Professional Manuscript Critiques and Page Spacing

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ajcattapan
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Professional Manuscript Critiques and Page Spacing

Post by ajcattapan » January 24th, 2011, 6:27 pm

I'm wondering what experiences other people have had with professional manuscript critiques.

The first one I had was very helpful--lots of positive feedback, but also some great suggestions for how to improve my opening pages. I just received my second professional manuscript critique (for a different novel) yesterday, and I'm a bit disappointed. 95% of the comments were about improper spacing (i.e. two spaces between sentences or an extra space at the end of a paragraph before hitting the return key).

Now I did see Nathan's recent blog post on not double spacing between sentences, but I had submitted my manuscript for its critique well before that. And I'll admit that I was taught to type two spaces between sentences, and it's so ingrained in me now that I've had to go back and delete the extra spaces in this forum post!

Anyway, I found it rather odd that almost all of the "criticism" was on my spacing issues. Would an agent or a publisher really ignore my manuscript because I put two spaces between my sentences?!? The critique was emailed to me by one of the organizers of the conference--not the reviewer--so I have no idea who actually critiqued my work. Just thinking that for $50, I could have received some more helpful feedback. Then again, maybe I should be happy--if spacing is my novel's biggest problem, it will be an easy fix. :)

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Re: Professional Manuscript Critiques and Page Spacing

Post by Guardian » January 24th, 2011, 7:15 pm

Just thinking that for $50, I could have received some more helpful feedback.
Do you pay for critiques? That's not good (Personal opinion. Maybe others see it otherwise.).

Also, yes, you should keep a standard format all over the script. For example it can be really bothering if you have surplus spaces, especially after periods (I always point out these ones in my reviews.). Same goes for inappropriate paragraphs and page breaks.

Old fashioned style (Typewriter era) - Two spaces
21st century style (Computer era) - One space

I don't believe anyone would reject your manuscript because of two spaces after a period, but removing them would save you, but mostly the dear editor from a lot of trouble.

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polymath
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Re: Professional Manuscript Critiques and Page Spacing

Post by polymath » January 24th, 2011, 7:24 pm

A critique with emphasis on spacing concerns doesn't sound professional to me. One, it violates one of the few ethics of professional editing principles, enumerated in Chicago Manual of Style: First, do no harm. The harm comes from applying a standard when the standard is not, in fact, an agreed-upon standard. Imperative commentary is a hallmark of an amateur.

The central concern I'd have about a paid critique that focuses on spacing issues is two spaces after terminal punctuation is a discretionary standard. Actually, for Standard Manuscript Format it is the conventional variant, though undergoing change. Sure, there are proponents of one space who come across as irreproachable authorities; however, the style has a purpose or two. When a manuscript is typed in a monospaced typeface, the SMF standard for more reasons than I care to go into, two spaces unequivocally indicate sentence division and are aesthetically pleasing to the eye.

An example of the former, say a sentence ends with a standard prose abbreviated word and the abbreviation period does double duty as the terminal punctuation with the sentence flowing into the subject noun of the next sentence, which is meant to be a separate thought.

The killer was identified as Jake Sr. Winslow figured out he was guilty.

Awkward at least, adding a second space after Sr. indicates unequivocally there's a separate sentence and indicates a stronger pause sentence stop. Similar punctuation issues arise with semicolons and colons too and combined punctuations, abbreviation period and semicolon or colon. In SMF double spaces do the job.

Regardless, one space or two, one subjective comment on discretionary spacing style is sufficient, once and done.

Additional spaces after paragraph termination before hard return are a similar issue. First, they're invisible on printouts, only noticeable on digital submissions, if deliberately sought after. I do note them when editing digitally because they can create complications when designing a layout. Again, though, a once and done comment, for cripe's sake.

Okay. That's two single-sentence comments. For fifty bucks I'd expect at least two hundred and fifty words of insightful and subjective commentary. I'd not take the critique as professional without at least opening with a favorable comment paragraph, a middle section regarding subjective areas of concern, and a closing section remarking upon the standout strengths of the overall work. Method is as important as message.

What does it say when a so-called professional critique merely dictates one commenter's style practices are The Right Way? Quite the opposite, actually, an amateur.
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Re: Professional Manuscript Critiques and Page Spacing

Post by Guardian » January 24th, 2011, 7:44 pm

What does it say when a so-called professional critique merely dictates one commenter's style practices are The Right Way? Quite the opposite, actually, an amateur.
Yep. This is giving me the primary reason to avoid paid critiques as in most cases the critiquer is checking the grammar first, storyline integrity for second. In a review, especially if it's not an editorial review, just a simple story review, story should come first and grammar and style should be the second. At least this is my opinion. But in the present everyone is demanding from the writers to write a faultless script. But what many doesn't know, many great writers had an awful grammar in the past. This is the reason why they created so many unique and brilliant stories as their mind is circled around the story and not around the grammar and style mistakes. When the story is ready, of course a brief editing is necessary, but a writer is never able to edit as good as a professional editor (And nowadays it's became a standard in the industry. Writer! Your script must have a pro editing, otherwise scram! Nowadays we are slowly spending much more time with editing then writing a story. And the result is; poor quality in the story, but perfect grammar and manuscript style. Hooray... The perfect sign of mass production.).

Writers are writing their stories, but they never existed without pro editors. These are two different professions. We're creating worlds, telling stories, and editors are creating true words from ours. But nowadays it seems that some people want to replace editors with writers to spare the editing fee. And that's not good.

If a writer is writing a good story, but has faults in the script, an editor can give an excellent aid as this is his / her profession. But if a writer can't write a story, but for exchange has a perfect, faultless manuscript without any error, who is going to give an aid to polish the failed part, the story part? No one, as writing the story is the writer's job.

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polymath
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Re: Professional Manuscript Critiques and Page Spacing

Post by polymath » January 24th, 2011, 8:17 pm

I don't comment on mechanical style at all for prose editing. One, if the big picture story-telling structure and aesthetics aren't up to snuff, substantive revisions are indicated. Microfocused attention on typos and overlooked grammar is pointless if they don't survive into final drafts.

Two, I'm not going to teach grammar school grammar, style, and punctuation to a writer. If they don't know it, didn't learn it in grammar school, there's style manuals with discretionary and nondiscretionary guidelines to learn from.

Three, a manuscript ready for publication might have a few typos per page, a few discretionary concerns desiring revision. That kind of close style editing is a built-in cost for publishers. Sadly, with the rise of digital grammar checkers and the rise of bottom line bean counting publishing industry business models and deemphasis of mechanical style, the editing burden is shifting to writers.

Anyway, if I note several style hits in quick succession, I'm done hoping the manuscript will be entertainingly engaging. If a writer doesn't know enough about style, how can they know enough about craft, with its eminently more challenging demands, not to mention voice, to compose an entertaining narrative? If I've lost engagement I'll change hats from reader to developmental editor. Sometimes it happens in the first sentence for craft concerns. Then no matter what, I'll read as far as it takes to come up with something favorable craft-wise to comment on for encouragement's sake; meanwhile, avoiding the twin traps of overtreatment and indifference.
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Re: Professional Manuscript Critiques and Page Spacing

Post by Guardian » January 24th, 2011, 8:32 pm

I agree with all three points, but also a good grammar is never going to give a good story for the readers. Who has a good grammar, but lack of fantasy that one never will be able to write a good story. Although what you said; the craft and the style must be known, I agree with this. But a writer should take the story first and the grammar for second (My personal opinion.).
Microfocused attention on typos and overlooked grammar is pointless if they don't survive into final drafts.
This is what about I'm talking. Right now this is starting to be a standard; writers should make a microfocused attention on grammar otherwise they're getting a reject. But that shouldn't be our primary job. It's the same, what I read at few agencies' page... are you capable to advertise your product and make a marketing for it? First of all, writers are not marketing managers (Okay. I'm an exception. I did it for few years.). So nowaday writers should do the following things... crafting the story, creating a world, give life to characters, writing all of this, make standard editing (This is the point which should be the standard, just as you mentioned in your three points. All three points what you mentioned is the "standard" editing phase what the writers must do.), then comes the fun part... microfocused editing (Otherwise reject. The mentioned double space problem is already falling under this category.), professional editing (Otherwise reject) and finally if you can do, marketing (Otherwise we can't take you seriously). I'm talking about these last few. This is the reason why I said what I said above.
the editing burden is shifting to writers.
I rather working with trustworthy editors. Well, maybe I'm a bit old fashioned.
Last edited by Guardian on January 24th, 2011, 9:22 pm, edited 6 times in total.

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Falls Apart
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Re: Professional Manuscript Critiques and Page Spacing

Post by Falls Apart » January 24th, 2011, 8:40 pm

A tip for those who have broken the period spacing rule - I just had to fix this in my WIP, and doing find and replace (find: . , replace: . ) which saved me 1,312 replacements. Love find and replace :)

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Re: Professional Manuscript Critiques and Page Spacing

Post by Guardian » January 24th, 2011, 8:42 pm

Falls Apart wrote:A tip for those who have broken the period spacing rule - I just had to fix this in my WIP, and doing find and replace (find: . , replace: . ) which saved me 1,312 replacements. Love find and replace :)
Is it capable to replace the double space problems? Good to know. Thanks!

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Re: Professional Manuscript Critiques and Page Spacing

Post by bcomet » January 25th, 2011, 3:33 am

I believe I am in agreement with Polymath's style of critique.

First and most important, I want a reader to respond to the story, the characters, the plot. I want to know if the story is strong and affects the reader. If it is and does, I want to hear about developmental concerns. Or obvious issues like a misuse of a word (not a word choice, but a misuse or misunderstood word or phrase.)

Then, and only then, will line editing, if needed, be in order.

~~

Too often, readers look at lines and not the story. The really good developmental editors, that I have had the good fortune to work with or meet, have insisted that they can not edit on isolated pieces without a sense of the whole. Everything, every part needs to relate.

And, most unhelpful are readers who want to rewrite everything in their own choice of words or phrasing or voice. A sign of an amateur.

A good critiquer, I believe, must know how to recognize, distinguish, and get the voice of the material they are reading.

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Re: Professional Manuscript Critiques and Page Spacing

Post by Holly » January 25th, 2011, 6:45 am

ajcattapan wrote: The critique was emailed to me by one of the organizers of the conference--not the reviewer--so I have no idea who actually critiqued my work. Just thinking that for $50, I could have received some more helpful feedback. Then again, maybe I should be happy--if spacing is my novel's biggest problem, it will be an easy fix. :)
I would email the organizer back and tell her/him what you told us -- for $50 you could have received more feedback than a spacing issue. Ask for your money back if they promised a real review. Seriously.

How many pages did the person review for $50? A chapter? I don't know where you live, but editors here charge $35-75 an hour and up.

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Re: Professional Manuscript Critiques and Page Spacing

Post by Down the well » January 25th, 2011, 9:42 am

ajcattapan wrote:I'm wondering what experiences other people have had with professional manuscript critiques.


The critique was emailed to me by one of the organizers of the conference--not the reviewer--so I have no idea who actually critiqued my work. Just thinking that for $50, I could have received some more helpful feedback. Then again, maybe I should be happy--if spacing is my novel's biggest problem, it will be an easy fix. :)
I think the title of your post is somewhat misleading. I've paid the extra money for a critique while entering a conference writing contest. Paying a nominal fee to have someone who is part of a local writing organization give feedback on an opening chapter isn't the same as hiring a "professional" editor. The person who critiqued your work might be a published author or they might be really active in the writing community, but they aren't necessarily a "professional" and may have no more experience at critiquing than any of us on this forum. In all likelihood they were an "amateur" trying to do their best (though pointing out spacing issues is pretty lame). And I know people will say then they shouldn't charge people for the service, but it can be a good thing for someone looking for an anonymous opinion on their opening chapter. Just don't expect a "professional" edit.

It sounds like your first paid critique was a good one, and it's great to get varied feedback, but I'm relatively certain you could get the same or better for free from a trusted beta. ;)

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Re: Professional Manuscript Critiques and Page Spacing

Post by Margo » January 25th, 2011, 10:34 am

polymath wrote:The harm comes from applying a standard when the standard is not, in fact, an agreed-upon standard. Imperative commentary is a hallmark of an amateur.

The central concern I'd have about a paid critique that focuses on spacing issues is two spaces after terminal punctuation is a discretionary standard.
Oh thank god. I have been writing novel-length fiction since before word processing programs and personal computers. After that many years, I'm not sure I could switch to the single space between sentences even if I really wanted to.
Guardian wrote:I agree with all three points, but also a good grammar is never going to give a good story for the readers. Who has a good grammar, but lack of fantasy that one never will be able to write a good story. Although what you said; the craft and the style must be known, I agree with this. But a writer should take the story first and the grammar for second (My personal opinion.).
I disagree only because I've read so many manuscripts where creative punctuation and grammar kept getting in the way of enjoying what could have been an entertaining story. Making a reader stop and re-read sentences or whole paragraphs because the punctuation has chopped up the sentence or spliced together too many asides or because poor attention to grammar has misled the reader about what the writer was trying to convey...that gets really frustrasting for someone trying to enjoy a story.
Guardian wrote:Right now this is starting to be a standard; writers should make a microfocused attention on grammar otherwise they're getting a reject. But that shouldn't be our primary job.
I don't agree that this stuff isn't the writer's responsibility, but my opinion is neither here nor there because the fact is that they are considered the writer's responsibility, like it or not. Yes, more than a few grammar mistakes can definitely get you rejected. That's just reality.

[Edit: My apologies for my crappy spelling this morning. I'm a little shaky from the adrenaline rush of almost having been in a major car accident about an hour ago.]
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Re: Professional Manuscript Critiques and Page Spacing

Post by Guardian » January 25th, 2011, 11:05 am

I disagree only because I've read so many manuscripts where creative punctuation and grammar kept getting in the way of enjoying what could have been an entertaining story. Making a reader stop and re-read sentences or whole paragraphs because the punctutation has chopped up the sentence or spliced together too many asides or because poor attention to grammar has misled the reader about what the writer was trying to convey...that gets really frustrasting for someone trying to enjoy a story.
You misunderstood something or I wasn't clear. Now, if a sentence is not clear, of course that's our job. But when grammar, with very few typos, the same what Polymath is mentioned, the microfocused editing, is counting more BEFORE the final editorial editing and release, then the story itself, now that's a problem. And nowaday some people is rather suffering a grammar mania, then actually taking a look at the story itself. You may have an ultra polished script, your novel won't be good if the story sucks. But if the story is polished, the few grammar mistakes can be polished by a skilled editor before the release.
I don't agree that this stuff isn't the writer's responsibility, but my opinion is neither here nor there because the fact is that they are considered the writer's responsibility, like it or not.
Sorry, but the microfocused editing is already an editor's job before the release as it always was. The writer's responsibility is to reduce it's numbers, but as the writer read the script the most, read the same sometimes for years, it's almost impossible to eliminate every possible mistake and that's a fact. Only beta readers and editors are capable to pinpoint these mistakes.
Yes, more than a few grammar mistakes can definitely get you rejected. That's just reality.
There is a difference between few and few. Right now the typo tolerance is closing to zero to spare the editing fee. But because of the previously mentioned problem, it's not possible. I've also read dozens of scripts where the writer believed the script is ready and it's highly polished, then I and other beta readers needed to point out the mistakes. Why? Because the writer can't see the mistakes in a script what he read thousand times over and over again. Only others can see. I believe everyone faced with this scenario; Few little typos on the first few pages, something what you somehow skipped, but someone immediately pointed out. It's happening because you know your work inside out.

It sounds great that a writer is capable to eliminate every possible typo and mistake. But in exercise, it's not covering the truth.

Personal note: As always, I can be wrong. But this is how I learned and this is how I also experienced in the past. Also my logic dictates this, based on my experience. But if I'm wrong someone is going to correct me. :) At least we're dicussing about it and we're learning from each other. That's the point.
Last edited by Guardian on January 25th, 2011, 11:37 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Professional Manuscript Critiques and Page Spacing

Post by Down the well » January 25th, 2011, 11:23 am

Margo wrote:Oh thank god. I have been writing novel-length fiction since before word processing programs and personal computers. After that many years, I'm not sure I could switch to the single space between sentences even if I really wanted to.
I don't know, Margo. I'm older than you are and I finally made the change. Not saying it wasn't a challenge, but somewhere awhile ago I heard that the single space was preferred so I started using it. Still have to do the "find and replace" when I edit though.

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Re: Professional Manuscript Critiques and Page Spacing

Post by Margo » January 25th, 2011, 11:45 am

Guardian wrote:Only beta readers and editors are capable to pinpoint these mistakes.
A couple quick thoughts...

One, if a ms has been through several rounds of betas, then the mistakes should have been caught, and the rejection issue mute.

Two, I think it is possible for a writer to do this without assistance, provided the writer is willing to put the ms down and work on something else for a few weeks or a few months, depending on how long it takes an individual to readjust their vision of the ms. We get in a big hurry sometimes, and that causes problems.
Guardian wrote:There is a difference between few and few. Right now the typo tolerance is closing to zero to spare the editing fee.
Yes, definitely a difference between a couple in a novel-length ms and a couple in a page, every few pages. I haven't experienced what you report. I've never had a problem with someone finding one typo in a short story or a couple in a ms and using that to reject, and I've never heard an editor or agent say they would reject solely over something that minor.

And just as there is a difference between a few and a few, there's a difference between a typo and a typo, a difference between a grammar mistake and a grammar mistake. One is an understandable slip, the other a stylistic tick or a hallmark of work that needs a little more development. I'm getting pretty good at spotting these and knowing the difference, because I've done beta reads on a TON of ms. A professional agent or editor has read 'n to the infinite' more ms's than I have.
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