Thursday, July 24, 2014

Delia Latham: Embarrassing Mistakes Writers Make

Are you embarrassing yourself in the publishing industry?

No? Hey, that’s awesome!

Hopefully you can look back on this article three, five, or even ten years from now and give the same answer. Chances are, though, you’ll peer back through time and get a bad case of the “boy-was-my-face-red” heebie-jeebies…based on something you’ve done in the past, are doing now, or will do in the future to undermine your credibility in the publishing industry.

None of us do those things on purpose. If we knew we were creating future humiliation for ourselves, we would do whatever it takes to avoid that horrible moment in time.

So let’s think about it now and hopefully avoid a red-faced future—especially when it comes to things we send into an editor’s hands, like query letters, synopses and proposals.

What kinds of things might we be doing that we will regret later?

1.      Not using the spellchecker. Yes, it’s easy to forget. No, it isn’t optional. Use it, even if you have to tie a string around your finger or paint the F7 key bright red (like your face will be if you misspell synopsis).

     And don’t stop there. Spellcheck doesn’t catch everything. Take time to not only spellcheck, but run a search (electronically and/or manually) for often overlooked errors. For instance:

Homophones. Words like their, they’re and there; here and hear; to, too and two. Are you using them in the wrong places?

Apostrophes and their various uses. Know them before you use them. Editors know the difference between it’s and its. You should too. Also, it’s tempting to add an apostrophe with an ending “s” in a surname, but the Dawson family as a group are the Dawsons, not the Dawson’s—unless you’re referring to the Dawsons’ dog/house/yard, etc. That apostrophe turns the name into a possessive.
There are other grammar and punctuation faux pas, but you get the picture. Double-check the details.

The ever-changing rules. Back when I learned to type, everyone used two spaces between sentences. But somewhere along the line, the rules changed. Now we use just one. If you use two, you’re causing your editor extra work, and exposing yourself as an amateur. Know the rules, and abide by them. Passing it off with a lame excuse like, “I’ve done it this way too long, and I just cannot break the habit,” doesn’t get it, my friend. Just break the habit. Yes, you can.
Rules change all the time. It’s important to keep abreast of the industry and informed of the current dos and don’ts.

2.      Unprofessional communication. If you’re going to work in a professional field, be a professional. That includes everything from the way you answer your phone to the way you dress to your e-mail address.

If you have your own domain name, make it something specific to you or the work you do—and be careful of those double entendres. The old KISS rule still applies: Keep It Simple, Sally. (OK, so I paraphrased a bit. I hate the word “stupid,” even when it seems accurate.) If you can use your author name as a domain name, do it. If it’s already taken, use a variation, or add something applicable.

For instance, mine is, since fell prey to a sniper several years ago. If I had been insistent on using a, I could have come up with other choices: dlatham, dylatham, dlathambooks, etc. I chose to settle for a so I could use my first and last name, just as it shows up on the covers of my books. What I chose not to do is come up with something oh-so-cutesy, like:,,

The same applies to your e-mail address. If you have a domain name, you probably have a mail option. If so, use it, and keep it professional. Mine is I also have a Gmail address: Neither of those email addresses could be misinterpreted as anything offensive or tasteless.

Lose the pet names, nicknames and sexually suggestive monikers. Your editor will appreciate it.

While you’re choosing a mail program, think about how it sounds. One of my former bosses, just learning to get around a computer, asked me to set up an e-mail address for him. He wanted a free mail program, but completely balked at using Hotmail. “Too suggestive,” he said. “Doesn’t sound professional.” That could be considered one man’s opinion, or…? Dare you risk it? 

Play it safe. Do not send an editor a contact e-mail that sounds like an ad for a 900 phone line. She might hesitate to reply to an e-mail addy like: sweetlilthang@...; luvnkitty@...; yourbabybetty@...; puckerupper@... 
I know you hear what I’m sayin’. :)

If you really want to be respected in the publishing industry—or any other professional field—behave in a professional manner. And that includes not only how you present yourself physically, but also any kind of communication with publishers, editors, agents or readers.

Dot your i’s and cross your t’s. Mind your p’s and q’s. Learn the rules.

And use that handy little spellchecker tool.

(c) July 2014

Disclaimer: If any of the sample e-mail addresses used in this article are real, I don’t know of them, and certainly did not “choose” them off a list. All were plucked out of my head, and I’m happy to leave them there…out of my head. If I inadvertently used your existing e-mail handle, I apologize...if you're not a professional. If you are, you really should consider changing that cyber-name - at least for professional purposes. What you use for your friends and family can be whatever you'd like...I guess. :)


Are you showing your unprofessional side to an editor or agent? Find out how easily it happens on Write Right! with @DeliaLatham.

Is your email address appropriately professional...or have you neglected to mind your p's and q's? On Write Right! with @DeliaLatham.

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