Thursday, September 30, 2010

a writer's paranoid checklist

Thanks to Carina Press Executive Editor Angela James, I now have twenty specific reasons to be paranoid about my writing.

No, wait. That came out wrong.

Thanks to Angela, I now have a fantastic checklist of things to look out for when writing/before submission. Because my paranoia cannot be fed without reminders, I saved all of her tweets in a word doc and now I'm posting them here. Mostly so I can look over them and pull my hair out after submitting my work in progress to a publisher. Thanks Angela.

Going to tell you some things I'm seeing a lot of while reading editor reports. 1st: too much info dump/exposition/unnecessary description

Next common issue: lack of driving conflict. The conflict cld really be easily resolved, is not developed enough or is unbelievable

3rd thing I'm seeing: poor use of POV. POV switches too frequently, is not used consistently, creates distance instead of engagement

4th: the plot or characters are too quirky or too dramatic, making the editor feel its overdone, unbelievable or trying too hard

5th issue mentioned: too much shift btween present story & past, causing reading confusion & distance from story, as well as pace problems

6th: The story/plot/characters/narrative (all of the above) move aimlessly or wander rather than having clear goal, motive, conflict

7th: awesome opening chapter(s). The rest...not so much. (I call this contest syndrome)

8th: Think I've said this one (though differently) but it bears repeating even so: the voice was distancing

9th: this one may be depressing. There's nothing WRONG with the story. It's just meh. It lacks good energy, a hook, is not different enough

10th: opposite of "contest syndrome". It starts in the wrong place. With info dump. An unnecessary prologue. Too much backstory/exposition

11th: author say it's genre X's really not (ie: author either don't know his/her manuscript or the targeted genre)

12th: lack of basic editing (several eds noted pages & pages of almost no punctuation). We don't need it to be perfect but we want an effort

Unlucky 13th: something we don't always admit (and will never say to you in a letter) but sometimes? It's just bad.

14th: The characters are unlikeable. In a way that prevents us from engaging with them. They can be villains, but we still need a connection

15th: the story/conflict/setup seem too cliche or depend on coincidence in a way that stretches willing suspension of disbelief.

16th: the characters had no chemistry. Even if it's not a romance, you want some dynamic interaction!

17th: There are a whole bunch of events and things happening and conversations occurring. And none of them move the plot forward.

18th: your characters' actions are inconsistent. Frm their established character, frm what you've *told* us abt them, from rational thought

19th: voice is inconsistent. You don't carry the tone throughout book, change frm lighthearted to dramatic, or seems like writing changed

Last but not least: We wanted to love it. Oh how we wanted to. We tried. We loved concept. But we just didn't love the bk (sound familiar?)


Additional from Angela: Now that I've shared some things the editors saw in submissions as I go through reports, I have a secret to tell you. Are you ready? It is often not the most well-written, cleanly crafted books that sell the best. Sometimes it's not even the books the editors love the most. That's why we so often say "what are we looking for?" A great story. Because that's what sells.


There is also a similar helpful list on the Carina Press blog.

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