C is for Copyedit

Artwork by Tom Torre (@CopernicusNerd)

Artwork by Tom Torre (@CopernicusNerd)

By Laura Zats

There are entire books written about why your book was rejected by an agent or editor, just as there are entire books about how to ensure that they don’t reject you.

But I didn’t write any of those, so I’m going to tell you one of the main reasons whyreject books: the grammar sucks.

When I talk about grammar, I’m talking about actual sentence construction, believable dialogue, all that jazz, but I’m also talking about how clean the manuscript or query letters are.

You see, I, like many other agents, have multiple jobs. Usually, we’re some crazy-fun combination of writer, agent, editor, etc. And I’m an editor. And in editor-speak, a “clean” MS is copyedited well enough that a proofreader won’t want to gouge their eyes out and move to a cave. A “clean” MS is one that has proper capitalization at the beginning of a sentence, and punctuation at the end of it. It is free of the dreaded two spaces at the start of a sentence, and employs n- and m-dashes where each is appropriate. Hell, it even gets the their/they’re/there things correct.

But why does this matter, you might ask. After all, I’m not the one proofing or editing it! I’m just the agent!

Yes, this is true. But the above things I mentioned are conventions. They should have been drilled into you in 18+ years of school. NOT using these things says just one thing to me: you don’t quite care enough about your future colleagues’ time to do the work right the first time. 

Lots of authors don’t look at it like this, but the editor-writer relationship is a partnership. There’s push and pull, give and take, and both parties are very, very committed to the same project. And if you could have proofread your MS before sending it out and getting someone else to work on your book, but you didn’t for whatever reason, I will most likely pass on you and move on to someone willing to take the extra time to make their future editor’s life easier.

Now go brush up on that Chicago Manual of Style!

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