If you are new to the publishing world and want to make the best first impression on an editor, here’s the secret: Submit your best work and follow submission guidelines fanatically.
Please don’t send us – or any publication – a work-in-progress. Carefully edit your work – once, twice, three times. Read your piece out loud and edit it again. Then proof, proof, proof from a hard copy to catch any remaining typos and errors in spelling, grammar and punctuation.
Editing and proofreading are two distinct writing processes. While they sometimes overlap, editing should be done first, proofing second.
What’s the difference? You edit for clarity and proofread for correctness.
Editing ensures your piece is put together in the most effective way. Do your sentences, ideas, concepts, information flow easily from one to the next? Are the facts correct and consistent? In poetry, is the lineation and stanza structure supportive of your theme and imagery? Are there any words, phrases, images, descriptions, background information that need to be eliminated – or added – to make your work stronger?
Proofreading is the process of checking your work for correct spelling, grammar and punctuation. While many writers edit on their computers, the final proofreading should be done from a hard copy.
One common mistake new writers make is to rely only on their eyes for this process. Engage someone who’s mastered the rules to review your piece before you submit it. You’ll be amazed at what you missed – even after several rounds of proofing.
Master the basic rules of punctuation
(Then, if you break them, you’ll do so intentionally.)
VoiceCatcher’s publications – our online literary and art journal and our weblog – follow the Associated Press Stylebook (AP) for punctuation.
Ends a statement.
The editors met to discuss the new submission guidelines.
Used in abbreviations.
She already has a B.A. and is now applying for an M.F.A. program.
Note: If an abbreviation ends a sentence, don’t add another period.
My brother is an M.D.
Separates items in a series.
We accept poetry, prose and visual art.
Commas in a series are for clarity and prevention of ambiguities. In a simple series, AP doesn’t use a comma before the last item. (See Trista Cornelius’s lively discussion of this usage.)
Commas separate longer introductory ideas or words from the main sentence.
When we tried to tell her she made a mistake, she looked at us sheepishly.
Separates short introductory ideas or words from the main sentence when clarity is an issue.
Before testing, the students were nervous.
Note: Read this sentence out loud without the comma and you’ll get the point.
Without the comma, you hear, “Before testing the students … .” That’s not the meaning of the sentence.
Used before a conjunction or “fanboys” (for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so) when it connects two complete sentences.
We had to postpone Monday’s meeting because of the storm, but we will reschedule it for next week.
Note: Writers often omit the comma when both sentences are short.
She walked into the room and they promptly began the meeting.
Serves as an interrupter to set off non-essential information.
Ms. Kennedy, like many other leaders, knows the importance of planning.
Separates cities from states, names from titles, days of the month from the year.
Our organization is located in Portland, Oregon.
Susan James, Director of Social Media, joined the staff last week.
The workshop will be held on October 15, 2012 at In Other Words.
VoiceCatcher’s mission; the artists’ contributions; Straus’s waltz
Tip: To show possession of words ending in “s,” “z” or “x,” make pronunciation the basis for your choice.
The boss’s pen; Moses’ law; Rex’s red coat; Phyllis’s poem
Read these out loud. What you hear is “the bosses pen;”“Rexes red coat;” “Moses law” and “Phyllises poem.” The apostrophe “s” after boss, Rex, and Phyllis adds another syllable. If you added one to Moses, you’d have the awkward “Moseses law.” Hear the difference?
Shows letters are missing in a contraction.
Since she wouldn’t do the job, she shouldn’t get paid.
Note: A common error is confusing its with it’s. Learn common errors and resolve to master them. There are many online resources to help you, such as this one.
Its is the possessive pronoun.
You’ll find beauty in its images.
It’s is the contraction of it is.
It’s true that writing is hard work.
Tip: One way to ensure you’re using the right form is to read your work out loud. You’ll catch this mistake – and many more – by practicing this one technique.
Do not use an apostrophe to form the plural for capital letters or numbers.
She can recite her ABCs forward and backward.
She worked in publishing from the mid-’70s through the late-’90s.
Note: If there is a question of clarity, break the rule. Dot your i’s and cross your t’s. If you wrote the letter “i” without the apostrophe, it would look like “Dot your is… .” That’s confusing. Consistency, then, requires the “t” to use the same punctuation.
Used for cities, states, countries, institutions, proper names, days of the week, months of the year and formal titles.
Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II just celebrated her sixtieth anniversary as monarch of England.
The best weather in Portland usually arrives in early July.
Jobs, positions, directions and seasons of the year are not capitalized.
John Smith is the principal of our local high school.
Go south on I-5.
Her favorite time of year is autumn.
Note: When using directions as proper nouns, caps are required.
The West was settled long after the East had established cities, banks, libraries and schools.
Indicate titles of full-length works such as novels, plays and textbooks.
In high school I remember being deeply moved by To Kill a Mockingbird and Death of a Salesman.
Note: If a series of text is italicized, such as in a quotation, then any text within that series normally requiring italicization, such as a title, is not italicized. It is shown in “reversed” italics, using the standard type style of the document.
Indicate titles of shorter works like essays, articles, short stories, poems and chapter titles.
Patricia Smith’s poem “Blood Dazzler” sent chills through me.
Set off words that are used uniquely.
We attended a “top-of-the-line” program.
Set off direct quotations.
“I can’t wait,” she said, “to read your work.”
Note: In USA printing practices, the following rules hold true:
Commas and periods always fall inside the final quotation mark.
She loved the sound of the word “happenstance.”
He said, “I don’t want to repeat this again.”
Semicolons and colons always go outside.
The editor said, “I have a recommendation for you”; however, I was not impressed with his suggestion.
“Seize the day”: a dictum I sometimes avoid when I crawl out of bed.
Exclamation points and question marks fall where meaning requires them.
Did he really say, “I don’t want to repeat this again”?
He shouted, “I don’t want to repeat this again!”
Combines two or more words that serve as one.
She had a once-in-a-lifetime experience at the writers’ conference.
She volunteered to become an at-large member of the board.
Interrupts the flow of a sentence with information that is emphasized.
While I was researching background for my story – wandering through an endless number of websites – I ran into one that gave me the facts I needed.
Insert a space before and after the em dash as the AP style guide requires.
Tip: To turn two hyphens into a dash, leave a space after a word. (See “story” above.) Type two hyphens and then leave another space. Type the next word. (See “wandering” above.) As you move beyond that word to continue your sentence, the two hyphens will (should) automatically turn into a solid em dash.
Interrupts the flow of a sentence with information that is down-played.
The three of them (Peter, Paul and Mary) arrived late as usual.
She finally answered (after taking five minutes to think) that she did not understand the question.
Introduces a list or a further explanation of what precedes it.
I have three favorite poets: Natasha Tretheway, Billy Collins and Robert Frost.
The rule is clear: What precedes the colon must be a complete sentence itself.
Note: A common mistake is use the colon when no punctuation is required.
Incorrect: She said she liked: fiction, biographies and drama.
Correct: She said she liked fiction, biographies and drama.
Used as the “glue” that holds independent ideas together.
We sent our recommendations to the editor last week; we haven’t heard from her yet.
We sent our recommendations to the editor last week; however, we haven’t heard from her yet.
Separates compound items in a series.
We’ve opened three new locations: Portland, OR; Vancouver, WA; and San Francisco, CA.
Replaces a comma before a conjunction or “fanboys” to avoid confusion when the sentence is already filled with commas.
Kathy Richard, Director of Finance, will present her budget to us on Friday; but we won’t make a decision until we confer with Marketing, Sales and Human Resources.
Three dots – no more, no less – indicate words are missing in a sentence. Again, we use the AP style, which places spaces before and after the ellipsis. If the sentence ends with an ellipsis, make sure there is a space between the third dot and the sentence-ending period. For example:
“Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth … a new nation, conceived in liberty … . Now we are engaged in a great civil war.”
Tip: It’s easier to keep track of all these dots if you think of the job they are doing. A period ends the sentence. Three dots show missing words. Use a space to separate the different functions, and voila! You have a correctly constructed sentence that indicates one or more sentences are missing between sentences
Note: When the omission of words comes at the end of a sentence, three dots indicate words are missing and the fourth dot is the period. Separate the ellipsis from the period with a space.
“We are met on a great battle-field … .”
Miscellaneous issues to consider
Use one space, not two, after a period. The old rule no longer holds.
Check to see if you need copyright permission for long epigraphs, song lyrics or excerpts. (Here’s a good resource for copyright information.)
Make sure you spell the name of your source correctly.
Use a spell checker only as a first line of defense, not the last. It doesn’t make distinctions between petal and pedal or there and their.
Proofread from a hard copy and read your work out loud to catch mistakes.
Print this document and use it as a quick reference. Of course, for further help in preparing your manuscript for publication, consult a reputable style guide such as the current Associated Press Stylebook.
For a professional editor’s point of view on submissions, read Lynne Barrett’s “What Editors Want; A Must-Read for Writers Submitting to Literary Magazines.”
Guidelines are important and intentional
When submitting to VoiceCatcher’s journal or weblog – or any publication – please pay careful attention to the editors’ guidelines. Every journal requires strict adherence to them and some will automatically reject your work if you don’t follow them to the letter. Practice being professional and impress VoiceCatcher’s editors by following ours. We hope to see your name in our new publications soon.