Friday, December 11, 2009

6 More Reasons an Editor Stops Reading

from Emily Bryan . . .

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This week I was over at Marie-Claude Bourque's MuseTracks, sharing about my experience moderating an editor panel at RWA Nationals last year. I read several dozen beginnings of manuscripts until the editors told me to stop. Then they explained why they stopped me. The errors the authors made became repetitious after a while, so we'd all do well to take note and avoid them. Along with the 6 problems I mentioned at MuseTracks, here are a few more editorial redflags.

Unappealing protagonist--While it's true that characters should have flaws and room to grow (without them you have no story!) the hero/heroine can't be so unsympathetic that the reader doesn't want to try on their shoes. Give your reader/editor a glimmer of hope that this character can be saved right up front or the manuscript is destined to molder in the slush pile.

Slow beginning/Too long in Ordinary World--Authors used to have the luxury of introducing their characters in a leisurely fashion. Now, you'd better start with the characters' world in conflict/imbalance or readers (and editors) will put the book down.

Overwriting--Flowery prose and over-blown language. CS Lewis said it best. "Never say 'infinitely' when you mean 'very.' Otherwise you'll have no word left when you want to write about something truly infinite."

The dreaded -ly words--Too many adjectives and adverbs, not enough descriptive verbs and specific nouns is the hallmark of sloppy prose. Circle every -ly word in your manuscript and think long and hard about whether it deserves to live.

Too much Telling--Show your reader what's happening and let them draw their own conclusions. Resist the urge to tell your readers what you've just shown them. Let your reader bring something to the experience.

Too much Showing
--I know this seems like a contradiction, but not everything in your story is important enough to be shown. Example: George picked up the bar of Lifeboy and lathered his hands, the pungent soapy smell filling the room as he scrubbed between each of his sinewy fingers . . .---Too much information! For Pete's sake, just say George washed his hands.

The craft of writing has fascinated me since I took up my pen in earnest in 2001 and these are things I still have to remind myself of with each new story. There may be a few natural storytellers in the world, but most of us have to slog away with rewrites until we get it right. I hope these suggestions are helpful to you if you're an aspiring writer. If you're a reader, you've just been given a peek behind the wizard's curtain and found we authors aren't "Great and Powerful" at all. Most of us have to work at it, but it's a labor of love.

If you're an aspiring writer and are looking for a few more tips, please visit my website and check out my WRITE STUFF pages for help on getting started, self-editing, submitting and a host of other writerly topics.

And of course, I'm happy to take questions right here. If I don't know the answer, I'll make something up (I do write fiction for a living, you know!). Or better yet, defer to my Chatelaine buddies who know far more than I.

PS. If you're looking for a stocking stuffer for the romance readers on your list, The Book Oasis will send out signed copies of all my titles! At 10% off! If you're in New England, I'll be signing there on Saturday. Click here for the details!

Oh, and Happy Chanukah to all who celebrate the Feast of Lights!


Sandy December 11, 2009 at 7:50 AM  


A very useful post. Authors who are powerful made me smile. All of us have to revise even the powerful. Better writers than I am have quit.

C.L. Wilson December 11, 2009 at 7:58 AM  

Excellent information, Emily, as was the first post on musetracks! Thanks so much for sharing!

Kristine Cayne December 11, 2009 at 8:56 AM  

Thank you Emily. Another very thought provoking post that I will keep by my side while I'm revising and editing my manuscript.

EmilyBryan December 11, 2009 at 8:57 AM  

Sandy--Some people think authors have complete control over their stories, but the power is an illusion. There are certain expectations of genre fiction. If we don't hit the reader's hot buttons, we'll end up as a wall banger.

EmilyBryan December 11, 2009 at 8:58 AM  

CL, you know how much I adore your work!

Do you have any thoughts to add here? Is there anything you've noticed in contest entries you've judged for example, that might help others?

EmilyBryan December 11, 2009 at 8:59 AM  

Kristine, Glad to help!

Barb H December 11, 2009 at 9:09 AM  

Thanks for the additional info. I had to smile, especially at the too much show, even while my mind was checking off the pages in my WIP, thinking...too much/too little???Seriously. Oops. :)

I grew up on wonderful historical novels that "unfolded." Now we have to plunge right in or, to use the dreaded cliche, 'hit the ground running.'

Sandy December 11, 2009 at 9:10 AM  

LOL Your wall banger struck me as so funny, Emily. I often bang my head against the wall when I'm trying to write. Grin.

EmilyBryan December 11, 2009 at 10:32 AM  

Barb H--I hear you. It pains me to think that MM Kaye's work, THE FAR PAVILLIONS, SHADOW OF THE MOON, etc might not make it in today's market because of the protracted beginning. But those books can double as doorstops. Now we want our reads quick and slim.

Though we authors try very hard not to make them less rich.

misskallie2000 December 11, 2009 at 11:11 AM  

Thanks Emily for the great post. I will keep these to go by while I am writing. Hopefully I will get more accomplished with these Reasons.

Julie Robinson December 11, 2009 at 2:13 PM  

Another list to add to yesterday's post, Emily. Thank you. Are you doing any more? Of course, I could just go to your site, right?!

'Wall Banger' was a cute expression. Isn't that a drink too? Somehow they go together---that is the wall banger and writing.

I'm with Barb on the old books. It seems that nowadays you have to still unfold or unpeel the layers, but only AFTER 'hitting the ground running.' A tricky feat indeed 'cause you don't want to reveal too much. Hence the opening line hook, I suppose.

Marie-Claude Bourque December 11, 2009 at 2:57 PM  

Great post Emily,
I love that CS Lewis quote and I have to post it somewhere so I have it handy while doing revision.
And that bar of soap snippet, classic LOL!

EmilyBryan December 12, 2009 at 5:02 AM  

Thanks, MissKallie. Happy to help!

EmilyBryan December 12, 2009 at 5:03 AM  

Sandy, actually I was thinking the manuscript would hit the wall, but a forehead works too.

EmilyBryan December 12, 2009 at 5:06 AM  

Julie--I think I'm done on this subject, unless I moderate another panel and get a peek into what editors are thinking.

Another thing I took away from that panel was how desperately they want to find new talent. They want to be blown away by something fresh.

EmilyBryan December 12, 2009 at 5:10 AM  

M-C, thanks for coming over!

CS Lewis is one of my favorite authors and Christian apologists. I think he'd have been surprised by having his books made into movies (though they've stayed very true to the original).

librarypat December 12, 2009 at 11:53 PM  

A good, informative post. Good advice for those writing books and for life in general. Can see some good advice there for conversations, letters, etc.

EmilyBryan December 13, 2009 at 10:17 AM  

Pat--Writing is writing. Whether a novel or a laundry list, a lot of the same rules apply. My #1 bug-a-boo, something I have taped to my computer is:

"First, be clear. No one reads to be confused."

Sandy December 13, 2009 at 10:24 AM  

LOL I love the statement about no one reads to be confused.

All I can say is that I can't talk without confusing everyone. Grin.

Thank goodness as a writer I can revise and thank God for my editor.

EmilyBryan December 13, 2009 at 12:58 PM  

Sandy--I'm thankful for my critique partner. She keeps me straight.

Sandy December 13, 2009 at 1:18 PM  

Aren't we lucky, Emily. My hubby keeps me straight in my every day life and my editor and mentor keep me straight with my writing. lol

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