Every now and then I need to take a break from social media—well, Facebook. Let’s face it, it’s mostly Facebook that this sort of thing occurs with enough frequency and depth that it becomes intolerable. See, someone, a writer, posted this article about people who still double space following a period, along with a comment that anyone who gets bent out of shape about this should get a life (to paraphrase). Of course, a couple of other writers chimed in to agree.
This conflict isn’t new. What I find most irritating about it is the number of writers who insist, hey, that’s how they learned to type and they’re not going to change just because it annoys some people. Here’s the thing: who is it going to annoy but editors and publishers? Perhaps some readers if, by chance, editors and publishers don’t correct it?
When I see/hear writers going on like this, what I really see/hear is someone telling me, an editor and publisher, that they don’t care what I think, nor do they care about my time. Which is interesting because, presumably, these writers are submitting their work to editors and publishers like me, hoping to get published (as a writer, that’s what I do). So, what kind of message is that to send to people from whom you want something?
So, like an idiot, I posted that. I also pointed out that this annoying, outdated “habit” (I’m not sure how habitual something is that you’re deliberately refusing to change) is one of a thousand things editors have to deal with, and those things add up. Which is what makes them so irritating. By themselves, they’re nothing. But many little things ball up into a larger, more unwieldy things. And when you’re a small press and you haven’t got six copy editors in the wings ready to run their eyeballs over every MS four times each, these things are a distraction from the bigger, important things.
And then here she comes—Ms. Relatively Well-Known, Well-Published Writer—to say that it’s not a big deal to fix, so whatever. And, again, like an idiot, I reiterate that little things add up. And really, easy fixes don’t change this shitty attitude from writers. She then proceeded to roll out her publication CV—twelve novels, three hundred other bits and pieces—in order to illustrate that not a single editor ever complained about her double spaces. And, no pro editor would.
No pro editor would.
Now, that’s pretty insulting. So, I say, so much for conversation and let her know that she could just reholster that ego of hers. Note: I honestly could not possibly care less how much you’ve published, where you’ve published. I don’t care about your awards and your nominations. (And none of these things make you an expert on being an editor.) I don’t care to begin with, but I am especially not apt to care when you’re parading them around for the sole purpose of trying to belittle someone who don’t even know for expressing an opinion. Not to mention…I didn’t say I complain to my writers, nor that I contact every sender of a sloppy MS just to let them know how irritating their double spaces are. I simply said that this kind of attitude—the attitude that writers would rather die, apparently, than attempt to change their typing habits, not just to make editors happy, but just to enter this Brave New World of publishing where, alas and alack, we actually require only a single space—doesn’t send a good message.
She then insisted that it was I who had the ego, because I interpret this backward typing behavior as a personal slight.
I couldn’t be bothered to point this out in the thread, because who has the time or the patience to interact with someone who 1) waves her pub credentials around as if they’re relevant, and 2) may be a writer, but isn’t much of a reader (I assume if she was, she’d have gotten the point of my original comment). But I’d like to lay it out here because I think it might be helpful.
I don’t interpret sloppy MSs as a personal slight. I’m perfectly aware that writers aren’t fucking up their own MSs just so they can piss off Kriscinda Lee Everitt. But here’s how I do interpret them: When I see a sloppy manuscript (including those with double spaces following a period, because this is so common and so standard at this point, you really have to wonder about the people who still do it), I see a writer who can’t be bothered to learn and implement some pretty elementary stuff. I’ve seen (many) MSs that look as if they were crapped out quickly, skimmed (if that), and actually sent as a submission, with the expectation, I can only assume, that the editor’s job is to wipe their ass now that they’ve “finished.”
So, let me clear that up right here. An editor’s job is not to wipe your ass.
When I’m looking for stories, I’m looking for great writing, great storylines, and often that is hard to see when you have to look past all this…mess. Now, imagine this—we’re trained to see the things that many people will gloss over. We spend hours and hours, page after page, searching character to character, looking for mistakes. So, when we’re presented with a MS that is a mess from beginning to end, it’s like an overload of all those tiny things, all at once. That’s what we see. We’re not being picky when we insist on reasonably clean MSs. When you give us your amazing story and the MS is a mess, it’s like asking us to look out upon some majestic vista and then flashing a blinding red light in our eyes every thirty seconds. It doesn’t matter how lovely the view is, we can barely see it. We’re trying, but it’s really hard.
Frankly, it’s hard even to try when it’s perfectly clear that the writer didn’t. It’s hard to care about someone’s work when it’s obvious that the writer doesn’t care about yours. And it’s downright impossible to feel enthusiastic about someone’s writing when you can see them on Facebook basically telling you to eat their shit sandwich and like it.
It’s not about ego. It’s about a mutual respect. And I don’t have a problem tossing someone’s story after the first page if that person didn’t have enough respect for me or my publication to not send me a MS that looked like a monkey typed it and expected to be taken seriously. It’s not personal. But writers, when you do this, you are sending a message.
And to be totally straight with you—I’m not entirely sure how writers can write and really call themselves writers when they don’t know the basic rules of grammar, can’t spell common words, don’t know how to use an apostrophe, and yes, can’t even re-train themselves on something so mechanical and simple as typing one single fucking space following a period.* We don’t say this because we prefer it. Because we like it better. Because, damn it, we’re demanding some arbitrary sacrifice on your end of it because we’re a bunch of assholes. It’s because it needs to be a single space. If it’s a double space, it will have to be changed. Why on earth would you put it there when you know it will have to be changed? Is it some collective writerly spite against editors and publishers? And for what? Because of our unforgivable desire to publish your writing? Is it our disgusting yearning to focus our energy on your prose, your story, your characters, etc. rather than go blind correcting every little mistake you either put in accidentally (totally fine) or insist on deliberately inserting for no apparent good reason?
We’re terrible people. I know.
So, that’s the bad. Here’s the good. Here’s what I can extrapolate from a reasonably clean MS. When I see a nice, clean MS, I am confident that the writer is taking his/her craft seriously and respects themselves, me, and my job enough to show it. It’s the difference between showing up to the job interview clean and presentable, or unshowered, unshaven, and wearing stretch pants. As I was determined to acquire the skills I needed as an editor, to become a good editor, they, too, have been willing to put in the time and effort to present themselves and their work in a professional, wonderfully readable manner. They’re not screwing around—they are serious and serious about working with you. They’re not likely to be a pain in the ass come actual editing time following the acceptance of their piece. They’re probably pretty good with deadlines, too. Those MSs, I can simply…read. I can clearly see their story, their characters, their subtext isn’t lost underneath a pile of superficial crap. It’s magical.
Let me repeat: An editor’s job is not to wipe your ass. I’m an adult. Presumably you are also an adult. And we’re both supposed to be professionals. I am one when I read. Are you one when you send your work to be read?
We’re there to work with you. We’re there because we want your amazing fucking stories. We’re taking this seriously (I certainly am), and yes, we do expect you to take it seriously as well. Because if you don’t, it doesn’t really make much sense that we’d take you seriously. Nor your work. And no, this isn’t personal. It’s strictly professional.
But what do I know? I’m clearly not a “pro.” See, pro editors, I’ve just learned, never complain. No…wait. That’s simply not true. Even pro editors complain. Quietly, maybe to other editors. But they’re not going to complain to you. They’re either going to bite the bullet and clean up your mess (before they can even get to work on your piece), or they will just toss it in the can and send you your rejection. We will also make fairly innocuous comments suggesting that perhaps going on in a public space about your basic contempt for people who give a shit about writing, doesn’t send the very best message if you want to publish with a press. This isn’t a fucking war, people. It’s not Writers vs Editors. And even if it was, I’m struggling on both sides. So, give me a break.
And again, this isn’t ego. Mutual respect. Try it sometime.
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*Storytime: I learned to type in a typing class, like many of you. I, too, was docked points for not double spacing after a period. It became habitual and remained so for many years. Until I learned that it was no longer standard and it was actually extra work, both for me and editors. The moment I figured that out, I retrained myself to single space. You know why? Because I want to do things right and I have no desire to hang onto outdated things simply because…why? What possible reason is there to hang onto this? Because it’s “too hard to change?” Save it. I’ve quit smoking, I’ve taken up exercise, I’ve done far, far more difficult things than change my double space following a period to a single space. Seriously, quit being such babies about it and get with the program.