As an editor, I read manuscripts daily. That is what it means to be a small press. We do not assign every manuscript to an intern. Yes, we have a few interns. No, they are not in charge of making any decisions for our editorial calendar.
I read at least six manuscripts per week that have been submitted for review. Do I read all of the way through? Definitely not. That would take months and we do not have time to spend months on a piece that we will reject.
I've noticed three common mistakes that fiction writers make in their manuscripts.Three. Those three are the reason that we reject the entire manuscript. It sounds harsh, but it is a harsh industry.
Mistake #1: Having Body Parts Doing Disembodied Actions
Two pages into your novel, an argument occurs. That is great. A little action goes a long way at the beginning of a book. What causes me to put a 'REJECTION' at the top of it is the following error:
"John's hand insinuated that Jill was going to take his book, so he pulled away."
John's hand cannot do that. As writers, sometimes we forget that simple writing is the best writing. Please don't do this. It isn't artistic. It demonstrates your inability to learn the definition of a word.
Rewrite: Jill step forth and John pulled the book away with his hand.
God! That sounds so much better. Avoid ridiculous verbs for simple actions. Eyes don't bounce back and forth. Legs don't do anything but walk, run, etc....
Mistake #2: Tons of Characters, but No Sense of Place
Time and time again, I can always pick out the wannabe writer who read one book in Twilight or Harry Potter and decided to send me their 600-page copy of poorly written jumbo. But, what really makes me sad for writers is when they have great characters and the writing is concise, but they forgot something.
They forgot a big something. I have no idea where these characters are. I have no sense of place. I don't know if Character 1 is standing in the living room and Character 2 is behind the counter top of the kitchen. Writers forget to stage their characters.
I learned this critical piece of information in a workshop taught by author Melissa Bender at UC Davis. She changed the way I write settings. Staging, as written out by Charles Baxter.
In Baxter's The Art of Subtext he discusses the importance of grounding the character into his world. For example, when I wrote a short story about a bipolar man and his wife, I wrote a scene in the kitchen. He was in a fit a mania, pressing against the counter as she backed up against the kitchen sink.
Do you feel where they are? The unsaid emotions. The importance of that kitchen island? Writers forget to do this a lot and it is the difference between something I read and something I put down. I highly suggest buying Baxter's book. It will change the way you write. You can click the link in this post or the use the widget on the side to find the book on Amazon. All of the profits from these links, keep this website going.
Mistake #3: Thinking That You Can Get Away without An Editor!
This isn't a mistake only reserved for new writers. Seasoned and fresh fiction writers make this mistake at all points in their writing lives. Every writer should hire an editor after completing the first draft of their manuscript,
Hiring an editor is absolutely the difference between okay writing and stellar writing. Not only will you have a polished draft, but this editor will stick with you throughout each edit. For example, when I am hired on for a manuscript, I offer a full editorial package to my authors. That includes the developmental edit, line by line, a standard copy edit, and a last proofread.
As an editor, I can say that every day I reject at least one manuscript because there has not been a proper edit. As a writer, you need to write the draft and then store it on the shelf for a week. After that week, go back and read through it with a heavy hand. Read for typos, grammar, and style problems first
Fix those. Then read it all over again. This time, read for imagery, dialogue, consistency. Once you have done a full edit of your own work, hire somebody. Email me and I will give you a list of references or do it myself.