Before you submit a proposal, sample chapters, or a complete manuscript to a publisher or agent, you want to make sure all the words are spelled correctly and the punctuation is in all the right places. Because no matter how awesome your content is, if a publisher or agent finds too many mistakes, your submission may not get past the first reader’s desk.
You could hire a professional proofreader (which isn’t a bad idea). But even if you do, the more you’ve got right to begin with, the less that service will cost you.
But how do you know which spellings to use? If you compare dictionaries, you’ll discover that they don’t always agree. And there are numerous punctuation books out there … and even they don’t all have the same rules. I mean, should you put a comma before and in a series of three things or not? If you ask your writers’ group, a high school English teacher, a college professor, and an online writers’ loop, you’ll probably get so many different answers your head will start spinning.
Ready for an insider tip? Here are the guidelines used by the US book-publishing industry:
- The Chicago Manual of Style (16th is the current edition)
For spelling and usage:
- Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (11th is the current edition)
For religious specifics:
- The Christian Writer’s Manual of Style (includes a list of when to capitalize Christian words and phrases, how to abbreviate books of the Bible in references, etc.)
You can find these books at bookstores, used bookstores, online, and in your local library. Just be sure you get the most recent editions.
Most publishers have their own “house style”—rules they’ve chosen to adopt that are different from the norm. But if you follow the industry-standard guidelines, any publisher will be impressed. And they’ll have no problem adjusting your manuscript to fit their house style.