That’s the equivalent of walking into a meeting with spinach in your teeth.
Now the bad news…
If your writing has typos or poor grammar throughout, you might say it’s like a single man with a hairy back trying to find true love (at least here in America where hairy backs aren’t popular at the moment—I’m not sure they’ve ever been, actually). Don’t be offended, hairy guys. I used to have a bit of growth back there myself (more about that later). And don’t leave comments below telling me that back hair is sexy.
No, it’s not.
But not back hair!
Yes, I know…
There are a lot of great guys with hairy backs. They have good jobs and great personalities and love their mothers. They’ll even cook fettuccine for you and massage your feet if you let them. But they might not get a chance if you see the bush on their back during your first date to the beach.
You might get turned off.
Ugh. That’s too bad. He seems like such a nice guy. Why doesn’t he get that thing waxed? Hmm… I wonder what else is wrong with him. Does he use deodorant? Shower regularly? Clip his toenails? Brush his teeth? Floss?
Now, I’m not superficial (although I do appreciate
physical beauty and pretty, perfumed writing).
I’ll still love you if you’re hairy
(or not a super clean writer).
But, let’s be real.
Other people are going to judge you (in publishing, dating, and every other area of life). How you present yourself matters. In fact, it matters so much that I recently decided to clean up my act.
I’m not just talking
about typos, either.
When it comes to the writing I do for my 1-on-1 coaching clients (like query letters), I’m a perfectionist. A neat freak. But I used to slack off with my other writing, like content for my website. I’d tell myself that typos, grammar mistakes, and missing or extra words weren’t a big deal.
I’m busy. I don’t have the time… or patience… to review that article again. Besides, I’m pretty sure I caught everything. If there’s a mistake or two, people can see past that. It’s the content that counts. If someone’s going to judge me over a typo, I don’t want to work with that person anyway.
I’m betting you’ve had similar thoughts at some point, unless you’re a spelling wizard and grammar god. Here’s the problem. You and I get paid to write (or at least that’s your goal). So we need to do everything we can to make a good first impression. That’s because good first impressions create the trust that’s required to get to second base or third base.
Or hit a home run.
In other words, literary agents and publishers aren’t going to respect you if you’re too lazy to fix simple mistakes… or get help fixing them if you’re not able to see them. And it’s going to put ants in their head.
Gee. A typo on page one. Improper use of a semicolon on page two. If that’s the case, I wonder what else is wrong with the manuscript. Is it well-organized? Is there a logical progression? A satisfying conclusion? I don’t know.
I want to invite you to join me in stepping it up. Take the quality and cleanliness of your writing to the next level–and mine. Are you game???
As far as my work is concerned, I’m a former literary agent for crying out loud. And I was the Marketing & Licensing Manager for a well-known publisher. Can I really afford to have dozens of mistakes on my website? And, even if I could get by like that, do I want to?
That’s why I took time this month to review my entire website, again. I even paid someone to help me. What am I too blind to see? Show me!!!
Finally, I thought I’d caught everything.
Then, two days later,
someone else emailed me.
Pointed out a typo.
So now I’m desperate.
I’ll pay you $10 for every mistake
you find on my website.
Some of you are salivating right now
because you know I make
a lot of mistakes.
I need you.
So, here’s the deal.
* * *
There are two main areas on my website:
What I’m Looking For
Help me find these mistakes:
- Missing words or extra words (usually a by-product of
cutting and pasting during the writing/editing process)
I’m NOT looking for hair-splitting differences of opinion about things that are subjective… like starting a sentence with the word “and”; my usage of ellipses and parentheses; which words I capitalize in titles, headers, and subheads; or whether you think I use more (or less) commas than necessary.
Those things are stylistic and I do them on purpose.
The following areas of my website aren’t eligible:
- My Directory of Literary Agents with agent bios, etc.
- My Coaching Testimonials page
- My Terms pages
- And the many thousands of comments on my website
Lastly, if you find one mistake that’s repeated on a page I’m only going to count it once. And, if you and I disagree about whether something is a mistake, I’m going to email my editor and let her be our mediator.
* * *
How To Get Paid
If you find any of the mistakes mentioned above (on any qualifying page or post), leave a comment for me here… underneath this article. Make sure you copy and paste the actual mistake AND the webpage url so I can check it out and fix it. For example, if you find a mistake on the homepage of my website… include this link: https://literary-agents.com/ (that’s my homepage).
I’ll pay you $10 for each mistake you find
(if you’re the first person to point out the mistake).
* * *
I don’t know if you’ll take me up on my offer to find mistakes
on my website. But I do hope I’ve inspired you
(at the very least), to take a closer look
at how clean your writing is.
Nobody wants to read
a dirty writer.
Now, I told you at the beginning of this article that I was cleaning up my act and I wasn’t just talking about typos. Remember? Well, it’s true. Six months ago I got my back waxed for the first time (I know, too much information). But you know what they say. Good writers find a way to turn their most painful life experiences into valuable content.
So, here I am.
In fact, I published this article just minutes before
leaving my house to get my back waxed again.
That means there’s a good chance that a woman
named Heather is causing me pain right now
as you’re reading this article.
I’ll do practically anything to help you
grow as a writer and get published.
Even if it means talking about
my personal hygiene and
grooming habits. 😉