So you want to get published. You have a fabulous manuscript beautifully typed up and you’re about to submit it to a publishing house. But you wonder — is there some handy-dandy list somewhere of how not to do this?
Well, after interning for a publisher over the summer, I decided to create that list. That’s right — the first test your manuscript will have to undergo is getting approval from some unpaid, poor, hungry intern typing on an old laptop somewhere hundreds of miles away from the publisher. That’s how publishers screen through the hundreds and thousands of manuscripts they receive — using college students. Not millennials anymore — Gen Z. And if you can’t pass that first hurdle… well.
Anyhoo, here are some things to avoid/that will make those interns reject your writing.
· The Second Chapter Info Dump. You know, the one where you write that fabulous, action-packed hook for the reader in the first chapter (everyone who’s ever taken a writing class knows they must “hook”) and then you reach the second chapter and have to explain who your protagonist is. But oops! You’ve gone too far, and told the reader the protagonist’s every feeling, past history, dating history, mother’s life story, home’s architecture, dog’s pedigree, brother’s marriage problems… all in one chapter. Essentially, you’ve left nothing to be learned about the protagonist, destroyed the quiet mystery of beginning a new book and encountering new characters, and left your reader feeling exhausted.
· Failure to pick a consistent point of view — first person, second person, third person limited or third person omniscient. Wannabe authors frequently make the mistake of switching between those latter two throughout a manuscript. If you’re not switching points of view in order to further the structure of the book/some really good reason for the plot, don’t be a Waffly Wally.
· Simplistic storytelling, or too much telling without showing. You tell your reader everything very directly, without using the actions of characters to hint at their feelings or making cryptic points to add mystery. This gives me, as a reader, the nasty feeling that I’m being spoon-fed like a child — and it’s a sign of unsophisticated writing.
· Straightforward story line, e.g. where the sleuth figures out who the murderer is without making any mistakes/coming across dead ends/suspecting anyone else first. C’MON, MAN — complicated plots are so important!!!
· Too many details about minor characters/setting, especially shoved into that Second Chapter Info Dump. Or too many details about the town/area/people that attempt to set a certain tone or give a sense of the atmosphere, but don’t contribute to the plot. But I want to know what happens next, not what happened last.
· The plot goes nowhere fast. Your sideplots don’t tie into the main plot in any significant way. But then, this probably goes without saying.
· Clumsy dialogue that sounds unrealistic. Like: “Yes, mother, I will do so.” Ok, that’s quite an exaggeration — but you would be surprised what a rare gem natural-sounding dialogue is.
· Long paragraphs of description of the setting. Snoooooooze. There’s only so much exclaiming over a beautiful national park that I will never see or have no desire to see that I can take.
To be continued…