5 Manuscript Errors That Are Hampering Your Chances of Getting Published

By on Mar 19, 2017 in Fiction, Writing & Editing

When eBooks appeared on the map, there was a blast. But the biggest consequence was that indie writers didn’t need to wait for a publishing house to choose their book – goodbye rejection letters, right? Best of all, now you don’t need a lot of money to pay to self-publish. You could do it online, which costs very little. So, as a result, it would be easy to assume that traditional publishing is losing its appeal for aspiring authors.

Not quite.

The most evident consequence of the rise of independent publishing was the fact that traditionally published books gained credibility. When the reader knows that anyone can put together an eBook and publish it on Amazon, when they see that a publishing house stands behind you, they are ready to buy your book, especially if they like the blurb. So no, traditional publishing is still going strong, and the NYT bestseller lists feature traditionally published books more often that self-published ones (unless the book is published by a well-known author). In other words, it’s still better to be published traditionally – although, with a great book, new authors can be successful if they self-publish.

That’s why today we’re taking a look at the most common errors that will hamper your chances of getting published. Coincidentally, these mistakes will also hamper your chances of success if you choose to self-publish. Most people seem to think that manuscript errors involve formatting, spacing, font, spelling, etc. Except for spelling, and some jarring, unnatural formatting that hurts the eyes, what makes editors turn away your manuscript is a weak story filled with plot holes and weak characters. Below, we have some of the most common mistakes that you have to watch out for – they can break your book completely.

1. Opening with a happy scene

If you think that by showing the readers how your characters were happy before the event that changed their lives has a better chance of endearing the readers, then by all means, give it a try. However, that will not make the readers sympathetic. Readers react emotionally when a character is in danger, even if they don’t know the character yet. Open with a bang. Show the life from before in memories. Make the reader wonder what the character would be like when things would be normal. Make both your characters and your readers long for that, and the readers will want to read every page of your book.

2. Dialogue filler

Imagine a scene where ten people who previously didn’t know each other first meet. You will probably be tempted to write down every character introducing themselves to each other. That’s a lot of hellos, a lot of “I am” or “my name is.” Avoid that, and avoid introducing so many characters at once. It’s difficult to keep track of them. Mention them in passing, save the characters for later – when they are actually needed. Make every word in your dialogue count. Infuse tension between characters who are conversing. If your character speaks more than two sentences in a row, separate the words with action in between. In real life, we rarely sit down and talk without gesturing with our hands, sipping coffee, or adjusting the way we sit or stand. Especially if we stand, we show signs of impatience, we’re not motionless robots.

3. Indirect retelling of important information

If you’ve ever read a mystery book, for example, or any book, where the protagonist relays very quickly that the information they needed was brought to them via a phone call or a letter without the reader actually witnessing the event, that’s telling at the worst level. It’s not showing, and worst of all, the readers don’t get to see the emotional reaction of the protagonist to the event – did they feel happy, sad, or scared? When they simply say: “Mary called me that morning and told me about the artifact…” there is no tension. The deed is done, and the readers not only have no chance to see how the phone call went, they stop caring about the story, bit by bit, page by page. So, show the phone call, and the scene where the protagonist relays the information to the reader – delete it, because it’s irrelevant anyway.

4. Two-dimensional side characters

Often, the only character who seems real is the protagonist, and everyone else simply fulfills their role without showing any personality at all. The tech guy is nothing more than the tech guy who solves the tech problems. The best friend appears once to show that the protagonist has one and then disappears until they’re kidnapped or something (which, of course, poses the question of how, and why, but usually, the protagonist saves the best friend and that’s that). The same role could be filled by a relative, a love interest – who exists just to be a love interest. The protagonist and the love interest barely have any chemistry or a connection, but they fall deeply in love anyway (how?). If you keep your characters so close to their roles that they’re cardboards otherwise, then you’re not getting published, and your readers will not care about your story. Good characters, and a lot of them, lie at the heart of every great story.

5. Lack of proper editing

How do you know there has been a lack of proper editing? How do editors know that you’ve submitted the first manuscript you’ve ever written, without rewriting, proofreading, checking for plot holes and perfecting characterization?

Typos are a great giveaway, of course, and so are wrong words. Good proofreading, where you will catch every you’re and your, where someone boasts instead of boats (both words are spelled correctly, yet boats will show an editor that you’re an amateur), will get you noticed.

Good characterization, to start with, along with a tight plot, meaningful dialogue and no filler scenes, no filler anything, will get you published. Can you do it? Yes, you can, as long as you’re incredibly objective and able to criticize your own work without throwing it in the fire and giving up entirely. You can always get a freelance editor to help you, or a beta reader to keep an eye on things. Or a friend. You can proofread yourself, but you will not be able to tell if your story isn’t engaging enough, or if it has plot holes. So, ask for help – it’s always good to have at least another set of eyes go over your work before submitting it to a publishing house, or self-publishing.

Georgina Roy wants to live in a world filled with magic. As an art student, she’s moonlighting as a writer and is content to fill notebooks and sketchbooks with magical creatures and amazing new worlds. When she is not at school, or scribbling away in a notebook, you can usually find her curled up, reading a good urban fantasy novel, or writing on her laptop, trying to create her own.


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