Every writer knows that grammar and spelling errors are unforgivable in a manuscript. That's why we seek outside editors and send our manuscripts to proofreaders. What writers don't realize is that making simple mistakes in an email to an agent, or a query letter, or even on a blog can cost you your career. (You never know who might be reading your blog.)
I'm not talking about spelling the word “precede” wrong. After all, it's the most misspelled word in the English language, and chances are your agent won't know how to spell it either. I am talking about a little word. It's its.
It's is a contraction of “it is.” Its is a possessive (e.g. its teeth.)
An apostrophe in the wrong context is a catastrophe.
A while ago, I took a seminar in grant writing. I was the director of a nonprofit at the time, and knowing how to write a grant was essential to the future of my project. The leader of the seminar asked the group if we knew how grantors made their decisions. We replied, “On the merits of our projects.” (Like writers, nonprofits believe that good work counts.) She immediately set us straight. “They hold up the first page of each application to the light,” she said. “If they see white-out [this was in the day of typewriters], they throw the entire application away. They repeat that process, going through each page, until they get a pile of applications with no corrections. Those are the ones they read.”
The moral of the story: Don't give anybody an excuse to throw you out. Use your spell check on everything you write, check all your punctuation marks, and watch those apostrophes.
They'll get you every time.