Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Guest Post: Submission Tips From An Editorial Intern

I won't rattle on today because, as you may have guessed from the the title, we have a guest post with the fabulous Jennifer Blackwood. 

Thank you for having me on Operation Awesome today! My name is Jennifer Blackwood, and I am lucky enough to be an editorial intern. I’ll point out a few things I look for when a submission crosses my desk.  

This is the first thing I look for in a submission. It is what keeps me going throughout the story—or makes me stop after 50 pages. It’s what sets your story apart from others. I will faithfully read a story with an overdone trope with a stellar voice as opposed to a unique story with a weak voice.

Some things to look for before you submit:

*Passive voice (using “to be” verbs). There are definitely times where using a “to be” verb is warranted, but make sure it isn’t every sentence!

*Telling- especially emotions. It’s very easy to fall back on, but super easy to fix! Helpful hint: Utilize the “find” button in your document to look for any emotion words (Angry, frustrated, happy, etc.) Instead of using these, show the reader with dialogue, facial expressions, reactions, etc. By doing this, you will draw the reader into the story (and hopefully make it farther in the submissions process!)

*If you have dual point of view, make sure your characters have two distinguishable voices. I often see submissions where the two main characters sound like the same person. Make sure they have their own distinct mannerisms, opinions, dialogue, and thought-processes. 

Dialogue- Dialogue should move your story forward. Oftentimes, in submissions, I see really stiff dialogue that does nothing for the characters. Make sure that each character has their own unique way of speaking. If you took away the dialogue tags, you should be able to tell who is talking just by their style.

A good example of this is Derek from the movie Zoolander. Everything that comes out of his mouth is unmistakably Derek. J

Mechanics- Your submission does not have to be perfect. Commas are the bane of a writer’s existence, I totally get that. I can forgive that. What I can’t forgive is twenty typos per page. Before you send in a submission, make sure to spellcheck. Have a critique partner read over it. It’s a safe bet that your submission won’t make it past the interns if you submit a rough draft riddled with typos and grammatical errors.

Overall story- I have read dozens of submissions and it strikes me as odd that 90% of what I read in the submission pile is THE SAME STORY. Sometimes I do a double take because I think haven’t I just read this? I love me some good, solid tropes (older brother’s best friend, anyone?!?!) but make sure you bring something to the table that makes your story stand out. Tropes I am seeing a lot of: Virgins, rape, bad boys turning good, teens discovering they are werewolves/lycan/fae/anything supernatural on their birthday. I’m all for these tropes if done in a stellar voice with a unique twist!  

Introspection- There is a time and a place for your characters to get deep and philosophical. 

The beginning is not a place to bog down the reader with a ton of introspection. Like wasabi on sushi, a little bit of introspection goes a long way. With that said, you shouldn’t leave readers in the dark about what’s going on with the main character, but ten paragraphs of introspection probably isn’t a good idea for the first few pages.

Professionalism- It is really important to be professional in your query. There are a handful of queries/submissions that stick out in my mind—and usually if they stick out, it means they did something really good or REALLY BAD. Usually the latter of the two. I’ve seen submissions with title pages saying it was a rough draft, others saying I was lucky to be reading it. Some said that if it didn’t get picked up, they planned to self-publish in the next month or so…

These probably aren’t things you want to say when you are submitting to a publisher. Or anyone you are querying, for that matter.

Anyhoo, that’s just a little peek inside the mind of an editorial intern. Thank you for having me on the blog, Operation Awesome!  

Jennifer Blackwood is an English teacher and New Adult author. She lives in Oregon with her husband, son, and poorly behaved black lab puppy. When she isn’t writing or teaching, she’s binging on Veronica Mars episodes and white cheddar popcorn. Blackwood writes about gray area issues with steamy tension and sizzling romance. But don't worry—her tortured heroes always get their happily ever after they deserve. She is represented by the fabulous Courtney Miller-Callihan from Greenburger Associates. Her debut novel, UNETHICAL, comes out later this year with Entangled Embrace.


JeffO said...

Absolutely great advice, Jennifer. And I'll be honest, a lot of bloggers will post capsule reviews of books they're reading, or they'll post a blurb that goes along with a cover reveal from a friend, and I'll think what you think: "I've seen this before." It must get very tiring for you! Thanks for the post.

Angelica R. Jackson said...

Wow, loads of good info in here! Thanks for joining us, Jennifer.

Jennifer Blackwood said...

Thank you for having me on the blog! Glad the information was helpful :)
JeffO- you'd think it would get tiring, but I love looking through the submission pile! Always fun to see what I will come across.

J Lenni Dorner said...

Thank you so much for the tips!

Stephsco said...

This: I will faithfully read a story with an overdone trope with a stellar voice as opposed to a unique story with a weak voice.

I've been reading more romance since I joined RWA. There are a few authors who take tired romance tropes I've seen before in books and movies and really make them fresh with their characters and writing. I even read a "let's get fake married because XYZ" book (think The Proposal with Sandra Bullock) and it was really good because the author tore apart that trope and explored every detail with the characters' emotions and experiences.

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