by Raelene Gorlinsky, Publisher (and editor), Ellora’s Cave Publishing Inc.
Always on the checklist for submissions is “Proofread; make sure there are no typos, misspellings, grammar errors.” Seems simple and clear, a no-brainer. So why do so many authors get sloppy about this? (“Well, I spelled most of the words right.”) Do you not realize the message you are sending? Errors in your submission tell an editor two very clear—and very unpalatable—things that will get you the form rejection letter in three minutes or less.
You don’t respect your story.
If you are a skilled and professional author, you want your submission to absolutely shine, to be the very best you can do, to have the best chance of catching an editor’s attention. If you don’t care enough to proofread and self-edit, you are telling me that either this story or your writing career are not important to you. If you can’t take the time to round up several people to help you make your submission completely clean, I’m not going to have any faith in your willingness—or ability—to spend the time on revisions and editing. Bluntly, it implies to me that you are lazy, stupid or unprofessional. Instead, make your submission an example of your pride in your story and yourself.
You don’t respect editors.
So you believe that your time is more valuable than mine, that I should be your typist and proofreader? That I should waste time slogging through this mess you sent in? You need a reality check. A professional and experienced editor is focused on story development—working with the author on plot, character growth, relationship development. NOT wasting editorial time on things the author should be responsible for, like spelling, grammar, punctuation, sentence structure. Yes, an editor may (maybe!) choose to contract a fantastic book even though the author needs a little help with one or two specific writing mechanics—maybe the author doesn’t quite understand how to use dialogue tags or is choppy about POV switches. The editor may feel this is something they can teach the author—but will then expect that the author learns this and the next submission will not have the problem.
Let’s be frank about this: Great story ideas are a dime a dozen. Yours just is not unique. I can open the next ten submissions and find something just as good or better than yours, no problem. So it is how you present your great story that counts. Gee, would I contract the wonderful story concept that will require massive amounts of effort trying to teach the author how to write cleanly, need excess copy edit/proofing time, and mean working with an author I suspect is unprofessional and unskilled? Or should I contract the equally great story that obviously has been through multiple self-edits and much proofing and is nearly 100% “clean”, allowing me to focus my editorial skills where they should be? That’s not a hard choice.
How many errors are acceptable in a submission? Every error an editor hits is a black mark against you. I was on a conference panel with a group of editors from many publishers, and we were asked this question. Most of us came up with some figure. “Three”, “One per thousand words”, and so forth. But we all applauded our fellow editor who honestly and bluntly stated, “I stop reading when I hit the first error.”
(Remember that a publisher may be more lenient with, more willing to work with, an author who is already published with them and has shown very good sales numbers on the previous books. But if you are just trying to get in the door, you have to meet much higher standards to prove you are worth our time and effort.)