Think about it this way:
There’s a group of us. We’re either whispering quietly because we don’t want to upset anyone, or we’re just out of your sight so you can’t really hear us. And then, all of a sudden, somehow you hear us or someone leaves the group and tells you or someone voices their frustrations to you. And instead of listening, or providing them a space to boost that voice so people in other rooms will hear them, you walk back to their private room and start shouting. And people in other rooms hear you and they say ‘wow this is so great I’ve never thought of this before’ and they keep passing it on.
But we’ve been having this conversation the entire time.
So as some of you who follow me on Twitter know, I semi-recently became an editorial intern at Entangled Publishing. Yay! The experience has been completely wonderful so far and I’m loving it.
What most of you don’t know is this is actually my second internship. My first was at a literary agency, and that was awesome. My job during both internships has been basically the same: reading and evaluating submitted manuscripts or partials and writing up reports for each.
Both internships have been wonderful experiences and I’ve learned a lot from each—particularly about what makes a good opening.
I’ve found that 75% of the time, I can tell within the first fifty pages whether I’m going to recommend a rejection, R&R or acceptance. There have been a couple instances where I was able to tell within the first ten pages, but I always read the first fifty just in case.
So all of that said, here are five common issues I’ve seen that tend to lead to my putting the manuscript down after the first fifty pages:
- Too much telling. I see this all the time. All. The. Time. And I get why—it can be pretty tough to learn how to spot and fix overtelling. But 9/10 times, when I see an overabundance of telling, the MS also has other issues that are a sign of a new writer or manuscript that needs more work.
- Too much (or not enough) explaining. The thing with backstory, isthere has to be a balance. Too much backstory and the plot drags and the readers become overwhelmed—too little and we don’t understand what’s going on or why things or important or what all these terms mean, etc. Both are problematic.
- Flat voice/characters. Like many aspects of writing, this one is pretty subjective. To me, a flat voice or character is one that doesn’t stand out. If I don’t find a voice or protagonist memorable, it’s not necessarily an insta-killer, but combined with other issues and I’m likely to put it down. Conversely, if a manuscript has a fantastic voice or really interesting protagonist, but also has other issues, I’m more likely to fight for it.
Related to this is a voice that doesn’t sound right for it’s age group. I read a lot of YA submissions, so this commonly means a voice that doesn’t sound like a teenager, but like an adult trying to sound like a teenager—and this is more likely to be a killer than a less than memorable protagonist. The best remedy for this, is to read a lot of YA. Loads and loads of it. It’ll help, I promise.
- Stiff/unrealistic dialogue. Bad dialogue makes me cringe, which isn’t really a reaction I want to be having while reading. Like part of the last point, this isn’t an insta-rejection point (unless it’s consistently really not good), but combined with other issues and it definitely factors in. (Related: here’s a post on writing realistic dialogue).
- Not enough happening. Unfortunately plot issues like this are a big deal. If I reach page fifty and I still don’t know where the story is going, it’s an enormous red flag. In an average manuscript, fifty pages is around 20% of a novel, give or take. By 20%, the inciting incident should have definitely happened, and the point of no return should be hinted at, if not already passed.
For me, page fifty is my evaluation point. It’s when I take stock of my reactions of the manuscript thus far and decide what decision I’m leaning towards. If nothing significant has happened by then, chances are I’m going to be leaning toward a rejection, which makes everyone (including me) sad.
So what can you do to make sure these aren’t issues in your manuscript? I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again—find excellent critique partners and beta readers. Evaluating your own manuscript is tough, and outside feedback can definitely help point you in the right direction when time comes to edit.
So those are my interning observations, now I want to hear from you:what makes you put a book down when reading?
Anonymous asked: This might be a really dumb question... Why do authors feel so weird saying "my agent" and "my publicist" ? I saw some authors on Twitter saying it made them feel "pretentious" and like an "ass." But as a reader, I know you guys have agents, publicists, editors etc and I think it's so cool! Why is it such a negative thing to say?
Well I’ve got to say this is a new one for me. Authors definitely shouldn’t feel pretentious or like an ass for that. I can’t speak for other authors, but I worked damn hard to get an agent. I queried over 140 of them and wrote two books the world will never see just to finally land one willing to sign a contract with me. Agents are not the mark of a well-connected rich snob who rubbed elbows with the right person at the right party over cocktails. Agents give dreamers a career and help make that word doc become a story so many people discover and love. I mean hell, I was just out of college, living at home with my mom, writing during my lunch break at work, wondering if I would ever make it out there. I earned my agent with nothing but the humility to accept when I’d failed, the ambition to try again, and the delusion that it would all lead somewhere despite the fact that everyone in my life was telling me to just get used to my 9-5 life because dreams are cheap and everyone has them. it was a lonely, hard, desperate road, and when I got that phone call being offered representation, it was the day that changed my life. I earned that. And my agent works really damn hard for me. There is NOTHING to be ashamed of there.
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writejenwrite asked: Thank you, thank you for that post on where to find critique partners! I've really struggled with this and really appreciate the tips on sites to check out and make that connection with other writers.
You’re so very welcome! I’m really happy to hear it helped! :)
Deciding you want to be a writer is scary. It’s also exciting, depending on the day of the week, and difficult, and fun and sometimes overwhelming. On especially interesting days, it’ll be all five.
I often get e-mails from new writers asking for tips—something to help them write their book, whether they’ve just started, haven’t started, have tried and failed to finish several times, or are just stuck with a particularly challenging WIP. So I’m going to share with you the advice I repeat most often: finish the book.
IMO, the first book is the hardest to finish. It’s the one where you fight the most doubts about your ability to finish a novel, where you haven’t yet figured out the process that works best for you, where you question whether or not you’re really an actual writer. (Those doubts, struggles and questions never really go away, but they’re often the loudest when writing that first ever book).
Finishing a book isn’t easy. There are going to be days when you seriously doubt your ability to reach the end. There will be days when you think your writing completely sucks, days when you hate your characters or your plot or you think your dialogue is stupid. There will be days when you start to wonder if maybe you should give up and try something else.
Don’t give up. Don’t stop. Don’t look back.
The truth is, your first draft will probably suck. Many published writers will tell you that their first drafts are laughably bad, but here’s the thing to remember: it doesn’t matter. The first draft isn’t about getting it right, it’s about getting it done. That’s it.
Next, you need to be reading. This isn’t optional. Read the popular and obscure, read whatever you can get your hands on, and most importantly,read the genre and category that you’re writing in. You need to know what’s out there in order to be able to write a book that’ll fit on the shelf. Not only that, but you’ll discover so much when reading—for example, I never would have learned how much I love dual-POV novels or Sci-Fi if I hadn’t read Beth Revis’s Across the Universe.
Read read read read read. You won’t regret the time you take to keep aware of what’s on the market (but I promise you, you will regret it if you skip this step).
Now you’re writing and reading. Awesome. The next thing you need to accept is you have to edit. A lot.
One of the best things I’ve done for my career thus far is to learn to love to edit. That’s right—I didn’t always love it, in fact, I kind of skimped on it with my first couple WIPs (learn from my mistakes, writers: do not skimp).
But even if you don’t learn to love to edit, you need to accept that it’s going to be a part of your life if writing is truly what you want to do. And yes, for those of you editing while first drafting, you will still have to edit again. Most likely several times.
Related to this note, you need critique partners that aren’t close friends or relatives. You need feedback from other writers, and not only that, you need the experience of critiquing someone else’s work. Make the effort to find some good critique partners, because they are truly invaluable to the writing process.
The next unfortunate truth is you’re going to get rejected. This doesn’t apply to just new writers—you’ll face rejection throughout your career, regardless of where you’re at. You’ll be rejected by agents, by editors and by negative reviews.You’ll learn the difference between a form rejection and a personalized rejection (and you’ll learn that personalized rejections are a thing to be cherished).
You may hear a lot of no’s for many many years before you hear your first yes (for me, it took eight years to hear the yes that landed me an agent). You may have to trunk manuscripts and write book after book that you then have to put away, but I promise you, this is normal and it’s okay. It’s not a waste of time—you’re learning and growing and beginning to get a feel for the tough part of the writing life.
The good news is this: the writing community is wonderful. I can’t encourage you enough to get involved—start a Twitter and follow other writers, read writing blogs, check out forums, whatever you have to. The writing community is full of people in all stages of their journey, people who understand the rejection and the tough days when you want to give up on this writing dream. People who are there to help you when they can and encourage you when you’re feeling down. People who will dance with you when good things happen and beam when you share good news.
If you don’t listen to anything I’ve written, please please please do this:get involved with the writing community. You’ll learn so much from that alone.
Finally, know that you are, actually, a writer. It doesn’t matter if you don’t have an agent, or a book contract, or a published book. It doesn’t matter if you don’t write every day, or you’re not getting paid, or no one knows your name. If you write and you love to write, you’re a writer. Embrace it. Love it. Live it.
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