Sunday, October 29, 2017

Are You A Rule Breaker?

Some writers intentionally want to rebel and break the rules to produce something different which stands out in the market. I understand this feeling but to break the rules, you have to know and understand them in the first place.

From my many years in publishing, I've worked hard to continually grow and learn about the market—and give the reader (and the editor or agent), what they want. Every magazine and publishing company has expectations and a target market. For example, last night a publishing colleague introduced me to a published author who has written his first novel. I learned this novel is edited and completed yet I haven't seen it yet (but I did request that the author to send it to me). From the beginning I spotted something outside of the lines. The novel is 134,000 words—and our fiction guidelines say we have a 100,000 word limit. Until I see the novel and speak with the author, I have no idea if it will be a fit or not. 

Maybe our publishing team will love the concept and publish a little larger novel. Or possibly the author will know how he can cut it to the 100,000 limit. Anything and everything is possible in the publishing process but first things first, the author has to send me his material.

Last week another author sent me her nonfiction book manuscript. She told me the bulk of this book had been sitting on her computer for three years and she finally got it out to someone. I'm honored with these submissions and will be exploring if it is the right book for Morgan James to publish. So how do you learn the rules and where to send your material? In this article, I want to give you several methods of learning these rules.

First, get the guidelines for the magazine or the book publisher—and carefully study these instructions. if you follow these guidelines, you will gain a “reading” or “hearing” from the editor or literary agent. It increases the possibilities if you follow these rules.

A second way to learn the rules is through studying how-to-write books. For years I've read and studied a how-to-write book every month (often more than one per month). Last week I finished reading Write With Excellence 201, A lighthearted guide to the serious matter of writing well—for Christian authors, editors and students by Joyce K. Ellis. For many years I've known Joyce as a magazine editor. Originally we met through our involvement in the Evangelical Press Association. What I didn't know about Joyce is that she has written a column about grammar for years for The Christian Communicator magazine and she has a passion for excellent writing. Write With Excellence 201 is a detailed examination of grammar rules.

How do you write strong engaging sentences? Some of that comes from experience but also understanding the difference between active and passive tense. Write With Excellence is a clarion call for writers to learn the rules then use them to improve their writing. Ellis engages her readers with vivid examples and insights. The chapters are short and each ends with a quiz to help you absorb the details on adverbs or the use of hyphens or italics versus quotation marks. The book has three main sections: Grammar and Related Matters, Punctuation and Related Matters, and Style, Usage and Other Considerations.

As Ellis writes, “Writers have a responsibility to communicate clearly. And excellent Christian writers strive for clarity, especially in the spiritual realm. We enrich the reader's takeaway value—if we vigilantly guard against being jargonauts.” (Page 246–-the chapter cautioning about use of jargon). Write With Excellence 201 is realistic and doesn't pull punches: “Yes, all this is a lot of work. No one said it was easy (How many times have I written that in this book?) But if you take the time to “sweat” your titles and subheads, you'll show editors you're a professional, right from the start.” (Page 264)  I've given you a small sample of the wisdom packed into these pages. I highly recommend this book.

Are you learning the rules before you break them? Let me know in the comments below.


Are you a rule breaker with your writing? You must first know the rules to break them. Get insights here.  (ClickToTweet)
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