30 July, 2013

Two Editors, a Gun and a Mental Disorder


I was in an argument with a Facebook acquaintance some time ago, and for some reason this has stuck in my mind. I have to share this with you. This is what inspired my post on Standard Manuscript Formatting.  This person, who if she reads this knows who she is, is an editor. She was adamant that writers should only use one space after periods, and that failure to do so was sheer blasphemy.

"Did your publishing house inform authors to use one space?" I said.

"No. Why should they? Fuck you!"

"Well, standard manuscript format says to use either, and most writers use two spaces."

A friend of hers who works at Random House, one of the biggest publishers in the world cut in with, "Any Random House editor would kill you if you used two spaces."

Excuse me? Most professional, best-selling, money-making, business-existence-assuring novelists use two spaces, and one of the biggest houses in the world wants to kill them instead of make money off them?

"That can't be true," I said. "I've met editors from Random House. They're business people. They were talking about the importance of discovering talent and turning it into money, and how the speculative fiction market is unpredictable these days." I remember because I asked one of them if that's because the most thriving market is young adult, and you aren't sure what those readers are going to grow into. I even asked if they keep a close eye on the video game market to know what gamers will expect of fiction later in life. They thought the first was an interesting question and hadn't considered the latter, so I got a pat on the back. I like pats on the back from publishers, which is why I remember.

So I imagined all these business people thinking more about spaces after periods than making money, and it didn't sound right. "I'm fortunate to know people who know people," I said. "I'm fairly certain when my agent pitches a manuscript she cares most about the content, and I'm pretty sure most publishers haven't attempted to kill her."

"Fuck you! My friend works at Random Fucking House!"

"The Random House guidelines don't specify one or two spaces," I said, after double-checking.

"Why should they have to? Fuck you!"

Imagine the business meeting to discuss a manuscript that's taken the interest of the Random House decision makers:

"I love this story, Harvey. We've got to publish it."

"Yeah, this will make a mint, Bill. Let's give the author a small advance, just enough to keep them happy, and see what comes of them. We'll buy their loyalty later if the project pans out."

"I think we should just invest big-time right now. New talent is impor... holy shit."


"This manuscript...." Bill's hand starts to shake. "I... I can't read it!"

"Why not?"

"Take a look." Bill passes the paper to Harvey.

"What the hell? This has two spaces--two spaces!--after every period."

"Is that why it's illegible? Why could we read it before?"

Harvey punches the arm of his chair. "This must have gotten past the slush readers. I'm going on a firing spree after this meeting."

"An agent submitted this one," Bill says.

"...I'm going to kill this writer. Nobody submits two-space-after-period-having manuscripts to Random House. No one."

Bill strokes his chin. "What was that key command for find and replace?"

"What are you talking about?"

"You can hit Ctrl-F, or something, go to Find and Replace, then type in spaces somehow and it fixes stuff for you."

Harvey loads his shotgun and stares at Bill. One of his eyes twitches.

Bill raises his palms. "Never mind! It was just something I heard one of the youngster slush readers telling me about!"

"Let's go kill that youngster, then kill this author." Harvey looks out the window for a long moment. "Did we remember to put up the new guidelines on the website, informing authors of our pathological hatred of multiple spaces on paper?"

"You want to ask that after getting your shotgun out? You're getting soft, Harvey. That's worse than my Ctrl-F comment. Let's swing by my office on the way to kill that slush reader. I have a magnum under my desk."


They leave together. A shooting spree ensues.

Here's the real kicker: could you read that story? I used two spaces after my sentences--periods, exclamation points, question marks, you name it! Did you even notice? Apparently if you were an editor at Random House, you couldn't have read it. You'd think such a disability wouldn't get you a job in publishing, but actually, when you really think about it, that's probably why they all had to get jobs at the same publisher. Either that or Kelly and her friend are completely full of shit. Which do you think is the case?

1 comment:

Wm. Luke Everest said...

Additional: http://www.heracliteanriver.com/?p=324

Check that out if you want a good historical analysis of spaces after periods, though I can't imagine why anyone would. I felt compelled to read it. Warning: it's VERY long.