In recent months, I’ve noticed a disturbing trend in submission of novels by new authors. Some longtime authors have inched toward this trend, but not to the point where I ask them, “what’s up with your craft?”
However, I question new authors submitting work that isn’t complete, that has not been edited for basic grammar and spelling, and narration.
First, let me preface my thoughts with a challenge to the author. In this day and age where online publishing houses are the norm, where independent publishing has gained popularity and a niche in the publishing industry, why do they continue to send manuscripts with numerous errors as if the editor has to write/rewrite their novel for them?
I’m hoping to answer that here.
New authors are submitting work that is not finished. This may happen due to the fact publishers and editor request a query and anywhere from five to fifty pages. They’re hoping that we love their story so much that we accept it. However, they’ve not taken into account that when publishers and editors accept we immediately ask for the full manuscript. If my response is yes, send me the entire MS, I do not want a reply of, “Well, I need to finish the last … chapters. If the … is more than the last two chapters, I’m no longer interested. As an editor with an online publishing company as well as freelance editor, Neither is the publisher. They’ve written off that author and will not accept work from them again. So, new authors beware. Have a complete manuscript before submitting.
I am an author. So, my next point is one I’m familiar with. I’ve been guilty of being so caught up in the story, I forgot to complete a final spell and grammar check. We all have our own styles. And my need to keep my copy clean has me constantly checking my own spelling, fixing grammar as I go along. So, I can see an author, like myself, forgetting to complete one final check. My discussion is with authors who do neither. The creative juices are flowing, they’re in the zone, and they write until the story is complete. And then they send it to me or the publisher with tons of grammar and spelling errors.
Instead of discussing how unacceptable this practice is, let me appeal to authors and their pride. Why would you want your name associate with a story that is riddled with mistakes? Why would you let an editor read your work that she/he has to fix every sentence? Think on this. Do you believe that publisher and editor take you as someone serious about becoming a published author?
I once worked with a publisher who insisted we editors receive an A on our own skills. However, they had no problem accepting F work from authors. Editing a 60k word document of spelling, grammar, dialogue tags, adding “” around speech, placing a comma before a character’s name in direct speech, rewording sentences to avoid awkwardness, omitting correct word errors, passive voice, and the list goes on, is a nightmare.
Do yourself and publisher or editor a favor and complete spell and grammar check one last time. A note here just in case you’re almost ready to send your manuscript to the editor or publisher. Format your document in Word. Ensure use of 12pt. Times New Roman Font. Indent the first line over every paragraph. And double-spaced lines. It helps tremendously.
Because Amazon and KDP has made it easy for anyone to self-publish, the problem with narration, specifically multiple points of view, is rampant in manuscripts I receive.
First let me note the narrator. Within today’s market, readers enjoy reading stories from the point of view of the character. We’re no longer in love with the omniscient narrator who knows and sees all. A coworker has a good blog on the omniscient narrator. Keep a Flyswatter on your desk. Authors are making the change to using one or two points of view in their stories. It is often the main character or two main characters. Some will add narration of minor characters if they are close to the main characters and, often if the story is part of a series. Usually we know that in some later book that supporting character will become a main character.
Some do a great job. Others need assistance. Let me help with this. Narration should always be from one or both main characters. It is best if the author shows that character’s thoughts, feelings, experiences during narration. Showing instead of telling. It’s an easy trick. Just get in the mind of your character and then look around you. See what they see. Hear, smell, taste, and touch from their perspective. So, instead of saying, John looked into the alley. It was dark, but the shortcut would save twenty minutes and he’d be home before curfew. Write it this way… John hesitate at the entrance of the alley. Rotten food and unwashed body odor made his nostrils burn. He didn’t realize his he’d covered his nose with his hand until the he tasted the horrible smells. He clamped his mouth shut, squinting he’d see some form of light within the blackness he faced.
I’ll stop there. This narration shows us what the character experiences. It is something that takes time to develop. Work to make this your style of all characters narrating from their POV within the story. Authors write all the time. And we get better with each book.
Here is where problems arise. When narration changes from sentence to sentence or paragraph to paragraph. It is called headhopping. Writing from more than one POV is fine, but when giving one then another sentence after sentence, the reader becomes confused.
First, it’s because at some point the writer does not remember to give tags properly, sometimes uses both POVs in the same paragraph. And sometimes never initiated who is speaking leaving the reader to guess.
Other times, it isn’t as confusing, but the writer puts the characters in a tense or romantic moment and uses narration of both characters. Again, this isn’t as confusing as long as none of the problems I noted in the previous paragraph are present.
Good control of narration is important. So think of writing each chapter from a character’s POV. The next chapter from the other main character’s POV. Or, half the chapter from one and then the other. Separate those with special characters like several *** or ~*~. I’ve even seen images used as breaks like a horseshoe in Westerns.
While the bottom line for me as an editor, and knowing the publishing side as well, is authors need to be diligent completing their stories and clean up the manuscript before submitting their stories; I want to reiterate my title. It takes teamwork to publish your novel.
Ultimately this is the author’s story. Why leave it to someone else who will write it their way instead of yours?