An acquisition editor or another publishing professional might see promise in your book submission, but if they quickly conclude the project isn’t up to snuff, they’re disinclined to devote too much time to it. (Most editors do their reading in the evenings, away from the office and, like agents, their pile of editorial submissions is towering and constantly regenerating.) Confounding statements in rejection letters like “Too precious” or “Too quiet” could be interpreted as “Next!” before they move onto their next submission.
“Later” isn’t a good plan
Whether submitting to an editor, agent, a blurber, or anyone else in the biz, I urge all authors to polish their prose and make the best possible presentation. On occasion, after editing a writer’s book, I’ve pointed out problem areas that still remain and gotten back this response: “The publishing house editor can work that out later.”
Career authors can tell you that an editor does a lot of things for them but doesn’t exactly make their lives easier.
Seven deadly sins
When glancing at just a few pages of your manuscript, too-obvious glitches can alienate or repel editors. How do you get them to keep reading your whole book? Here are a few tips:
1. Do not submit a password-protected document
You might fear someone out there is going to steal your brilliant idea or plagiarize your writing but at this stage of the game that should be the least of your worries. Instead, make your editorial submission as easy to access as possible. If an editor has a tough time getting to your book, they may just move on to the next one.
2. Don’t get too fancy with organization
What seems epic or cinematic to you might seem convoluted, byzantine, or pretentious to me: “Foreword … Prologue, Part 1, three enticing quotes, Chapter One… Epilogue … Afterword.” This works better in non-fiction. Novels should also be dynamically organized but, generally speaking, readers should remain blissfully unaware of the plot’s structure and moving parts.
3. Prologues should not lead us astray
Prologues offer an opportunity to grab or entice readers into your story. My fav exciting prologues are those that introduce a character or characters, then lead them to an extremely dramatic brink—end of Prologue. After which, Chapter One jumps back in time, and the plot proceeds forward on its way back to that Prologue dilemma—mid-book or at the end.
In a prologue, you don’t want too much going on, or to overwhelm your reader. Introducing a question or mystery is fine but what’s at stake should not be utterly baffling.
Seduce readers, don’t confuse them.
4. Italics hurt my eyes
Too much of this too soon will especially annoy an editor. Whether it’s an italicized prologue or long passages later in the book, excessive (and unaesthetic) italics are harder to read. This one is a two-fer: avoid fancy fonts—you most certainly do not want to appear “too precious.”
5. Avoid alternating first-person viewpoints
First-person narratives come with their own challenges and can be tough to pull off. And perhaps you’ve fallen in love with your characters and want all of them to have their say, so your plan is to switch first-person narratives by chapter or section.
Guess what? Everyone may still express their opinion or somehow reveal their stance with a third-person POV, as well as with one first-person narrator who listens and observes as per their role. However, it’s downright risky to expect your reader to jump from “I” to “I” to “I.” Keeping these various characters straight may be overtaxing. Wait … which “I” is this?
Like #2 above, this sin may not be deadly. While you might successfully pull this off, it’s an even bigger challenge.
6. Check again for obvious grammatical slip-ups
The editorial eye is trained to look for flaws, so hopefully you will avoid these supposably apparent no-no’s. Don’t make amateur mistakes with their/there/they’re or you’re/your. The book’s first few pages need to wow a skeptical reader. Sloppy mistakes are both a distraction and major buzz kill.
7. Overwriting is all-too common
This is both a micro and macro problem: a big word count often works itself down to the sentence level. Effective career authors are editors, paring down the universe to a very specific time and place. Showing a lack of discipline or expecting someone else to take care of a too exuberant style later is not a good strategy. Trim it down. Further, sentences continuing too long without cease may feel less modern and difficult to read.
On the macro level, word count is especially important as a debut author. You don’t want your book to be too short or outside of genre conventions, nor do you want to frighten off anyone with a forbidding total.
A weaselly-eyed editor could quickly spot any of these seven sins, and just as swiftly flee in the other direction. They haven’t time to give you a writing lesson so instead they might just type a rejection letter of a nebulous sort. Don’t let this happen to you. Speaking metaphorically in this digital age, dot those i’s and cross those t’s.
Give ’em your best shot.
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