Killer Year–The Class of 2007

August 31, 2006, 9:36 am
Filed under: CJ Lyons, Killer Year Members

Right now I’m teaching a workshop called No Rules, Just Write! Okay, okay. Those of you who know me can stop laughing now. Yes, we all know I am not known as someone who follows rules (although I do share my toys and play well with others ).

In this workshop we’ve spent two weeks discussing “the rules”. I’ve broken most of them˜even ones I didn’t know existed. In fact, it’s amazing to learn how many unspoken “rules” there are in this business.

For instance, several people reported their editors are eliminating all use of semi-colons because “regular readers don’t understand them”. Who started this war on a hard-working piece of punctuation? Where will it end?

It seems to me that most of these “rules” aren’t designed to increase the quality of literature. Rather, they function to further hamper us neurotic authors as we pursue a publishing career. Especially during that difficult transition from unpublished to published.

Now, this is an extreme example, but one of the “rules” that comes up repeatedly is formatting your manuscript. It seems that monthly on some loop that I’m on, there will be a spirited and prolonged discussion of font and formatting.

There are pages and pages on websites and discussion groups devoted to this. Calculations for using Times New Roman and ones for Courier. Margin and header formatting instructions for every word processing program so you can “get it right”.

Did anyone ever sell a book based on their choice of font?

Has anyone ever lost a sale because of font? Well, maybe if you use something so illegible that an editor couldn’t actually read your work.

Fess up now, how many of you have agonized over font and word count? What other rules do you obsess about?

My question: why aren’t you people writing?

After all, if there were a prescribed set of rules guaranteed to sell your book, we would all be following them, right? So don’t look to the rules to get you published, look to your work.

In my mind, there are only two things we can control in this business: our writing and our attitude.

Of course, publishing professionals are going to want to work with someone who demonstrates a professional attitude. Someone who shows they’ve done their homework, who treats writing as a career rather than a hobby, whose style and presence is polished, making them stand out from the rest.

Is your attitude alone going to guarantee you success? Not unless you are submitting the absolute best quality of work possible. Constantly growing as a writer, looking to ways to improve, listening to editors and others for insights, reading the “great” ones˜authors who resonate with you, who transport you˜and learning from them.

In other words, you need to be writing. It’s not easy, it’s damned hard work. And being willing to look at your work with a critical eye, to sacrifice your “purple prose puppies”, to edit and re-edit and sometimes even start all over again from scratch˜that takes a helluva lot of intestinal fortitude.

So go forth, forget about the “rules” and write!

Disclaimer: no semi-colons were harmed during the production of this blog.

Thanks for reading,

CJ Lyons

No one is immune to danger…
BLINK OF AN EYE “is a perfect blend of romance and suspense.” –Sandra Brown


7 Comments so far
Leave a comment

Thank you, CJ, for standing up for the proud semi-colon!

GREAT post!

Comment by Elizabeth

Yeah, I keep hearing about all of these rules and I broke so many of them, it hurts. My editor has now warned me twice that we may have a battle when it’s time to go over the copy edits. Yikes. Though she does think I’ll win those, since the rules broken are done so consistently and with a purpose.

Comment by toni mcgee causey

Yes, those poor suffering semi-colons!

Toni, just get a red-ink stamp reading STET made up! It will make the copy-edits go faster.

Comment by cjlyonswriter

The semi-colon? What? No!!!!

Also, I remember reading somewhere that the formatting requirements for either my agent or publisher was Courier 12, blah blah blah. Except I learned this several months after I signed my contract. And I’d done the manuscript in Times 12 (not even Times New Roman, just Times). And used italics instead of underlining.

Just call me a maverick.

Comment by Bill Cameron

Great post, CJ. Yep, I format my manuscript using courier 12 pt, yada yada and fortunately, everything I did fit the guidelines of the house I sold to so I didn’t have to change anything . . . except one space after the period. Ugh. It took me two books to train myself to do that.

I agree completely that the so-called rules hamper creativity.

BTW, my copyeditor adds semi-colons all over the place. I don’t use them much just because . . . well, I guess I never particularly liked them. I like ellipses . . . 😉

Comment by Allison Brennan

Yeah, sure, go ahead and feel free to break any rules you want, you desperadoes, you. But don’t cry if you get rejected. If your “creativity” is so fragile as to be endangered by somel editorial guideline as non-intrusive as a suggested font, it’s not saying much for your creativity.

Editorial guidelines are there (generally) for a reason. Ignoring them is not usually a sign of creativity or artistic integrity — it’s more likely simply a sign to an editor that you’re probably going to be a pain in the ass to work with.

And anyway, who worries about thinks like fonts and semi-colons unti after the first draft is done, anyway? Most of us use word processing now, so reformatting really isn’t a big deal.

Get a grip, people. Believe it or not, there are plenty of great writers out there.

Just as good as you are.

And if you try and be a hard ass about giving some editor what they want, there’s a good chance they’ll move on to the next great writer; the one who will be easier to work with. One who may even be a better writer than you.

Sure, it’s important in a writer/editor relationship to stand your ground when it matters, but is a lost sale really worth a font or a semi-colon?

Comment by Kevin Burton Smith

You confuse me with post.

Comment by Anonymous

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