Guidance on Minimum Quality Standards
aka What Will Get Your Story Bounced (even when we don't want to)
We feel that we need such basic quality guidelines because while we don't want to discourage authors - particularly new authors - the archive does not solely exist for the benefit of authors within this fandom. The archive is here for the benefit of readers as well, and we need to balance the needs of these two groups. We feel that it's not only unfair to readers to let stories be archived where some basic standards aren't met, but also that it's unfair to authors, both those authors who use beta readers and polish their work as much as possible before it is published anywhere and those authors who are failing to achieve a basic standard of English but may not be aware of the weaknesses in their work.
We don't like rejecting stories. We'd really rather not put ourselves or authors through that; however, there are a number of authors who submit stories that don't meet our basic criteria, and there seem to be a number of common errors across these stories. We therefore thought that it would be helpful to provide a guide to common errors, which would also serve to clarify why stories are rejected.
Reasons for Rejection
No one is immune to typos. They are sneaky little devils, and I'm sure that in spite of proofreading this document several times, it will contain several.
A few typos will not get your story rejected. However, multiple typos - especially those which should have been picked up by running a spellcheck - may well result in your story being rejected.
ii. Multiple misspellings of canon character names
It's Catherine not Katherine or Catharine; Sofia not Sophia; Aiden not Aidan. There are links on the links page to the official CBS sites, as well as other resources. If you have any doubts about how to spell any character's name then it's fairly easy to look it up.
Again, isolated errors will not result in your story being rejected. Multiple errors will.
iii. Frequent punctuation errors.
The most common punctuation error we see involves the punctuation of speech. Common errors are:
- failing to use punctuation before closing speech marks
- capitalising words after speech marks when it's actually effectively still part of the same sentence
- failing to start a new paragraph whenever someone new speaks.
For example, the following is incorrect:
"Right." said Warrick. "Right what?" Said Nick. "Right now" he looked away as he said it.
This is the correct version:
"Right," said Warrick. [the 'said Warrick' is directly related to the speech and therefore is effectively part of the same sentence, and you use a comma rather than a full stop.]
"Right, what?" said Nick. [the 'said Nick' is still part of the same sentence, and even though you use a question mark here - because Nick is asking a question - it's actually replacing a comma and not a full stop. Furthermore, this dialogue has to be the start of a new paragraph, since a different person is speaking.]
"Right now." He [although 'Warrick' would be better to avoid confusion with the other 'he' in the scene - Nick] looked away as he said it. [This is a whole new sentence, not related to the speech, hence the full stop and upper case 'He'.]
There are some good guides to punctuation here:
Back to Basics: Punctuating Dialogue
Dialogue Formatting Tutorial: Star Wars Version
Alternatively, I'd really recommend Eats, Shoots and Leaves by Lynne Truss [No, I don't get commission. I just love that book.]
Do we need to repeat that isolated errors are acceptable, but that numerous errors of this type will probably result in your story being rejected?
iv. Confused homonyms - words that sound the same but which mean different things.
Their, they're and there; your and you're; its and it's. They are incredibly common errors and are made by many inexperienced writers. If you're struggling with this sort of error, I would really recommend getting a beta reader. However, in the meantime, there is a simple way to sort out the contractions from the non-contractions.
Sound them out. Seriously. If you're not sure whether it's your or you're in a sentence, remember that you're is short for 'you are' and the apostrophe replaces a letter - the 'a' in are. Then try saying the sentence without the contraction and see if it sounds correct.
That is your coat. That is you are coat.
Since the last version doesn't sound quite right, you know that the 'your' you want is not a contraction of 'you are'. Consequently it's the one without the apostrophe.
It's the same with its and it's. Is it 'its', meaning belonging to, or 'it's' meaning 'it is'.
Again, we're not going to penalise authors for making one or two errors of this nature in their stories. However, if there are a number of such errors then we will, unfortunately, have to reject stories.
These are the most common errors we see every day. If you read this and recognise anything as something that happens in your own writing, I would seriously recommend that you find and use a beta reader before you submit your story to the archive.
When We Won't Reject Stories
We therefore will tend not to reject stories if:
i. errors are isolated. As I said, everyone makes typos and if there are only a few, well-spaced in your story, we won't reject it because we're not seeking perfection.
ii. a submission that is borderline and made by a new author to the archive. We tend to be more lenient to new authors because we don't want to discourage new authors from dipping their toes into the fanfiction waters. However, we do expect an improvement in the quality of submissions over the next few stories. We will normally send you a 'yes, but' letter for the first story, i.e. let you know that the story has been accepted but that we noticed a few errors and that we strongly recommend that you obtain and use the service of a beta reader before submitting future stories, as we cannot guarantee acceptance. Please do not ignore these letters. If the quality does not improve, then we may have the unhappy situation of having stories rejected down the line, and believe us when we say we don't want that. However, while we try to be lenient, if a story by a new author contains a high number of errors, or a number of different kinds of error, we will - and have in the past - be forced to reject the first submission.
iii. the author has made serious attempts to improve on subsequent submissions. They might not be quite there yet, but they should be justifiably proud of the progress they've made and we're not going to be mean about it. We're going to be on the sidelines, waving our pom poms and going 'yay! you!'
iv. the author is not a native English speaker and errors are isolated. We tend to be more tolerant of errors by non-native English speakers - we couldn't write in another tongue after all - so we tend to treat non-native English speakers the same way we do new authors, i.e. be more lenient and suggest a beta reader. However, saying that we have had stories submitted that appear to have been run through Babelfish or similar and therefore are unreadable and make no sense. In those instances we have had little choice but to reject.
We hope that's helpful and answers your questions, but we must reiterate - and, yes, we keep banging on about this but that's because it's important - that if you are in any doubt about your stories then a beta reader is your new best friend and, handily, the links page lists out some places you may find them.
And if you submit stories to the archive that have been proofread and don't contain errors like this, it's quite possible that we will love you forever.