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  • Writer's pictureJabe Stafford

Writing To Publish

Write Good: An Absurd Storytelling And Adventure Blog

Writing To Publish

Breaking in. Two fricktastically terrifying words that thousands of writers face like they’re the final boss and all the writer’s got to fight with is a stick. Someone else’s stick. With cracks in it.

There’s a reason cliché phrases about writing exist. “Ten year overnight success.” “Every writer’s journey is different.” “Write what you’re passionate about.” “Don’t write to fit the market.”

Don’t die of cliché toxicity now. If you’re writing with the goal of publishing a novel, short story, or flash fiction, there’s a reason for the dozens of hoops you have to jump through to get there.

Those awful, frightening flaming hoops can become less scary if you don a fire-retardant superhero suit before you write. Heh, don’t take that one seriously. But if there are three tools in your toolbox to help get your novel, short story, or flash fiction ready for publishing, it’s these:

-Build word processor templates so your stories fit into Proper Manuscript Format, but be ready to read submission guidelines and adapt to the publisher’s requests.

-Understand that things like good spelling, polished dialogue, sentence structure, and grammar are there to make your story easier for readers -- and publishers -- to enjoy.

-Learn to harness the enhancing power of editing not just for grammar and punctuation, but when searching for how to beef up your manuscript and recognize when things don’t work...but could be made to.

Three tools. Why the frick does this bullshiz matter? Can’t you just write whatever you’re passionate about and the editor or publisher will take care of all those things?

First tool’s first. Proper Manuscript Format. is the link to every type of Proper format you’ll need. Find your word processing software (Word, Pages, Wordperfect if you still remember and are able to use that, or Google Docs, etc.) and build New Document templates. You know that annoying menu that pops up when you click File > New? That huge catalog of shiz nuggets you don’t need like “science fair project” or “resume builder” or “term paper” or “modern formal letter” won’t help you. Setting up your own template for Proper Manuscript Format is a huge help. Or Proper Short Story Format. Then you can put exactly what every story needs format-wise out of your mind when you’re writing. You built the template. It’s got the text set up the same way the Shunn website says is best. Just open up a new copy of that template and write your dadgum heart out!

[What Proper Manuscript Format does is important. It gives everyone in publishing, from indie and magazines to the Big 6, one universal format to know and expect. It gives any editor or publisher the author’s contact info and word count at the top of page 1 for immediate reference. It looks neat and fits into how 90% of novels look once they’re printed. If an editor or publisher prints your story off on paper to pass around, it gives the author’s name, title, and page # at the top of each page. If some pages get lost, it’ll be clear where they belong once found. See all that good stuff packed into this format?]

Exceptions to the first tool: If the magazine’s/publisher’s/editor’s website requests different formatting than Proper Manuscript Format, then follow those guidelines instead. If they’re asking for something different, there’s a reason. Maybe the reason is that they want to project a certain writing FEEL. Maybe it’s more convenient for them. Maybe it’s just to see if you as the writer are willing to adapt to meet needs. Follow publisher guidelines, even though it might be a half hour or hour-long time suck to read and adapt your story to meet them.

Second tool’s second. Polish your spelling, grammar, dialogue, sentence structure, and things like paragraph breaks. Why does this high school English nightmare bullshiz matter? Because any ONE of those things being poorly done will make readers dismiss you and put the book down. They’ll make publishers say no and they’ll make you look like you don’t care about your writing. You couldn’t be bothered to set up your story in an easily digestible way, so why should a publisher publish you? They’re already overloaded pushing for dozens of things much more important than small, tedious issues of bad dialogue structure. Fix your story up so it’s just as professional and easy to rip-read through as your favorite sci-fi, fantasy, horror, or non-fiction books.

This second tool is multi-faceted, so here are some facets of that tool you can look out for and use right the frick now:

-Spelling and grammar are worth the time to get right for your’s and for readers’ sakes. If publishers or readers have to slow down to understand your jank, they’ll stop caring. You need them to care.

-Sentence structure should fit what you’re trying to get the reader to feel. AKA what you’re trying to accomplish in the scene. Action scenes will need shorter sentences with more powerful verbs. Slower travel scenes can use longer sentences to describe setting. Readers will devour shorter paragraphs faster. They’ll only tolerate reading several long paragraphs in a row if you give them a break with a shorter paragraph or something else satisfying to make reading long paragraphs worth it to them.

-Dialogue, a written exchange of spoken words between two or more characters, is formatted the way it is in most genre books for a reason. Every time a new character starts speaking, he or she gets a new paragraph. Most real conversations don’t have a single person speaking for 3 straight minutes, so avoid giving one character massive speeches every time. (Unless you’re writing Shakespeare-style soliloquies or something.)

Polish all these aspects of your writing and your story will be as easy to speed-read through as your own favorite novel is to you. Easier for publishers and readers to enjoy too.

Third tool’s third. Embrace the enhancing power of editing and learning to edit on your own. Developing this instinct is tougher than nail golems. A good way to start is to read. Read widely. Read what is fun for you and do it slowly enough where you can point out things that bother you as a reader.

Did the author say, ‘Magical promises cannot be broken,’ then break a promise 50 pages later with no consequences or without caring? Was a cliffhanger a lie on the next page and there never was any danger to begin with? Did a character’s motivation feel so one-sided and hollow that you cannot identify with the character the author obviously WANTS readers to identify with? That same concept goes for antagonists too. Is the antagonist too much of a handlebar-mustache-power-hungry-betrayer-prick to even have any allies, yet he or she has tons?

While reading, anything that you can put your finger on as bothering you will help you in your own writing. Then, while editing your own story, you can identify those moments that could bother readers or publishers and replace them with something better. Do this often enough and you might even start feeling some pre-cognition moments where you’re in the middle of the writing flow and can instantly identify, “No, that character wouldn’t say that,” or, “This is obviously a set-up and the protagonist should have seen it,” or, “Why didn’t they just do the common sense thing instead of whatever I’m forcing them to do?”

Can you tell I don’t like it that authors are often not taught tons of things like this?

I genuinely hope all these deep dives into writing to publish help you make your stories better.

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