Friday, March 16, 2012

Where Did All These Rules Come From?

Writers continue to grumble at all the rules they are asked to observe: avoid the passive voice, keep point of view consistent, shun adjectives and adverbs, etc. Not only that, as writers seek representation from agents (which is almost the only way to get a manuscript in front of an editor nowadays), they are presented with yet other rules. Although each agent has his/her own set of requirements for submissions, there are a few that seem to be universal.

One of these requirements--that some things are single-spaced, others double-spaced-- has never really made sense to me, but I observed it anyway. Now, agent Jessica Faust addresses it, and makes it understandable. Here's the exchange from her website.

The question: If an agent's submission guidelines ask for a query and the first ten pages, those ten pages should be double-spaced, right? I don't want to be sending more or less than I'm supposed to! (Maybe I'm alone in this, but I always write with single-spaced lines. It wasn't until I started researching "how to get published" that I realized my idea of ten pages might be very different from someone else's.)

Jessica's answer: Any pages you send should always be double-spaced. The only exceptions are the query and the synopsis. Those can be single-spaced. This "rule" stems from the "old days" when all agents read on the printed page. The double-spacing allowed editors and agents to make notes on the pages, and it also protected their eyes. Now that agents read on ereaders this probably doesn't matter as much, but that's assuming you know for sure that the agent you're sending to is doing all of her reading on an ereader. Since you don't know that, always double-space your manuscript pages.

Writers, are there other "rules" that make no sense to you? Readers, did you have any idea of the hoops writers jump through to get their manuscript considered by a publisher? I'd like to know.

PS: If you're a member of the ACFW book club, don't forget to vote today for the July mystery/thriller selection. Of course, I'd love for you to vote for Lethal Remedy, but there are lots of good choices. Members can vote at:


Gwen Stewart said...

What a great post, Richard. I read the beginning of a much-touted book the other day and was flabbergasted. I think the first two pages broke every "rule" in the novel-writing book. Far distant third person with a ton of author intrusion. Too much description; almost no action in the first few pages. Yet this author has written bestsellers.

I can't criticize what sells, but wow, it sure makes for a conundrum for us up-and-(hopefully)-comers. Maybe if I start busting rules, I'l sell some books! :-)

Richard Mabry said...

Thanks, Gwen. Yes, it rubs me the wrong way too when I see a book that's high on everyone's best-seller list for no apparent reason. Rules are supposed to help us write better, hold the reader's attention, etc. So I keep trying to follow them. (Even if it means single-spacing my synopsis).
Appreciate your comment.

Deb said...

"Can't criticize what sells?" Sure you can. I submit that if you spend money on a book -- any book -- you're qualified to have opinions about it. No, I tell a lie. Even if you don't spend your hard-earned on a book, if you get it as a review copy or otherwise for nothing, you still have the right to weigh in on its quality.

Once we writers "let go" of a manuscript and put it out there, in whatever form or business model, it's fair game. That's as it should be. Bestselling author or not, everybody can mess up. If we don't call the reads as we see them, we're doing the rest of us a disservice.

My take.