Diamond State Romance Authors

Always Follow the Instructions

It’s Christmas, the season of “assembly required.” You’re probably in one of three camps:

1. Your read all the instructions first and then assemble.
2. You put it together as you read and swear at poorly written directions and diagrams that make everything look like the space station.
3. You throw the instructions away with the box.

My father was in camp 3. He fixed my car once. My brother took it for a test drive and my mother had to chase him down the road – the wheel was about to come off the axle. Dad installed a car radio for me too – he brought me a box of “extra” parts.

I am my father’s daughter. I’ve been in Home Depot with Liquid Wrench in my hair buying supplies to fix a sink. I think the sales clerk tried to pick me up. (I started going to Lowe’s after that.) I’ve been in Lowe’s trying to find the right cap for a pipe I broke before it thawed and became a geyser. I’ve watched waterfalls cascade over my kitchen counters because I didn’t turn the water off before I worked on the faucet. (I was just replacing one little piece.)

I am forbidden from working on plumbing at home for the rest of my life. I should also know by now to always follow the instructions.

This topic came up with my current manuscript. I’m supposed to be editing for point of view issues. When I got rid of the “noise” from other characters, the main characters had more to say. I let them run amok. Instead of editing, I was rewriting. Then someone asked me: How many words is this supposed to be? For the editor I’m soliciting, the maximum is 80,000 words.

And then I did my word count – my first word count. I had more than 80,000. I’m embarrassed to tell you how many more. Now I’m whacking at my story like that pipe I broke.

That doesn’t mean my rewriting was wasted. It was necessary, and a lot of it is staying. However, I’m much less attached to the words I thought I’d carefully chosen.

My lesson this month is to look ahead. Which publisher are you pursuing? Which line? Research their guidelines and follow them. Or discover you can’t tell your story their way and find another publisher.

If you’re unsure, ask a published author in your RWA chapter or writing group. One publisher’s guidelines say “no explicit language.” To me, “explicit” can mean a lot of things. That question may be best answered by a published author or an agent, or a friendly editor.

Making your work as perfect as possible involves more than proofreading and not “head hopping” between characters. It’s making it as perfect as you can for a publisher’s guidelines. Why get a rejection because you didn’t read the instructions?

Oh, and do your word count early. Trust me.

Merry Christmas!


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