Is everyone feeling relatively happy about her author bio draft? Has writing yours made you feel genuinely fascinating — and eager to show the publishing world (notoriously crammed with fascinating people, at least on the creative side of the biz) just how interesting you are? Or have you been storing these how-to tips away like the proverbial squirrel with a stray nut or two, saving them for the day you will need ‘em?
Since this is my last post in this series — presuming that no one posts a great follow-up question as a comment over the next few days, hint, hint — I’m going to seize the opportunity to say this just one more time, for the benefit of all you procrastinators out there: please, I implore you, do NOT put off writing at least a viable first draft of your bio until the day after an agent or editor has actually asked you to provide one.
On that happy day, you will be a much, much happier human being in every way if you already have at least the beginnings of a great bio sitting on your hard drive. Trust me on this one.
And may I suggest that those of you involved in writers’ groups — critique-based or support; in either case, good for you — devote part of a meeting to brainstorming about and giving feedback on one another’s bios? (Or query letters, for that matter? And what about synopses?)
Even very market-oriented groups seldom set aside time for mutual bio critique — which is a trifle mystifying to me, as a session devoted to it can be a whole lot of fun, as well as very useful indeed. Besides, how much do you really know about that sharp-eyed person who keeps telling you to show, not tell?
Speaking of great questions (yes, I know; I was speaking of it several paragraphs ago, but humor me), readers past and present have posted requests for clarification on a couple of points. Since not everyone reads the comment strings — especially, I notice, whilst perusing the archives — I want to devote the rest of today’s blog to dealing with some of those pesky loose ends that I may have left dangling from my previous post on the subject.
Let’s begin with a thought-provoking question from long-time reader Gordon:
I’m not sure how to word this, but I’ll try – should an author bio written by an unpublished (in any media) writer include what you call “promotional parts”? Meaning life connections with the novel’s subject matter. As a youngster in his seventies there have been many twists and turns in my life. Should one’s bio chronologically hit the high points or mainly focus on the ones pertinent to the novel being submitted?
You did fine, Gordon. The short answer is yes, on both counts.
Well, glad to have cleared THAT up. Moving along…
I didn’t really fool you there, did I? Especially since those of you who have been following the comments on this series closely undoubtedly immediately cried, “Wait, Gordon asked this toward the beginning of the series, and Anne sort of dealt with this later on. Perhaps she is trying, albeit clumsily, to drive home the point that good questions from readers help to expand the range of her posts.”
Well, I like to think so. However, looking back on the ways in which I wove the spirit of this question into this series, I’m not entirely positive that I ever answered its letter, so to speak. Now, I’m going to tackle it directly.
The direct answer: it depends.
To be specific, which way one should fall on the choice between devoting one’s bio to a chronological account of the highlights of one’s life as, say, an obituary might tell it (sorry, but it’s the obvious analogy) vs. creating the impression that every significant event in one’s life was leading inevitably to the writing of this book and no other depends largely upon several factors, including:
a) whether there are events in one’s life that are legitimately related to the subject matter of the book in question without too many logical leaps. If mentioning a particular life experience would tend to make you a more credible source, it’s usually to your advantage to include it in your bio, to differentiate yourself from any other yahoo who might just have been guessing what that particular experience was like.
Hint: “Writerly Q. Author visited the Statue of Liberty once,” when his protagonist passes through Ellis Island briefly in Chapter Two is a stretch; “Writerly Q. Author spent twenty years as a merchant marine,” when his entire plotline takes place on a pirate ship is not.
b) whether one has genuinely lead a life that would produce a couple of entertaining paragraphs, regardless of connection to the book. It never hurts to sound darned interesting in your bio.
However — and this is a big however in practice — writers of purely chronological bios often…how shall I put this delicately…overestimate the detail in which a rushed industry type might want to hear the life story of someone s/he has never met. Remember, Millicent reads a LOT of bios; keep yours snappy.
If you’re in doubt whether yours is leaning toward overkill, hand your bio to someone who doesn’t know you particularly well (having asked politely for his assistance first, of course; don’t just accost a stranger) and have him read it through twice. Buy the cooperative soul a cup of coffee, and around the time that your cup begins to seem light in your hand, ask your guinea pig to tell your life story back to you uninterrupted.
The points that he can’t reproduce without prompting are probably less memorable than the others.
c) in the lucky instance where both (a) and (b) are genuinely true, whether the wealth of interesting biographical detail threatens to render the connections to the book less memorable. When in doubt, lean toward the directly applicable; it’s more important information for the marketing department.
Everyone comfortable with that? Remember, the point of an author bio is not to tell your life story — that’s what post-publication interviews and memoirs are for, right? — nor to include all of the things that you would like total strangers who pick up volumes in a future bookstore to know about you. The goal in a submission bio is to make the case that you are an interesting person well qualified to have written the book in question.
Or, in the case of nonfiction, to write the book being proposed.
Everyone clear on the relevant distinctions? Good. Let’s move on to another question. Another long-term reader, Cerredwyn, wrote in to ask,
Does an author photo need to be a head shot?
No, it doesn’t — as long as you are identifiable (“That’s she, officer. That’s the author of the book!“) and the background isn’t too busy, you can certainly use a broader shot.
In fact, as our friend Elinor Glyn’s author photo for IT above shows, a head-and-torso shot is actually a bit more common on jacket flaps. However, 1/2, 3/4, and even full standing shots are not unheard-of. John Irving’s early works tended to have particularly hunky-looking shots from the waist up, for instance.
Not that I noticed as a teenager or anything. I was reading his books for the writing and the stories, I tell you.
If you’re having trouble deciding between different ranges of shot, spend some time in a well-stocked bookstore, taking a gander at the author photos published in books in your chosen book category within the last few years. If you notice an overall trend in styles, you’re not going to offend anyone by submitting something similar.
Oh, and speaking of styles, unless you have written something ultra-hip or happen to be a magazine writer (whose material by definition changes constantly), it’s usually not a great idea to dress in the latest fashion for your author photo — and it’s DEFINITELY not the time to sport a hairstyle that’s not likely to be around a decade hence.
Don’t believe me? Ask any 80s author who embraced a mohawk. Or Elinor Glyn, a decade after the photo above was taken.
Remember, if your book is successful, it will be gracing shelves in private homes, libraries, and book exchanges for even longer than it will be hanging out in Barnes & Noble. A too-trendy style will date the photo.
So as a general rule of thumb, adorning yourself for your photo with the expectation that the resulting photo will dog you for the rest of your natural life is a good plan.
A reader too shy to be comfortable with identification sent me an e-mail (which I generally discourage as a means of asking me follow-up questions on blog posts; leaving them as comments here means that everyone benefits from the answers) to ask:
“I’m all excited about my next book, but I’m marketing my first. Would it be completely tacky to mention what I’m working on now in my bio? What if the books are in different genres?”
It’s far from being tacky, Anonymous One; in fact, it’s downright common for a submission bio to end with a brief paragraph along the lines of:
Lincoln lives in Springfield, Illinois with his wife, eight sons, and golden retriever, Manifest Destiny. He is currently working on his second book, Hey! Where Are You Taking Half of My Country?, a comic memoir covering the Civil War years.
I sense some disbelief out there, don’t I? “Yeah, right, Anne,” I hear some of you scoff. “Stop pulling our collective legs. I’ve never seen an author bio that covers future work, or even unpublished work. Bios are always backward-looking, aren’t they?”
Actually, jacket bios that mentioned future projects used to be fairly standard; in the mid-70s, the last line of most bios was some flavor of Smith lives in Connecticut, where he is working on his next novel. Gradually, this has been falling out of fashion, perhaps because it implies some faith on the publisher’s part that Smith’s current release will sell well enough that they will WANT him to bring out another. (It’s probably not entirely a coincidence that this particular last sentence fell out of fashion at approximately the same time as multi-book contracts for first-time novelists.)
However, the author bio that an aspiring writer tucks into a submission packet and the one that ends up on a dust jacket are not the same thing — they are intended for the eyes of two different audiences, to create two different impressions. The dust jacket bio is promotional copy aimed at the reader, designed to pique interest and answer basic questions like why should I believe this guy’s NF account of life on the moon? The submission bio, by contrast, is designed to impress agents, editors, and their respective Millicents with the author’s claim to be an interesting person well qualified to have written the book in question.
Is there an echo in here? I could have sworn that I’ve heard that last bit somewhere before.
Because the submission bio is geared for industry-savvy eyes, mentioning completed book projects in categories other than the one to which the currently-submitted manuscript belongs (try saying THAT three times fast), as the Anonymous Questioner suggested, is a perfectly legitimate use of space. No need to hawk the other projects; simply mention the book category within the course of a single-sentence description that describes the project as still in progress. As in:
Now nicely recovered from his contretemps with an assassin, Garfield lives in retirement, working on his next book projects, a YA baseball romance and a historical retrospective of his own brief presidency.
Why would Pres. Garfield speak of his completed YA book as a work-in-progress? Strategy, my dears, strategy: it neatly sidesteps the question why isn’t it published?
Finally, reader Rose inquired some time ago:
I’m at a whole single-spaced page, no photo. I have a pro photo, recently taken, that looks great. Would it be better to reduce the bio and add the photo?
I’m querying for a novel, btw, and I’d been under the impression that you shouldn’t submit an author photo when trying to pitch one.
Contrary to the impression Rose has, by her own admission, picked up she knows not where, there is no hard-and-fast rule about whether a fiction writer’s submission bio should to include a photo. No Millicent who has found a submission engaging enough to read all the way to the last page, where the author bio lurks, is going to cast her latte aside in a petulant fit at the sight of a photo, screaming, “Oh, darn — now I have to reject it. I liked that manuscript, too.”
Not going to happen.
The reason photos are often not included in novelists’ bios is not because they’re unwelcome, but because the burden for gathering marketing materials prior to selling a novel has historically been significantly lower than for a NF book. (If any of you novelists doubt this, take a gander at a NF book proposal sometime; its many, many pages of marketing material will make you feel much, much better about writing only a query letter and a synopsis.)
If your photo is pretty ravishing, Rose, I say go ahead and include it. A nice photo does make the bio look a touch more professional, after all, and it’s never a BAD thing for an agent or editor to think, “Hey, this author is photogenic”
Even without the picture, though, it sounds as though Rose’s bio is a bit long for professional purposes: it’s usually one DOUBLE-spaced page, or 1/2 – 2/3 page single-spaced under a photo. Yes, one does occasionally hear agents these days mentioning that they’ve been seeing more single-spaced bios lately — but as I’ve virtually always heard this pronounced with a gnashing of teeth, I’m inclined to regard such statements as complaints.
Call me zany.
I’d stick to a more standard length. As with a query letter, when in doubt, err on the side of brevity. Believe me, if your bio is too short, the agent of your dreams will be only to happy to tell you so –after she signs you.
(Oh, she’s going to want you to change a lot of things after she signs you, no matter how much she initially loved your book or book proposal. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.)
One last thought on the subject before I sign off for the day: If, over the years I’ve been a book doctor and particularly over the 3+ years I’ve been answering questions online, someone had given me a nickel for every time an aspiring writer asked me whether the spacing or length of the bio — or query, or synopsis — REALLY mattered, I would have been able to build my own publishing house. I don’t mean that I would have been able to buy one — I mean that I would have been able to construct the necessary buildings and offices entirely out of coins.
Would it surprise you to hear that even after that many repetitions of the same question, my answer has never changed, no matter how much aspiring writers might have wished them to do so? Or that if I could wave my magic wand and remove all formatting requirements, I probably wouldn’t do it?
Why, I hear you gasp? Because when an author bio — or query letter, or synopsis, or manuscript — is properly formatted, the only bases for judging it have to do with the quality of the writing, the premise’s marketability, whether the professional reader likes it, and so forth.
You know, the bases upon which aspiring writers WANT to be judged.
So yes, agents really tend to hold aspiring writers to the standards of the industry, just as they hold their clients to them. (See earlier comment about one’s dream agent making demands upon one.)
As I’ve explained many, many times on this forum, they don’t do this to be mean; it’s just that when someone — like, say, Millicent the agency screener — spends hour after hour, day after day, month after month staring at manuscripts, she’s unlikely NOT to notice if one is formatted differently than the norm.
As in, for instance, an author bio that doesn’t look like the ones I showed you yesterday. Even if a single-spaced bio DOES indeed fit onto the requisite single page, thus meeting the bare minimum standard for professionalism, it’s not going to resemble the bios Millicent’s boss is sending out with her clients’ submissions.
Or at least, it probably will not. Naturally, as with any group of human beings, some agents have individual preferences that deviate from the industry standard — the source, I suspect, of Rose’s impression of unspecified origin — and if you can find out what these quirky desires are, you should definitely adhere to them in your submissions to that particular agent. It seldom pays, however, to assume that any one such preference is universal to the industry.
My point is, as annoying as it may be to bring your bios — and queries, synopses, and manuscripts — into line with the most common professional standards is so that Millicent may ignore the formatting and concentrate on what you are SAYING. Because, after all, your aim in your submission bio is not to cram as many facts as you can onto a single page, but to make the case that you are an interesting person well qualified to have written the book in question.
Yes, you have heard that somewhere before. See, I don’t recommend sticking to the general standards just to be mean, either.
Keep up the good work!
7 Replies to “Author bios, part VIII: and then there are those pesky loose ends”
I don’t know if my last post made it through — the blog software tells me that I’d posted, but I don’t see it. But I thought of another fine point that I don’t remember seeing here: the use of subtitles. How do you format a book’s subtitle in a manuscript? Is it set just like the title, in between the title and the “by” line? Or, like epigraphs, do they not belong in the manuscript? In your book, how did you do the subtitle?
In trying to find the answer to this online (where I saw nothing addressing the issue), I did see that some authors recommend title pages to be formatted thusly:
MY CENTERED TITLE
A novel by
(Those three lines are supposed to be centered.)
Anyway, could you comment on the whole use of the “novel” descriptor? Is it ok to do or not? And if your book is subtitled something like “A Saga Of A Great And Wonderful Life,” would you insert the subtitle in that “by” line? As in:
MY CENTERED NOVEL
A Saga Of A Great And Wonderful Life by
As always, many thanks!
This was the only comment of yours that posted today, Harvey.
I’ve added the topic the subtitle to my to-write list; I did a search, too, and I was kind of surprised to discover that I’d never discussed the issue of subtitles specifically. (So surprised that as soon as I finish typing this, I’m going to go back and look again.) That list is rather long, so I’m not sure when I’ll have time to write a post on it, but I’ll try to squeeze it in between series sometime soon.
In the meantime, you might want to check out some of the examples embedded in posts under the TITLE PAGES category on the list at right; I haven’t addressed the subtitle issue directly, but you will find relevant formatting information. The best place to start would probably be with the posts on how to format a title page I wrote last August: the most recent series begins here, with visual examples in this post.
I can tell you now, though, that you will not find an example of old-fashioned “A novel by” style of title page in either of those posts, because it is seriously out of date. So much so that although I have indeed seen it used, I haven’t seen a professional manuscript’s title page formatted in this manner for at least 15 years. And even the one 15 years ago was intended, if memory serves, as a parody of a 19th-century title page.
What you WILL find in the posts to which I’ve linked above — and this may be useful, if you’re planning upon pulling together a title page anytime soon — are clear (I hope) discussions and straightforward (I know) visual examples of precisely where the book category should go on a title page. That’s relevant here, because the real problem with the “A novel by” format is that the term novel is not a sufficient descriptor for a work of fiction, at least for professional purposes.
ANY work of book-length fiction could be described as a novel, after all; on a title page, the pros are looking for some indication of where that novel would sit in a bookstore.
So rather than teasing always-rushed professional readers with a non-specific declaration of non-fiction status, it’s considered only polite and sensible to tell the submitted-to what KIND of novel it is. Mystery? Adult Fiction? Science Fiction?
Your second example, “A Saga of a Great and Wonderful Life by,” isn’t so much a subtitle as marketing copy. You probably meant it as a joke, but I don’t want anyone reading this to get the impression that they may legitimately use the title page to sneak authorial self-praise under a professional reader’s eyes.
Why would it be a bad idea? Well, typically, agents and editors like to decide for themselves whether the story they’re reading at the moment is great and/or wonderful, so they tend to be wary when they see aspiring writers reviewing their own work. People do it all the time in query letters, for instance, which can lead to instant rejection.
The question of where to put an actual subtitle is a good one, though. Look for a post that deals with it, along with examples of title pages that use subtitles, in the weeks to come.
Thanks again for the great info.
Yes, the example I gave was a silly joke, but I did mean it in a serious way — as in, what to do with a subtitle, if you have one. When you write about this, I hope you mention your book “A Family Darkly” and whether or not you came up with the subtitle (“love, loss, and the final passions of Philip K. Dick”). I was trying to come up with a subtitle example to show what to do with it on the title page — as I said (and you discovered), nobody out there seems to talk about this!
I do plan on getting some queries out before Thanksgiving, so when I do I think I’ll just omit the novel’s subtitle for now.
Also, a note to think about: as new retrospective genres like “steampunk” become more popular, I wonder if more things that were once seen as “out of date” will become “in” again …
And finally, here’s my last post again. It’s a long, rambling one, I’m afriad — a lot of searching the guides out there and comparing to the fine advice offered here. I’d found (surprise!) that there’s a whole lot of contradictions out there in Queryland …
* * *
The more I pull at these loose ends, the more things seem to unravel.
Being a confessed typophile, I love dwelling over fine points concerning manuscript and submission format, but one thing that I’ve always found odd is that there never has been an official or authoritative guide to these standards and norms. If these things are the norm, if they’re standard, they should be quantifiable and we should be able to list them out and publish them, no?
While everyone seems to agree upon the basics (double spaced, ragged right, 25 lines a page), it’s all the details that seem to lack all consensus. In fact, as I look over all the interesting material you’ve covered in this series (the details of formatting a bio, synopsis, query letter, and manuscript), I’ve found conflicting answers concerning every issue that I’m interested in, leading to nothing but uncertainty and headaches and wasted hours.
For example, the italics and underline debate. I’ve found plenty of authors and agents who say to underline, while others say it doesn’t matter. I’ve found some who describe a “proper” manuscript as having the slug line on the *left*, and not the right (and my 20-year-old manuscript software does it that way, too). Some say no spaces around the two hyphens that you use for em dashes. Others say insert a pound sign (#) centered on a line of its own to indicate a section break (while some say to use “# # #” here), and (for a short story manuscript) use “# # #” to indicate the end (others insist that “-86-” is okay while still others say to use the two words you use to end a novel manuscript: “THE END”).
All this conflicting advice!
So … is there really a consensus right now, an official way of doing things, or is there some leeway in these finer details? Is the whole business in a state of transition?
I’m going to try and paste in a few links here to show you what I mean.
[Links edited out … I think the blog software doesn’t like posts containing them!]
These are all published authors or working agents or editors writing here … and when it comes to manuscript format, not one of them are on the same page!
Actually, the subtitle of my memoir (Love, Loss, and the Final Passions of Philip K. Dick) was the only part of the cover that I DID come up with myself, if one accepts the premise that my parents chose my name for me. (After checking that it looked good in print, incidentally. My father insisted that the attending nurse lead him to a typewriter before filling out the birth certificate form.) The publisher’s marketing department chose the primary title, over my vehement and repeated objections.
Honestly: what does A Family Darkly even MEAN? It reads as though it’s missing a verb — but the marketing department kept insisting that we had to pick a title that mirrored one of Philip’s books. (And they didn’t like my suggestion of Shade Runner, which I still think is pretty good.)
In answer to your questions about format, I’ve gone over the rules (and the logic behind them) quite extensively under the STANDARD FORMAT BASICS and STANDARD FORMAT ILLUSTRATED categories on the list at right, yet your questions are almost all about issues I address there explicitly, So I don’t understand why you bring up in your comment advice that I do NOT give — or at least why you don’t seem to be considering the advice I have given on these points for comparison.
Since I have posted what I consider an authoritative list, Harvey, I’m rather surprised to see you argue that no one has posted a list of rules. You’ll find MY list of rules that can be applied to any professional manuscript, along with full explanations for typophiles about the hows and whys. An individual agent or editor might want something slightly different as a matter of personal preference, but if an aspiring writer follows these rules, s/he will avoid all of the classic knee-jerk rejection pitfalls.
But I don’t think that’s actually your concern, if I’m understanding you correctly. You seem to be complaining to me that I — and everyone else to whom you have been looking for advice — haven’t gotten together at our own expense to decide on a single list of rules, so we could put ourselves out of business as advice-givers by boiling them all down to a single page and handing them to you along with a guarantee that they will never change again, ever.
The short answer is that it’s not our responsibility to cull all of the information out there; it’s our responsibility to present what we believe to be true. Since actual submission standards fluctuate very little (and almost always as the result of an individual agent or editor’s personal preference, not an industry-wide change of opinion), it just doesn’t make sense for someone like me who deals with professional manuscripts all day to track down what others might be saying about them. Since I have experience with what actually works, it would be a waste of my time.
As I’ve written in the posts I mentioned above, there are several reasons that it’s hard to find a single list of rules upon which everyone agrees. Often, an agent or editor will express a personal pet peeve at a conference, and a week later, it’s being reported all over the Internet as THE new standard. Often, too, individual writing teachers will come up with twists that they think make manuscripts seem fresher — but these, too, are usually spread by advocates outside the publishing industry, not within it.
The most important reason, I suspect, is that since professional book writers mostly adhere to the same rules, agents, editors, and contest judges tend to assume that anyone who is serious about writing for a living will have picked ‘em up somewhere. Which is a trifle difficult for someone who has never seen a professionally-formatted manuscript, admittedly.
That’s why I started posting the STANDARD FORMAT ILLUSTRATED series, to show why the difference between the norm and the deviations are so glaring to the pros.
So to answer your last question, no, the problem here is not that the industry’s standards are changing so wildly and rapidly that no one really knows what they are: it’s that they’re so common to professional writing that they’re self-evident to the pros. That commonality definitely represents a consensus, even if the writing ABOUT that consensus on the Internet doesn’t necessarily agree.
What seems to confuse people who don’t have regular, ongoing contact with the industry is that the rules haven’t ALWAYS been the same since Gutenberg first ramped up the printing press. Underlining was proper when writers worked on typewriters; most typewriters did not include italic typeface.
Word processing programs, however, do, so those are what are now standard for book and song titles, foreign words, and anything else that a writer might be tempted to underline. Period.
I used to be mystified by how confusing people seemed to find this logic, because it’s pretty cut-and-dried: things have changed over a hundred-year period. Now that a writer could not sell a manuscript professionally without providing a soft copy, as well as a hard copy, the underlining rule has simply been replaced with an italicization one with governed by identical logic.
Then I realized: quite a lot of the self-described expert advice for writers out there is still from the era of typewriters.
In short, if you see a list of formatting rules that insists that titles, etc., should be underlined, you should check if anything else on it is outdated. That’s a matter of the advice-givers NOT changing, not of the industry’s being in a continual state of flux.
Ditto with the # or * for section breaks: those are typewriter hangovers. Unless you are entering a contest that requires them (and many still do, not having changed their rules since typewritten manuscripts were the norm), the proper way to indicate a section break is by simply inserting a blank line of text.
There are many, many examples of this under the STANDARD FORMAT ILLUSTRATED category at right. For slug lines, tool. as well as the underline/italics debate, and the differences between standard format for manuscripts and short stories. I sympathize with your confusion, but since the relevant posts cover dozens of pages, it just doesn’t make sense for me to paraphrase all of that material again in the comments — or, since I write on this topic three times per year like clockwork, to rehash it in a midterm review. To render finding material I have already discussed as easy as possible, I have set up both a site search engine (located in the upper right corner of this page) and have established more than a hundred highly-specialized categories on the list at right.
I don’t mind answering follow-up questions on archived posts, but it honestly is better for everyone when readers post them in the comments under the STANDARD FORMAT categories, rather than on the current post, regardless of topic. That way, a reader going through the archives is far more likely to find the answers where s/he expects to find them.
Rest assured, my blogging program does alert me when readers post comments on past material. The comments are not searchable, so otherwise, future readers won’t find the answers I’ve posted today except if they happen to be interested in author bios.
As for trying to post links to other writing-advice blogs here so that I may perform a compare-and-contrast exercise, PLEASE do not do that. I understand that very literal-minded readers find it confusing that we do not all parrot identical advice all the time, but as I have explained many times here, it’s not my job to police the Internet to make sure that all the advice out there matches, nor would it be appropriate.
This is why — as I typically mention at the beginning of each series on standard formatting — I provide EXTENSIVE explanations of the logic behind everything I advise, even simple formatting directions. I don’t want any of my readers to have to wonder why they are implementing a particular change to their manuscripts, or to do it just because I say so.
To my mind, that’s far, far more valuable than simply posting a single-page list of requirements.
I want my readers to take my advice because they believe it to be useful. But to do that, a reader is going to have to have the patience to read through the archives to see what my arguments actually are.
So do read through those sets of posts, Harvey, and let me know if you’re still confused about how I address these points. Best of luck deciding whether you want to follow my advice or someone else’s.
Actually, Harvey, I’ve been looking back, and I haven’t covered standard format since mid-August. I’m just going to spend the next couple of weeks re-running that series, since so many readers seem to have such a hard time finding it. (If you have suggestions about how to label this material that would catch the neophyte eye more readily than any currently on the list, I’m all ears.)
It IS monumentally important, and this is a time of year when people are gearing up to submit again. Also, frankly, punching up an old series is a lot less time-consuming than writing one from scratch, and I’ve got 28 people coming over for Thanksgiving dinner.
So look for answers to your questions over the next couple of weeks, posted daily. If any particular point seems unclear, just go ahead and ask right away, and I’ll try to clarify it further. I’ll work specific answers about the page break issue (I don’t know that I’ve ever addressed the #, as opposed to the *) into the argument where appropriate.
I think you read the OP’s post wrong.
I linked Ellen Datlow’s recent commentary on underlines vs italics, ### vs space.
One might argue that Ms. Datlow is a “pro” in the “industry”, not someone “on the Internet”… did you ever send her a manuscript? What did she say to it?
Even without seeing the links of the OP, I think that’s the point he was trying to make.
I’m pretty sure I understood his point, Jim — he said he was confused because different people say different things about formatting, and he’s not sure whose word to take as gospel, if anyone’s. Perhaps I was wrong to take the concrete examples he gave as examples illustrating his overall concern, rather than treating those examples as the primary concern, but I don’t think so.
My point was that it’s a bad idea to take anyone’s word as gospel without understanding the logic behind what’s being recommended — regardless of who is recommending it, even me. (And incidentally, anyone who posts on the web is in fact someone posting on the web, by definition.) Treating any single opinion, however credible the source, as necessarily universal for the industry is seldom a good idea, because it’s not always clear what is a hard-and-fast rule and what is merely the source’s personal preference.
Which is why I referred him to my past extended series on the subject, rather than trying to address each and every specific issue he raised in his comment. Since I try to be very careful to explain the logic behind everything I recommend here, sending him to those posts made more sense than reproducing or paraphrasing dozens of posts’ arguments in the comments — where, as I point out above, they are not easily found by other readers with similar concerns.
In answer to your question about the lady to whose rant you linked, since I have been represented by an agent at a very well-respected agency for some years now (who, incidentally, would disagree violently with the rant), I don’t submit my own work. So no, I have not had the pleasure of submitting anything to her, and professional ethics prevent me from saying whether or not any of my many editing clients have done so. Looking at her bio, though, she seems to come from the magazine industry, which might go a long way toward explaining why our opinions differ: I’m talking about book manuscripts. Not being familiar with her work, however, I cannot say, but I entirely respect her right to express opinions different from mine.
I absolutely refuse, though, to engage in a public compare-and-contrast exercise with another advice-giver. It honestly doesn’t serve anyone’s interests to get involved in that sort of debate, since presumably everyone concerned is speaking based upon her personal experience. (It’s also a slippery slope: once one gets a reputation for engaging in inter-site debates, one often gets targeted by those wishing to draw traffic to their own sites by deliberately picking fights on better-traveled ones and posting links back to their own. It’s a subtle form of self-marketing.)
That being said, if I were an aspiring writer intending to submit to the lady you mention, I would certainly honor her requests. As I have said many times here, I ALWAYS recommend that if an agent, editor, and/or contest-running organization has taken the time to post specific preferences online for the benefit of those who wish to submit, it would be foolish to ignore those preferences — for submission to that agent, editor, or contest. But automatically generalizing to every other professional reader on the planet, no.