By: Peter B. Giblett
Everyday Rules, Laws and Common Sense
How do you interpret rules? This is a lighthearted look at submission rules.
There are times I admit to being somewhat a rebel. Seeing the “don’t walk on the grass signs” but doing just that, barefoot of course.
At the same time, I confess to having qualified as a trial lawyer (although I do not practice). So, how can I be a rebel, yet be a person who seeks to interpret the rules, all at the same time? Are submission rules different?
As a child in England, most people accepted that if a rule or law didn’t make sense you ignored it. When I lived in Germany, for a brief time, I found things were different. People there take the opposite approach. If there is a law, no matter how stupid, you obey it.
When I lived in the German city of Munich there were two city laws I hated. First, you are not permitted to wash your car on a Sunday. Second, you are not permitted to wash your car on the street. When Sunday is your only free day, when do you wash the car? Sunday, of course. As the car washes were all closed I simply washed it on the street. Two laws were broken out of necessity. What has this to do with writing?
Grrr… It gives me the shivers. That will be infuriating! Or will it? Perhaps a little common sense?
Writing Rules, Laws, and Common Sense
According to Tim Parker of Bloom Group the general rules of finding a publisher are:
- Find a place where your target audience reads.
- Understand the guidelines.
- Check the editorial calendar.
- Research the publication.
- Submit a proposal or completed article.
- Keep on trying.
Publisher Submission Rules
Each publisher has their submission rules. You must obey them, or they will not take your copy. If they were openly stupid, like dictating “no writing in bed” then I would feel compelled to break them. Most of these rules are procedural, like understanding the form of submission, etc. Formatting bugs me, as many demand horrid styles and fonts I never use. Another Grrr… If I had my way Times New Roman would be stricken from human memory.
Submission rules are put in place to make the editor’s life easier, as our dear Scott will attest.
One of the best ways to submit content is through the Submittable website. That site manages the submission process, making it easy to track where you are with all submissions. A pity, not all submissions are handled this way. But I am a fan of using such systems to make life easier for the writer.
Publishers give rules like “all content must be original work“. Ah! Yes, I agree with this one. But, I learned a long time ago that any concept can be explained using fresh words, despite copyright law. It is the focus of my attention today.
Let’s start in a place where we can all agree. It is possible for any content to be copied, even easier in the day of the computer. Thanks to our friends copy and paste. Can you build new copy that says the same thing, yet at the same time remain entirely original? Read that question again and think about it for a moment.
English is such a flexible a language that most words have as many as a dozen alternatives. Take a hypothetical sentence made up of ten everyday words and assume each word has 6 alternatives. That would give more than 60 million alternative ways to say the same thing. Fascinating. It is true that some combinations will sound odd and contrived and most writers would not use them.
Putting a Spin on it
There is software available to spin your content. Take a sentence, keep the idea, change the words used. Say the same thing without using the same words. Think about this for one second. Is that what you do when you paraphrase a quote? Yes. You take the other person’s words and translate into your own words. You use alternate words. In the academic world, it is one way of showing that you understood the authority you are using. You can even create swan lake sentences this way, with work.
Let me be clear, I don’t recommend spinning content. I tested spinning software for a client. The result, sadly, can be a series of meaningless sentences. Each of which needs untangling, editing and correction to be of any use. Look at the following. The first image, a paragraph from the draft of this article. The second the spun alternative.
You don’t need a masters in English to realize that something is very wrong. The first two sentences are passable. The third is bizarre and would need fixing to be usable. A good writer can more effectively say the paragraph with alternative words.
From an Idea…
Ah! I hear you thinking – surely then you are taking the idea and making it your own. Other than in academia, there is nothing wrong with that. An idea, once free, belongs to no-one. Don’t take my word for it US Copyright Act Section 102(b) states this loud and clear; “ In no case does copyright protection for an original work of authorship extend to any idea.”
It is not a breach of copyright to use an idea and develop your own version of it. What breaches the law is using another person’s words in the original form. I am not suggesting you paraphrase every sentence in a novel to create your own. I am sure that has been tried somewhere (if not a novel then a Hollywood script).
Original? Submission Rules
If you wish to publish your material at some sites you need to provide proof that it is original work. Publishers use Copyscape to test whether the work is original. It is not practical for most bloggers to use because of cost. Small SEO Tools has a free plagiarism checker which is the right price for most writers.
If you know your work to be original, there should no reason to check. Good in theory, but you should check.
Part of this is the threshold of originality. Even if all the ideas you write were your own and every sentence you wrote came from your own mind there would be common elements. Using clichés and common phrases will mean that your work is never 100% original. How many times have you seen the sentence “I am, she said”?
This is where the threshold of originality comes into play. A small percentage of everyone’s work is unoriginal. Clichés and common phrases do mount up and everyone uses them. According to Oxford Dictionaries clichés “annoy people, especially if they’re overused” and sadly most are.
If you use quotes, then the percentage of unoriginal work will go up. Many publishers demand the threshold of originality to be 95% or above. The lesson is to keep the quotes to a minimum or paraphrase the other person’s words. Ensure you mention them, remember you are not spinning here.
Blogs are now becoming serious places to write. Everyone is seeking contributions from other writers, some will even pay for them. These seem exciting times to be a writer. There are rules everywhere. Here are some you may encounter along the way:
- By submitting, you certify it is your work and is original.
- Written in an informal, interesting, easy-to-read style.
- Submit three URLs to examples of your other writing. One reason to have a blog.
- If any guidelines and formatting instructions are not met, your submission will NOT be reviewed.
Time to take the bull by the horns and start creating some submissions.
One place to consider a guest post is Two Drops of Ink. Our submission rules and guidelines are simple.
Two Drops of Ink: The Literary Home for Collaborative Writing