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Welcome to the inaugural installment of “Publishing Ins and Outs,” a column geared toward helping aspiring and beginning writers through the rough seas of the publishing industry. I’ve been a staff proofreader at Lambda for two fantastic years now, proofreading articles and book reviews, and I’m excited to be able to share my own voice and experience with you, too. I’ve worked for Big Publishing, for small presses, and for independent authors, and I’ve experienced the getting published from the writer’s side, too. Please write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions on grammar and mechanics, the craft of writing, sending queries, how the business of publishing works, working with editors and agents, or any other questions involving getting books into print and then getting them to readers. If I don’t know the answer, I’ll do the legwork and find you someone who does.
Q: I’m an aspiring author, getting ready to start querying publishers and agents. My novel isn’t especially gay-themed…Should I mention my orientation in my query letter?
When I give advice to writers, I usually tell them to consider publishing to be just like any other professional business. When you send a query, you’re basically applying for the job of writer — your manuscript is your resume, and your query is your cover letter.
With that in mind, your query letter should list your relevant qualifications and provide the basic stats of your manuscript, so that an agent or publisher has all the information they’ll need to identify your submission at a glance (name, contact info, what you’ve written, how long it is, what genre it’s in). This will also help them represent your manuscript accurately to the decision-makers farther up the food chain.
If you’re submitting fiction (and I assume you are, because you said “my novel”), only include relevant information at this stage. The personal becomes a relevant credential if it establishes you as an expert in your subject matter. Do mention your orientation if you’re writing a novel about the LGBT experience. That’s like mentioning that you’re a trained surgeon if you’ve written a medical thriller, or mentioning that you live on a boat full time if you’ve written a seafaring tale.
Your orientation is also relevant if the agent or publisher is specifically looking for gay authors. Otherwise, it won’t count for you or against you—decisions will be made solely on the strength of the manuscript and how well it fits the publisher’s existing need, or how easily the agent thinks they can sell it.
If you have previously published fiction in gay publications, you can list that experience in your previous credits. I mention in my professional bio that I’m a staff copy-editor for Lambda Literary. Does that make me automatically gay? Not really. Does it mean people might assume? Probably. But I don’t list my orientation outright, or mention partners or pets or hobbies or anything else about my life. This is a business cover letter, and I list it because it’s a prestigious professional credit.
If you’re uncomfortable mentioning your orientation, or feel that it might count against you, then leave it out. I have received queries that offer information like, “I’m only fifteen,” or “I’ve never been published before,” or “I don’t like cats,” and they all end with “but don’t hold that against me.”
Well, I wouldn’t have. But now they sound defensive, and that’s what might count against them. The best way to be sure something doesn’t count against you is to not put it on the table. There’s no rule that states you have to be forthcoming about things that you think might prejudice agents or publishers against you. If you want to be sure that your orientation, or your age, or your spot on the cat/dog continuum doesn’t influence the decision, then just don’t mention it at the query stage. But if you’re going to put it out there, have confidence, make it a positive thing, and own it.
Q: How many spaces should I put after a period, or after a question mark?
Hitting the space bar twice after a period is something a lot of us (of a certain age) learned in school. It’s a hotly debated topic, mostly because it’s a practice that becomes so deeply ingrained that people bristle at the suggestion that they unlearn it.
Putting two spaces after a period or question mark is a vestigial practice from the days of monospace typewriter fonts. An extra space was needed to help the eye to differentiate the end of a sentence. The extra space was also used in manuscripts to give proofreaders more room to fit in symbols or remarks.
The proportional fonts and justified margins of modern publishing have made that second space obsolete. One space after a period is the industry standard now for an electronically-submitted manuscript.
(That is to say, if you submit your manuscript to me with two spaces, I won’t cry out in horror and reject it. But you can be sure that I’ll be going through and changing it all to one space, myself. Luckily, there are macros and shortcuts to automate the process.)
For the definitive word on the subject, I direct you to the Chicago Manual of Style’s ruling:
[…] Introducing two spaces after the period causes problems: (1) it is inefficient, requiring an extra keystroke for every sentence; (2) even if a program is set to automatically put an extra space after a period, such automation is never foolproof; (3) there is no proof that an extra space actually improves readability[…]; (4) two spaces are harder to control for than one in electronic documents (I find that the earmark of a document that imposes a two-space rule is a smattering of instances of both three spaces and one space after a period, and two spaces in the middle of sentences); and (5) two spaces can cause problems with line breaks in certain programs.
All important points!