Why a misplaced hyphen can dash your hopes of ever being published.
My first real literary ‘rejection’ came at the hands of an agent who we’ll call Jane Slash. On the day that Ms Slash received my manuscript she’d clearly discovered that her husband was indeed the cheating scumbag she’d always suspected he was. Moments later she burnt both slices of toast, the cat threw up all over her white carpet, and she broke a heel on her favourite shoes. I don’t know this for sure of course, but I’m guessing it must be the case because when the first three chapters of The Good Guys Guide to Getting The Girl arrived on her desk she wasted no time in telling me how much she hated it. And my god, how she hated it.
I can’t recall off the top of my head all the things she said (although me being me, I assembled them into a list and diligently worked through each point over the following months) but I do remember her final scathing comment:
“Further more the manuscript is littered with typos which is very distracting, and shows a somewhat careless and slapdash approach to your writing.” Or words to that effect.
It was this remark that stung the most. Whilst I was prepared to take on board everything else she’d said, the one thing I was pretty sure I had nailed down was my spelling, and grammar. Throughout my entire professional life nothing I’d written had ever left my computer without being run through the internal spell check, and then read through by myself and my colleagues. Even the pages Jane was busy using to stoke the fire under her cauldron had been scrutinised by several sets of eyes.
“There’s nothing wrong with those chapters,” said my mate Pat, “and I should know!” Pat’s an English teacher somewhere in the south-east of England. And given what happened next, maybe that’s as much as I should tell you about him. Or her. I’m not saying.
“Well let’s find out!” I said. “Jules -” (that’s my long suffering assistant) “find me a proof reader!”
Which was how I came to meet Alison the Proof Fairy. I duly sent Alison the same first three chapters and expected to have them sent back with a covering email telling me that she couldn’t find anything to correct.
Boy howdy – how wrong I was.
I’ve just had a quick look at the document Alison returned to me – for old times sake – and believe me when I say I can feel my cheeks glowing again, just as they did almost two years ago. I’d include the file here for you to look at, if I wasn’t too ashamed to do so.
Needless to say I learnt several very important lessons:
Firstly, regardless of how you rate your attention to detail, unless you proof for a living it’s extremely unlikely that you’ll spot all the errors in your own writing. You’re just too darn close to it. But more surprising, unless your friends are professional readers (and may I respectfully point out that being a teacher doesn’t seem to be close enough), neither will they!
Secondly, agents don’t actually seem to accept anything. They reject. As would you if you had a mountain of manuscripts to get through. You’d work through those chapters looking for reasons to throw them out, until you finally unearthed the one document that hadn’t, in any way, made you want to toss it across the room.
Finally, two years on, having published How To Do Everything and Be Happy, with a further two titles waiting in the wings, I realise more than ever the importance of perfect spelling and grammar. I simply can’t take the risk that one of my readers might come across a typo. Particularly if that reader turned out to be Jane Slash. Heaven knows what she might do.
You can find out more about Alison the Proof Fairy and the services she offers at theprooffairy.co.uk