What does an agent want you to fix before you send that manuscript?

Recently Dawn Dowdle from Blue Ridge Literary Agency sent out this advice to all her author prospects. These are a few things she runs into on a regular basis that detract from the overall quality of a submission. This is excerpted with her permission. I thought it worthy of sharing as the advice is something I’ve seen often and certainly have to remind myself on periodically.

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This is for ALL authors. I hope you will read and follow this.

Here are some of the big items I find people are not following. I am going to be returning manuscripts where I have to mark these edits consistently in the beginning of a manuscript. This takes away from my being able to watch the overall story and help you tighten the manuscript to help editors want to acquire it quickly.

1. Telling AND showing. Many of you have this habit. You will tell AND show the same thing. An example: He affirmed and picked up his keys. “Yes, let’s go to the store.” You don’t need He affirmed. Just use: He picked up his keys. “Yes, let’s go to the store.”

2. Said tags. I know I’ve harped about this for a long time, but many of you are still doing this. You are putting an action AND a said tag with dialogue. Remove the said tag. Just use the action. Example: He jingled his keys and said, “I am going to the store to buy bread.” Instead, use: He jingled his keys. “I am going to the store to buy bread.”

3. Same thing for asked. Example: He sorted the mail and asked, “Do you want to go to a movie?” Use: He sorted the mail. “Do you want to go to a movie?”

4. Using other words than said or asked. Do not use other words for said and asked. As much as possible, follow 2 and 3 above.

5. Starting sentences with So. You might have ONE character who will start sentences with So in narration and/or dialogue. You don’t want them all to do this. You need to make your characters stand out.

6. Having a lot of sentences starting with And or But. YES, people do speak using these and they also think using these. We just need to reduce how often it is used in manuscripts.

7. Contractions. Think about when you speak and think. Do you use contractions? Most people do. So most of your characters should. It’s rare people say will not. They usually say won’t. They rarely say did not. They usually say didn’t. Again, you will have characters who should not or would not use these.

8. Commas with names. In dialogue, there is a comma BEFORE and AFTER (unless it starts or ends a sentence) a name. Example: “Diana, please come to the table.” Another example: “Could you please set the table, Diana, before our guests arrive.

9. Lists. Please do NOT put a comma before AND in a list of 3 or more items unless you already have a publisher and know they require it.

10. Commas with AND, OR, and BUT. Only use a comma if there is a SUBJECT and VERB on BOTH sides. Example: The dog ran across the road, and the cat climbed up the tree. SUBJECT AND VERB on both side of AND (dog ran) (cat climbed). Do NOT use in this type of Example: The boy slung his backpack on the table and searched the refrigerator for a snack. NO subject AFTER AND (boy slung) (searched) so searched goes with boy BEFORE AND and so no comma.

11. Using the words felt, heard, saw. Just describe it. We know the point of view character saw, heard and felt it because they couldn’t describe it if they didn’t.

12. Redundant words. Own is one you rarely need. Using Her own house doesn’t need own. Whose else could it be if it’s her house? Another one is down. She looked down at her feet. Unless her feet aren’t on the floor, you don’t need down.

Learn more about Dawn and Blue Ridge Literary Agency at the following link:

http://www.blueridgeagency.com/

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13 Responses »

  1. Good set of advice. The advice regarding the use of redundant words and empty words is one that I struggle to get people to follow. I have also seen cultural differences in their use.

  2. Wonderful tips. Will surely be used as I begin my next round of edits.

  3. Thank you for this post. I bookmarked it to reference as I continue to revise my manuscript.

    I am following Sol Stein’s triage method fixing, characters, scenes, motivations for actions, beginning, and then general edits.

    Thanks again,

    Sarah M Blood

  4. All of these are great tips. I wish more authors would heed them. I disagree with #9, though. According to the Chicago Manual of Style, a comma should be used after “and.” Also, I do freelance editing for many different publishers, and all the book publishers I’ve worked for require the serial comma. Usually, the no comma before “and” is AP style and used for magazines and newspapers.

    But my main reason for liking serial commas is that they prevent misinterpretation. I’ll never forget this example:

    Thanks to my parents, Ayn Rand and God.

  5. Fabulous tips! I will share this with my writing friends. Thank you for the good share.

Trackbacks

  1. Stop feeling! And don’t “think” either while you are at it — Rule #24 of 32 Simple Rules to the Writing the Best Novel Ever | Jennifer M Eaton
  2. Just how good is the first line of your manuscript? | Jennifer M Eaton

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