Writability: Thoughts from the Intern Slush Pile: Common Issues →
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?
Afternoon in the Valley, unknown
Brigden, Frederick Henry
Oil on canvas
Overall: 93.3 x 113 cm
Gift of Mrs. Walter L. Tarr, Cincinnati, in memory of her father, Harry L. Sutherland, 1961
© 2014 Art Gallery of Ontario
"The first duty of the novelist is to entertain. It is a moral duty. People who read your books are sick, sad, traveling, in the hospital waiting room while someone is dying. Books are written by the alone for the alone."
"It is not the strongest species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the ones most responsive to change." - Charles Darwin