Break out the trumpets: it’s my 1,500th Author! Author! post

That’s right, campers: after six and a half years of keyboard-pounding, this is my 1,500th time sharing my thoughts on the rigors of the life literary in this forum. Even I’m kind of impressed. All the more so, because, let’s face it, my average post is about six times the length of most writing advice posts.

Hey, you know me. I hate to leave an argument in the middle.

I tremble to think how many of thousands of pages — configured as standard format for book manuscripts, of course — currently lie virtually nestled in my archives; as even the briefest glance down the category list located at the lower right-hand side of this page will demonstrate, we’ve covered a tremendous amount of conceptual territory together. (And thanks again, Dave McChesney — who, coincidentally, posted the first comment ever on my blog — for suggesting so many years ago that I break the categories down by probable readers’ questions. I think we’ve all been pretty happy with the results.) Kudos to those of you who have provided so many excellent questions over the years; as I like to say early and often, many of my best posts and series have sprung directly from individual readers’ thoughtful questions.

Before I begin to rhapsodize about what I have learned throughout the course of all of that mulling over the challenges of trying to break into the writing biz, though, I would like to pause for a moment to recognize the recent achievements of three members of the Author! Author! community. The road to publication can be a long and arduous one; if you’ll pardon my resuscitating yet another of my habitual tropes, I’m a firm believer in the value of writers’ celebrating one another’s triumphs along the way.

First, congratulations to Michael Stutz on the release of the second volume of Circuits of the Wind: A Legend of the Net Age trilogy from Confiteor Media. And such a gracious author, too: as you may have gathered from the snapshot above, my mailbox was gladdened recently by the unexpected appearance of Volume I, which Michael, a long-time member of the Author! Author! community, was kind enough to send me.

A practice I highly encourage, by the way. There are few aspects of blogging I enjoy more than announcing that one of my readers has a new book out. Especially a writer like Michael, who has been hanging out here in our little community for years.

It just goes to show you: it can be done, people. As proof, here’s a composite of the publisher’s blurbs for the first two books of Michael’s trilogy:

The Internet is everywhere now, but Ray Valentine saw it first explode.

CIRCUITS OF THE WIND is the story of Ray’s quest to find himself as he grows up wandering the computer underground…the wild, global outback that existed before the net went mainstream. How else does an end-of-century slacker reach out to the world from Sohola, that northern state that’s a little more Midwest than it is New England? The net holds the key to what he’s after…but even as he pioneers this virtual world, the veneer of his real life begins to crack.

VOLUME ONE of the CIRCUITS OF THE WIND trilogy follows a young Raymond from his ’70s childhood…and first gropings with the telephone…to the home computers and bulletin boards of the ’80s, where he leads a double life as a wanderer of the wires. But when even his virtual best friend unplugs, Raymond might have to leave it, too…because isn’t real life supposed to be offline?

In VOLUME TWO of the CIRCUITS OF THE WIND trilogy, the net arrives all glimmering when Ray is starting college: it’s brighter, quicker, better than he ever knew. It’s the early 1990s…a time of golden youth and of joyriding on the growing Internet, where he rises as a leader of the global generation, the ones who saw it as the gilded portal to a fabulous new age everyone was about to enter. But he’s coasting aimlessly…and when his college friends move on and fashions change he sees how real life actually might not be working out.

Sounds like hoot, eh? Well done, Michael. I’m looking forward to announcing your continued successes!

In other good news, please join me in a big round of applause for Wendy Russo, whose first novel, JANUARY BLACK, has recently been acquired by Crescent Moon Press. I couldn’t be more delighted for you, Wendy!

If Wendy’s title sounds familiar, it may be because she was brave and generous enough to have shared her ultimately extraordinarily successful query letter with us back in, appropriately enough, January. I can’t resist sharing the book description for this genuinely yummy-sounding YA science fiction novel:

Sixteen-year-old Mars resident Matty Ducayn is a disappointment to everyone who knows him. As the son of The Hill’s commandant, he is expected to conform to a strict, unspoken code of conduct. Small acts of defiance over years — like playing in the dirt and walking on the grass — have earned him a reputation for being unruly, but it’s his sarcastic test answers that finally get him expelled from school. Instead of punishing him, though, King Hadrian offers him a diploma with a catch: before he can graduate, he must solve the mystery of the vanished Januaries.

With the help of Iris, a gardener on his father’s staff, Matty takes his search beyond The Hill’s walls — and tightly controlled media — into a world rife with contention, greed, and crime. But trying to crack the code sets him on a collision course with the Janus Law, a royal decree that mandates death to those who enter a forbidden garden. Has Hadrian set him up from the beginning to fail?

I’m really looking forward to announcing the book’s release, Wendy. Best of luck with the publication process!

While we’re lighting the bonfire for one another’s achievement, I’d also like to clash a few cymbals on behalf of frequent guest blogger, hilarious author, and all-around great guy DIE LIKE A GIRL, has recently been released for Kindle. Kudos, Jonathan!

Jonathan is, for my money, one of the funniest writers of his generation, and I don’t care who hears me say it. His first novel, THE PINBALL THEORY OF APOCALYPSE, made me laugh so hard on an airplane that two flight attendants came running down the aisle, convinced I was having a seizure. My subsequent dramatic reading of the scene in question caused fliers in first class to wonder if a riot had broken out in coach.

I’m just saying: the guy’s funny; there’s a reason I keep blandishing him to give us all advice on the art of writing comedy. (As he did, say, here, here, and here.) Here’s the publisher’s blurb for his most recent opus:

Fiona Blacklock sells drugs. Not the hard stuff, but a rare hybrid strain of thousand-dollar-an-ounce marijuana called Biodiesel. Given that she lives in the left-wing Mecca of Portland, Oregon, the cops mostly just look the other way…if they’re not looking to score a little herb themselves.

Sure, she’s fifty grand in debt to a psychopathic loan shark named Barry the Hippie, but other than that, it’s really not a bad gig…that is, until she agrees to take emo pop star Finn “The Well-Coiffed Penis” Jameson along on a drug deal so that he can research a new indie film role. A drug deal that goes very very wrong.

Now Fiona has to figure out who set her up, who’s blackmailing who, where to environmentally dispose of a disemboweled corpse, how to seduce the single most attractive man in Hollywood…and, most importantly, whom to kill next.

I’m bringing up these three talented writers’ recent triumphs not only to cheer for them — although, naturally, that too — but as a springboard to talking about some of the things I enjoy most about writing this blog. I get to teach writers like Wendy how to refine their queries, to help get their writing in front of the people who can take it to publication: I quite like that. I get to encourage writers like Michael to keep pressing forward until they see their work in print: I’m very fond of that. And, perhaps most gratifying of all, I get to bring gifted writers like Jonathan Selwood to the attention of a fine group of people who, I have it on the best authority, really like to read.

That’s all been pretty fabulous, I must say. But if I’m honest about it — and now that I’ve launched headlong into this sentence, I suppose I shall have to be — none of these things were what I had anticipated doing when I started blogging six and a half years ago. And certainly not at such great length.

Actually, I had to be talked into starting a blog at all. When I was initially approached by the Pacific Northwest Writers’ Association, at the time the nation’s largest group aimed at furthering the ambitions and fostering the skills of previously-unpublished writers, to be the Resident Writer on its website, I was a bit nonplused. Yes, I had been editing books for decades at that juncture; yes, I had started proofing galleys in middle school; yes, I did regularly teach writing and marketing classes for writers; yes, a chapter of my dissertation was about the potential for fictional accounts to change political discourse.

But coming up with practical advice for writers on a several-times-per-week basis? I was positive that the inspiration well would run dry in a month.

Yes, yes, I know: these days, I often spend a month of posts on a sub-sub-topic of querying. My will to communicate turned out to be pretty strong.

It also turned out that an astonishingly high percentage of what I had learned by osmosis through the simple expedient of growing up in a literary family — forebears on both sides have been publishing pretty regularly since the 1920s; I learned to type on Henry Miller’s hand-me-down typewriter — was, to put it mildly, a big, ugly, and frequently frightening mystery to hundreds of thousands of aspiring writers out there. And since many of those murky matters were — and remain — self-evident to those who handle book manuscripts for a living, not only did it not seem to occur to many pros to blog on those subjects; when I began blogging, it was relatively rare even to hear the practicalities to which I have devoted most of my posts here discussed at writers’ conferences.

You should have heard what my mother said when I first broke that last bit of news to her. Her gasp could be heard on the other side of the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

To be perfectly frank, I was pretty flabbergasted, too. The first time a reader wrote in to ask whether the slug line went in the header or on the first line of every page, I must admit that I laughed for about fifteen minutes straight. Yet it’s not at all an unreasonable question; it simply is not a question that would ever arise amongst people who handled professional manuscripts for a living.

That’s right, campers: as incredible as it seems, before that valiant reader worked up the courage to ask that basic question, I hadn’t truly understood that the overwhelming majority of aspiring writers out there had never seen a professionally-formatted manuscript. Or a book proposal. Or — and I can’t believe this was news to me — a query letter.

Had I mentioned that my learning experience on Uncle Henry’s typewriter sprung from my parents’ insistence that I write the first and only draft of my 5th-grade term paper on the Bonus March in standard manuscript format? “You’re going to be writing in that format for the rest of your life,” my father reasoned, “so you might as well get started now.”

History proved him right, of course, but at the time, it didn’t even occur to me to point out that it was in fact possible for a human being to glide throughout the entirety of the great path from birth to death without writing a book. I’d met so few adults who hadn’t.

“Oh, yes, you did,” my mother hastens to point out now. “We introduced you to a lot of painters and sculptors, too. We didn’t want to stifle any potential avenue of creativity.”

I’m bringing this up not only because I can’t possibly have been the only little girl in human history who thought the question, “What do you want to be when you grow up, honey?” actually meant “How do you plan to support yourself while you struggle through your first four or five novels’ sluggish sales?” — I can’t remember being so young that I didn’t know that literary fiction seldom makes serious money — but because in the course of my career as a writer, I’ve never met an agent or editor who was surprised by my strenuously literary upbringing.

Oh, their eyebrows may have twitches skyward when they found out that John Steinbeck wrote a book about my father, or that I had stopped writing science fiction because Philip K. Dick told me that there was no money in it. Mostly, though, the pros have just seemed to take it for granted that any serious novelist or memoirist would already have amassed my level of practical knowledge of how publishing works by the time her writing reached their doorsteps.

If writing this blog and interacting with my readers has taught me anything, though, it’s that nobody is born knowing this stuff. And that’s sad, because plenty of extremely talented writers’ work gets rejected every day simply because they don’t know the ropes. Or even that there are ropes to learn,

So I have devoted the last six and a half years to teaching those new to climbing those ropes how to tie a few sailors’ knots. Turns out that’s a pretty complex set of lessons.

It must be: after posting 1,500 times about them, I still feel that I have quite a bit to say. And I hope that quite a few more writers like Michael, Wendy, and Jonathan will continue to provide me with the impetus, inspiration, and darned good questions to help keep me going.

I could, I suppose, conclude here with my oft-repeated admonition to keep the aforementioned good questions coming — believe me, if you’ve been wondering about a writing, querying, or submission issue, thousands of other writers have been as well. You do them, and me, a favor by asking. (If you’re looking for instant answers, though, you might want to take a quick barefoot run through the list of topics on the archive list at right; since I have been at this for a while, it’s actually not all that uncommon for people to ask questions upon which I’ve written entire month-long series.)

I would like to close this festive post by thanking all of you for something else this blog has given me, a benefit I have seldom mentioned even in passing before. When I first started blogging, my interest was at least in part self-promotional: I had a memoir coming out six months later. Although these days, it’s standard for publishers to advise authors to establish blogs in anticipation of their books’ releases, it was rare back then; I had to talk both my agent and my editor out of actively protesting against my devoting writing time to it.

“What makes you think,” a source that shall remain nameless in my publisher’s marketing department asked, “that there’s any overlap at all between your book’s target audience and your blog’s?” It was news, apparently, that people who write are often people who read. Or that people who read online might conceivably ever read anything else.

Seems crazy now, doesn’t it? Today, one of the first sentences a first-time author hears after placing pen to contract is, “Okay, you know that you have to build up your web presence, right?”

Back in 2004, however, the concept of an author deliberately setting out to make a place for herself online was still a relatively new and daring one; people kept asking me how I could possibly build name recognition unless I was writing on my own website, as I began to do a year later. That’s a long story, though, and not a particularly interesting one.

To cut to the chase, as a good editor should: a couple of weeks after I began blogging, I learned that my publisher had been threatened by a lawsuit over my memoir. The figure mentioned, if memory serves, was $2 million. Not because it was factually inaccurate, mind you — as far as I know, the threateners never asked my publisher for any content changes — but because I had written it at all. And while such threats are far from unusual from the kith and kin of memoirists, the kith in question happened to have millions of dollars at their disposal.

The publication process, as you might imagine, came to a screeching halt. While it has lurched forward and backward a few times since, six and a half years later, the book still has not come out. (Which renders the used copy still offered on Amazon something of a mystery; as not even review copies were ever released, I can’t imagine of what it consists. It purports to be in very good condition, though.)

Again, I’m not bringing this up for the reasons you might think: I’m quite confident that eventually, both new and used copies of the book will be available. I was not brought up to give up on a manuscript, especially an important story that happens to be true. And, if I do say so myself, pretty funny.

I’m bringing it up because I owe a debt of gratitude to those of you who read and commented upon the blog during the early years, when writing it was practically the only respite I got from an ever-more-chaotic publishing experience. There were days when trying to make the curvy road to publication comprehensible to those new to it seemed like the only reasonable human exchange I had. I found it very soothing, being able to take my small, continual stand for making this a better world for everyone who has a story to tell.

And that, in case any of you had been wondering, is how I developed my blogging voice, admittedly an unusual one for a writing advice blog. Rather than present this sometimes depressing and opaque subject matter — hey, nobody ever said getting a book into print was easy, at least no one who had any practical experience in the matter — in the more common authoritarian or despairing tones, I decided to write about it in an upbeat, humorous manner. I felt I owed it to my readers not to let the horror of what was going on with my book creep into our discussions of how to help yours.

You have no idea how difficult that was sometimes in those first couple of years. At least, I hope you don’t, if I did my job well. And it’s become difficult again over the last couple of years, since my car crash. But as my grandmother used to say, “If you can’t be happy, try helping someone else. Or writing a book about it.”

So thank you, campers, for providing me with the impetus, inspiration, and, yes, unexpected questions, to keep showing up here to be upbeat about the often-mystifying ways of the publishing world. Especially to those of you who have been reading since the beginning. You have helped turn what started out as a column into a community — and for that, I am exceedingly grateful.

Next time, I shall wrap up Queryfest; I may be hardened by experience to being upbeat about the difficulties of the querying process, but hey, I’m only human. Keep up the good work!

15 Replies to “Break out the trumpets: it’s my 1,500th Author! Author! post”

  1. Yey for Wendy! I see her often enough on the CMP message boards.

    *throws glitter confetti* Congrats on your 1500 post, Anne!

    1. Thanks, Kate! And yes, Wendy is a very strong member of the online writing community — I love it when those who have paid their dues see their hard work rewarded!

  2. Congratulations on 1500 posts! As someone who has gleaned invaluable wisdom from your blog, I thank you for the time and effort you’ve put in over the years!
    This seems like a good time to ask you about a recent post on Janet Reid’s blog, wherein she reveals what she believes to be proper page-number formatting: bottom right footer. (I voted upper left, along with title and last name, as I learned from you a while back). Any thoughts?
    {link removed}
    Thanks Anne!

    1. Thanks, Mara. Before I launch into what I suspect is going to be a quite lengthy and serious response to the second part of your comment, let me give the short, flippant answer for those in a hurry: yes, I really did mean what I said every time I have written about pagination on this blog. Trust me, if I had any reason to believe that standard format for book manuscripts had actually changed, I would be shouting from the rooftops about it.

      If you have questions on any specific point I made in any of the dozens of posts on the subject, I’d be happy to answer them — if you posted them there. That’s purely a matter of convenience for future readers: that way, we maximize the chances that someone interested in this issue will find the response to your question. Everyone win.

      That being said, here’s the long answer. I’m sure that your intentions were only of the best in asking me to follow that link, but I’m afraid that I have not followed it, a necessary prerequisite to the compare-and-contrast exercise that a full response would entail, on general principle. In fact, I’ve had to remove the link. Not because it wasn’t a link to an appropriately writing-oriented discussion, but because it’s against the rules for posting comments on this blog. For that same reason, I shall have to decline your under-other-circumstances-quite-reasonable request to share my thoughts on what another professional advice-giver said in another context. I don’t fault your having posted that request in the comments on this post: you were probably trying to suggest a good question for a future post, rather than asking me to answer it in the comments (which are not searchable by readers) on a post about another topic entirely (and thus not one that anyone seeking an answer to this particular question is likely to stumble upon).

      As you may not have noticed, though, I do not use my blog as a forum for debating what specific other writing advice-givers say. I have a policy against posting replies here to what other writing bloggers post elsewhere. Now that I’ve gone back to check, though, I see that the posted guideline does not give a particularly extensive explanation. Here it is:

      3. Please do not ask me to go to other blogs or websites to compare advice I give with what they say, or post excerpts from their content in my comments. It is not fair to either party, and unless you have explicit permission to reproduce somebody else’s writing, I do not give permission for you to post it here.

      So here’s the explanation. I know that some readers like it when we squabble, but I think it is seldom productive — yes, even though there are plenty of well-known bloggers who have been known to stir up controversy with an intramural debate like this for years. It may be good for web traffic, but in my experience, it tends to confuse readers about the actual policy being discussed. And while we are speaking of fairness, it is not fair to readers to expect them to read both sides. (If you don’t mind my saying so, it’s also not especially fair to expect me to make the extra time in my daily schedule to follow a link like this. Blogging is a volunteer gig, after all.)

      Furthermore, in cases like this, launching into a critique of another advice-giver’s work would imply — wrongly — that matters of professional formatting are subjects of regular debate amongst those of us who deal with manuscripts on a daily basis. That’s seldom the case; the only speculation I’ve heard about pagination in the last decade amongst those who handle books for a living has concerned where aspiring writers get such odd ideas about it. We have no reason to discuss it otherwise. As much as relatively straightforward matters of manuscript presentation are bruited about amongst non-professionals on the Internet — often without mentioning that standard format for books is not the same as standard format for short stories — proper formatting is simply expected in publishing circles.

      Deviations from it are irritating to people who read manuscripts for a living, so changes are rare. Again, trust me: I would not be the only one shouting about them from the rooftops. Any unexpected element on the submission page slows down the reading process.

      Translation: it distracts from the writing itself, an eventuality time-consuming for the pro and not especially positive for the submitter. So why on earth would either side want how books appear on a page to change with any frequency? While the advent of the personal computer did necessitate a few minor alterations in a previously typewriter-assuming format, those changes happened mostly back in the 1980s: hardly breaking news, you must admit. Admittedly, formatting in published books has shifted somewhat since, for economic and tree-conservation reasons, but as I point out virtually every time I discuss formatting here, those changes have not, by and large, been reflected in how agents and editors expect book manuscripts to appear in submissions. It’s not as though printing a book involves just opening the document in Word and hitting PRINT, after all.

      In my experience, then, when an online advice-giver expresses a non-standard formatting preference, Millicent, her boss, and the editors to whom they submit tend to find out about it not from professional sources, but because thousands of queries or submissions suddenly show up exhibiting that change. In the past, they have reported finding this mystifying; no one they knew approved it. Once folks in publishing started realizing that one at the time extremely popular blog was the source of many of these alleged sea changes, there were a few years where even mentioning it in front of an agent or editor would elicit an eye roll and a litany of muttering about abuse of power. Unfortunately, though, even though that pretty close to universal response did prompt some conscientious agents to start their own blogs aimed at debunking some of the online myths, the publishing industry did not at any time issue retractions.

      Why would they? It’s not as though they had ever announced a change in the first place.

      And that’s was the response when a well-established agent was issuing the pronouncements in question; most of the ostensible changes one sees advised online did not start life as recommendations from an authoritative source. That’s especially likely to be the result when the change in question seems to be a matter of importing formatting standards from another form of writing and applying them to book manuscripts. It’s not always the rule-promulgator in question’s fault, either: if one talks about a short story formatting rule in a manner that does not make it clear to every reader that it is not equally applicable to other forms of writing, such as book manuscripts or proposals, for instance, it’s fairly predictable that some writers will just assume that all writing should be formatted identically.

      But that doesn’t mean that the book publishing industry — or, by extension, most agencies — have changed their standards; it merely means that somebody out there thinks they should. Surely, each branch of publishing has the right to establish and maintain its own norms for submission.

      And that’s why, as you may have noticed, I’m really quite careful about not making new formatting policy: I stick to what I know is in current use, rather than my personal preferences. I also explain the heck out of my reasoning for advising what I advise. You already know where I stand on pagination, so this is probably redundant for you, but I would urge anyone curious about standard format and the logic behind what is in fact an industry norm and not a matter of personal preference to read the explanations and many, many page shot examples under the HOW TO FORMAT A BOOK MANUSCRIPT category on the archive list at right. It also might be helpful to take a look at a couple of the posts and examples under the SLUG LINES ILLUSTRATED posts under the MANUSCRIPTS AND HOW TO FORMAT THEM PROPERLY heading.

      Yes, that will take some reading, but there’s a reason I provide such extensive explanations: my readers are smart. Certainly too smart not weigh my suggestions against what others recommend. As I say frequently throughout those very formatting posts, I don’t want you to do anything to your query, synopsis, or manuscript just because I say so. I should have to make a case for it — once. if you feel that another source has a better argument, I would encourage you to follow that advice. Just make absolutely sure that you know why it’s a good idea, and in what context you should apply it.

      What does that mean with respect to your question? Well, for me, it means that it’s not an especially pressing issue. I have no reason to question my own advice on pagination; what I recommend is not only what my agency expects, my clients’ agencies demand, everyone’s editors are used to seeing, and in accordance with the published rules for virtually every literary contest that accepts book-length entries — it’s also essentially identical to how slug lines have been formatted since the 1950s.

      I understand why it might be confusing to hear two different opinions on the subject, however. My suggestion would be to double-check that the advice-giver intended this advice as universal to all writing, limited to short stories and magazine article submissions, or as a dictum on standard format for book manuscripts. Or as advice for every submission, every time, rather than a preference for what she would like to see arriving on her desk.

      If it’s the latter, by all means, give it to her, but do a bit more research about what other agents want before making the same changes in what you send them. Allow me to repeat something else I say early and often here: if an agent takes the time to express a non-standard preference about how s/he would like prospective clients to send manuscripts, it’s only polite to follow it — for that submission only. The agent may well have a good reason for asking, you know. It’s not unheard-of for an agency to try to make its clients’ manuscripts more distinctive by having them share one or two non-standard elements; my agency, for instance, submits its clients’ book proposals to editors in gray folders, rather than the standard black. But that doesn’t mean that they believe gray is the new industry standard; it’s merely how they brand themselves.

      So while it’s a good idea to pay attention to what an agent says s/he wants, I would urge you to let that information dictate your submissions to that agent only, and only for the type of submissions s/he was discussing when s/he expressed that preference, rather than generalizing it as if it were common to every agent currently in practice. I realize that it may be tempting to believe that information is a behind-the-scenes insight that will help you elsewhere, but you would be astonished how often it is not. Or that it turns out the agent in question was not talking about book manuscripts at all, but — and again, I don’t know if it’s the case here, but it would make some sense — short story or article submissions.

      Which, again, is not a research project I believe it would be appropriate for me to perform and present here. Even if it were meaningful to discuss page number location as if it were a separate issue from slug line placement (it isn’t, in a book manuscript), a direct compare-and-contrast exercise that did not present both sides in their entirety would not be fair. Also, in my experience (and again, another pro’s may well have been different), oversimplifying formatting issues tends to confuse those new to book publishing. It’s a complex system of rules, far too much so to be reduced to a short list of barked commands.

      And will you pardon me if I add that personally, I just don’t like questions like this? Not because I mind when readers want clarification of rules (I encourage that) or that I perceive it as a challenge to my expertise (I think my record speaks for itself), but because pitting one expert directly against another so often distracts from the actual question at stake. I don’t think it helps aspiring writers to pretend that there is one single, monolithic authority on all types of writing, ever — which is the underlying assumption of inter-expert arguments, right?

      I don’t claim to be giving advice for every writer everywhere, just for those hoping to submit book-length manuscripts and proposals to US-based agents and editors. To that end, I welcome readers’ questions about principles, practice, and their own writing experiences, but please don’t expect me to respond to every alternative piece of advice posted on the web. It’s not what I do here.

      Honestly, it isn’t in my readers’ interest that I should, especially on matters of manuscript formatting. Since the standards have not in fact changed for quite some time, a conversation predicated upon the assumption that they are in flux is not, in my estimation, a helpful chat to have in public. It’s not, after all, a surprise to any of us who write on these matters that there are conflicting opinions out there, even on time-honored standards. Yet many, many aspiring writers assume that it’s not only news to us, but that our first impulse will be to want to battle about it to settle the issue forever.

      Yes, yes, I know: it would be nice for those looking for quick answers if there were only one opinion posted online, but no amount of online debate has the power to change expectations in publishing houses — which is what would have to happen for standard format for manuscripts to undergo a radical alteration, by the way. Frankly, since I’m not the one suggesting writers embrace such alterations — or, as is astonishingly common, implying that all professional writing does or should adhere to a single standard — I don’t think it’s my responsibility to explain changes I have not seen taking place in the industry. Nor am I comfortable trying to reproduce the arguments of those who do.

      That’s important: as reproducing the underlying logic accurately would be the first step to arguing against it, that would naturally entail my taking the time to read everything those other advice-givers had written on the subject. Please believe me when I say that I get far too many of these requests every year to respond to them with the background research a reasonable compare-and-contrast post would require. I have too much respect for those publishing professionals who take the time out of their busy schedules to share their insights with aspiring writers to blog about what they say without doing them the courtesy of reading more than one post first. Or, as tempting as it may be, to argue with a single piece of advice taken out of context.

      And, naturally, I would expect them to extend the same courtesy to me. If that isn’t always how other advice-givers choose to respond, well, that doesn’t mean I’m going to change what I believe to be a policy essential to positive public discussion of writing issues.

      So while I applaud your community-spirited impulse to want to raise this issue for debate, my personal preference is always for readers’ own questions and concerns, rather than those they find on other professionals’ sites. It may be less exciting this way, but I really do feel that it has more integrity.

      Clearly, you’ve touched a nerve here, and I’m sorry if this response seems over-vehement. Please be aware, though, that asking a blogger you like to go after another can have some pretty high costs, especially if (hypothetically, of course) the one you would like to see challenged has a (purely theoretical, naturally) well-established track record of taking such challenges as an invitation for (I’m not referring to anything specific here) vicious subsequent backlash. The intensity of some of those (alternate reality) responses have left those of us who just want to help aspiring writers without extraneous drams a bit wary about rising to challenges like the one you propose. But believe me, that doesn’t mean that any of us are sitting up nights, fretting about whether assertions like the one you cite have the power to change how we have all been formatting book manuscripts for years.

  3. Congratulations, Anne, on post #1,500. You not only serve as a remarkable resource, but as a virtual hand-holder and cheerleader as we all venture down the writing path.

    I personally appreciate the feedback you’ve provided me over the last several years. I promise not to let all that great advice go to waste.

    1. And I take that promise, Jennifer! I’m really looking forward to the day when I can announce that your story is hitting bookshelves everywhere.

  4. Congratulations Anne! What a remarkable achievement! I am grateful to you for sharing your knowledge and experience with us all. Because of you, I become a better writer everyday.

  5. If I was the first to comment, I shouldn’t miss the opportunity to chime in with congratulations for post #1500! Should you need something more than trumpets, I suggest a highland pipe band!

    1. I can’t even begin to imagine how deafening that would be, Dave! I once worked in an office with a bagpipe player who liked to surprise people on their birthdays. She was a wonderful player, but unfortunately, she liked to warm up in the basement first. So it became a birthday tradition for the celebrated to pretend to be astonished by the opening bars of Amazing Grace, after having heard excerpts from it wafting up the stairs for the previous half-hour.

  6. Excellent web site. A lot of useful info here. I am sending it to several buddies ans additionally sharing in delicious. And certainly, thanks on your sweat!

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