Category Archives: Biggest Mistakes New Writers Make

Get Your Manuscript Past the Gatekeeper #7: Let’s Talk About Character Development Part 1

Get past the gatekeeper

Based on personal experience as a first-reader intern for a literary agency, I’m sharing what can get your manuscript past the gatekeeper (the intern!) and into the hands of the agent.

Use of Formal Language

prince PKO_0001172prince PKO_0001172Are there places in your book where the language feels a little too formal?

Watch for use of contractions.

They are best used in dialogue and less in the narrative.

Read your story aloud to check.

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Remember your audience

And when it comes to language, always remember your audience. For example: You can have mature characters but make sure when writing for tweens, for example, you think like a tween. The reader needs to believe that this is a 12-year-old boy that is going through all of this. His thoughts, actions and reactions need to match that.

The Dreaded “Voice”

Watch for “breaking the fourth wall” like in the TV shows Malcolm in the Middle and House of Cards where the characters speak directly to the camera. This can take us out of the story. In fiction writing this is called breaking the frame of the novel and this style of oral storytelling can reveal an author feeling around for the voice in his story if not done well.

Be consistent!

Be consistent with your character’s voice. Does one character speak formally unlike the others? Carry that through the story. You don’t want your readers to say “Oh, he wouldn’t say that. That’s so out of character.”

Character Growth:

Build up your characters as you write them. Show us their faults, their desires, their conflicts with others – show us their reactions. Reactions are stronger than “telling” us how they feel and even stronger than “dialogue” as what they “tell” is not always the truth – but it’s our reactions that show who we are, right?

swish skid markTIP: Incorporating dialogue and body language can provide another character’s point of view without breaking away from the voice the scene is written in.

Now go. Work on building characters to care about!

It may help you get past the gatekeeper.

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About Donna: Donna Galanti is the author of A Human Element and A Hidden Element (Imajin Books), the first two award-winning, bestselling books in the paranormal suspense Element Trilogy, and the middle grade fantasy adventure series Joshua and The Lightning Road (Month9Books). Donna is a contributing editor to International Thriller Writers the Big Thrill magazine and blogs at Project Mayhem. She lives in Pennsylvania with her family in an old farmhouse. Visit her at www.donnagalanti.com.

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About Joshua and the Lightning Road:

Twelve-year-old Joshua Cooper learns the hard way that lightning never strikes by chance when a bolt strikes his house and whisks away his best friend—possibly forever. To get him back, Joshua must travel the Lightning Road to a dark world where stolen human kids are work slaves ruled by the frustrated heirs of the Greek Olympians who come to see Joshua as the hero prophesied to restore their lost powers. New friends come to Joshua’s aid and while battling beasts and bandits and fending off the Child Collector, Joshua’s mission quickly becomes more than a search for his friend—it becomes the battle of his life.

“Gentle Tell” is NOT OKAY in your manuscript. Are YOU guilty of lazy writing? — AKA “I am really sorry!”

If you’ve ever had the misfortune opportunity to have a beta-read from me, you’ll know that I am a show verses tell barracuda. I point it out everywhere. (As I should, or I’m not doing my job)

Occasionally I will mark something as “gentle tell” and say it will probably pass, but the section could be stronger.

I had a section like this in ASHES IN THE SKY. I knew it was a form of gentle tell, meaning it could have been broadened, but since it was not a super important scene, I summarized it a bit to move on to the more exciting stuff. Since it was the only scene I brushed over, and I only did it once in the entire book, I figured I was in the clear.

WRONG

The sole purpose of the scene was to show where the main character got her schedule from when arriving for her first day back to school after a long absence. This is the exact text from my original submitted manuscript. Mind you, this got past several editors:

Throwing my backpack over my shoulder, I stopped at the office and got my schedule and locker assignment. They didn’t try to rustle me into any more assemblies, thank goodness.

(See the end of this post if you’d like to see the revised version)

As I said, this got past a few editors, but it was bounced back by the senior editor at the final read through. In this case, she was my personal show verses tell barracuda.

Paraphrasing her comments, she said:

“Don’t take the easy way out and tell us the obvious. What was it like going into the office? Did they treat her poorly, or were they extra nice? Give all the information to move the story forward without just telling us what we need to know.”

In other words – SHOW DON’T TELL

I was mortified. Once I really thought about it, I realized what a lazy paragraph I had written. I’ve heard of lazy writing before, and now I am wondering how many lazy things I have seen in people’s works that I glossed over as “gentle tell.”

Don’t let yourself fall into lazy writing.

If it is important enough to mention, then write it properly. Don’t muddy your manuscript with shortcuts.

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In case you are interested, this is the scene that I replaced those two lines with. I think it is obvious how much better the written-out scene is.

***

I slipped through the door to the main office. Four students waited in line, but parted as I walked in. The last to move tugged the backpack on the girl standing first at the front desk. She spun and her lips formed an O before she scurried to the side.

“Ms. Martinez,” the lady behind the counter said. “Welcome back.”

I shrugged. “Yeah, umm, thanks. I need my schedule and locker assignment.”

She handed me a paper from the tray beside her. “Here you go. You have Kelessi for Advisory, room three eighty-five. Do you remember where that is?”

I nodded.

“You locker is in the senior wing, number ninety. The combination is on the last page of your packet.”

“Three eighty-five, Kelessi, ninety. Got it, thanks.”

I turned and looked up from my paperwork. The other people in the office lined the walls, giving me a wide berth.

Did I forget to wear deodorant or something?

***

Look through your own work.

Are you guilty of lazy writing?

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Get Your Manuscript Past the Gatekeeper #4: Does your manuscript have CONFIDENCE ISSUES

Get past the gatekeeper

Based on personal experience as a first-reader intern for a literary agency, I’m sharing what can get your manuscript past the gatekeeper (the intern!) and into the hands of the agent.

Think GirlConfidence issues? What could she be talking about?

How could someone know if I’m confident by reading my writing?

I mean, my character is confedent, so doesn’t that mean confidence just oozes off my pages?

Ummmm, no.  Don’t let yourself fall into any of these very easy, very tricky traps.

CONFIDENCE ISSUES INCLUDE: INFO DUMPING, REPETITION, AND STOPPING THE STORY TO EXPLAIN

 Exhibiting these issues in your manuscript can reveal an emerging writer not quite confident in your writing.

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My First Reader Notes: “The story wanders for four chapters until we get to the inciting incident that launches us into the story and sets the main character on his journey.”

Rather than wander, thrust us right into the story and reveal the main character’s desires and motivations right up front. The reader will catch up later.

TIPS: Start with an info dump? Move it. Cut it up. Blend in later. Ask yourself, what is the incident that starts the character on his journey? YOU know it all – but the reader doesn’t need to know it all. Be selective in what you reveal and when you reveal it.

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My First Reader Notes: “Several times the same information was introduced, as if we the reader might forget we were told this information earlier. I often wanted to say “Yes, we know already!”

When it comes to repetitiveness, say it once in the right place. Say it twice or three times and you make the reader feel stupid – and bored. TIP: Don’t repeat phrases across characters. Each character should have their own phrases, imagery, and descriptions associated with them that help develop their unique character.

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My First Reader Notes: “We are constantly taken out of the story as the author stops to narrate about Sally: Sally was five ten. She had deep green eyes and blonde hair that was thick and mid-shoulder length. She played flute in the orchestra and three days a week worked at the hospital gift shop…etc. etc. etc.”

Do you have “You See Bob” moments in your story where you feel the need to stop and explain? Well…don’t.  TIPS: *Rewrite this section in the character’s voice to see how much stronger this scene can be told, or show us the main character from another character’s point of view. *Incorporating dialogue and body language can provide another character’s point of view without breaking away from the voice the scene is written in.

Now go. Be confident in your writing! It could get you past the gatekeeper.

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About Donna: Donna Galanti is the author of A Human Element and A Hidden Element (Imajin Books), the first two award-winning, bestselling books in the paranormal suspense Element Trilogy, and the middle grade fantasy adventure series Joshua and The Lightning Road (Month9Books). Donna is a contributing editor to International Thriller Writers the Big Thrill magazine and blogs at Project Mayhem. She lives in Pennsylvania with her family in an old farmhouse. Visit her at www.donnagalanti.com.

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About Joshua and the Lightning Road:

Twelve-year-old Joshua Cooper learns the hard way that lightning never strikes by chance when a bolt strikes his house and whisks away his best friend—possibly forever. To get him back, Joshua must travel the Lightning Road to a dark world where stolen human kids are work slaves ruled by the frustrated heirs of the Greek Olympians who come to see Joshua as the hero prophesied to restore their lost powers. New friends come to Joshua’s aid and while battling beasts and bandits and fending off the Child Collector, Joshua’s mission quickly becomes more than a search for his friend—it becomes the battle of his life.

Get Your Manuscript Past the Gatekeeper #1: World Building

 Woo-hoo! As promised, here is the first of a running series of posts to help you “get past the gatekeeper” and have your submission read by the actual agent/editor you sent your baby to, and not just the intern. I’ll be popping in with my own comments. I’ll be in pink, because I feel totally pink today.

Are ya ready? Well, here we goooooo…

Get past the gatekeeper

Think GirlBased on personal experience as a first-reader intern for a literary agency, I’m sharing what can get your manuscript past the gatekeeper (the intern!) and into the hands of the agent.

 

Mistake number one:

ADDRESS WORLD BUILDING ISSUES

Note from Jennifer: World building!  We’ve talked about this!  We need to ground our readers in the setting, right? Well, that’s not just me yapping. Here it is coming from a lady who REJECTED MANUSCRIPTS for this very reason!  Read on, fine folks, read on!

This was Donna’s feedback to the agent on the very first manuscript she read:

My First Reader Notes To The Agent: “The writer began with wonderful descriptive details drawing on all senses and then she just stopped – and I stopped reading. She stopped grounding us in the world of her story.”

Okay, stop here guys.  Think this over a minute. And I mean be serious with yourself…

Could there be a richness missing in your manuscript? Answer questions like these: Where are we? Another town? A different world? Are these places what we know, but different? What are the differences?

We also need to ground the reader in the story, otherwise they are lost. Where are your characters in the scene?

EXAMPLES:

Are they outside? “The earth was all gravel beneath my feet.”

Are they in a tunnel? “The stale air threatened to choke me.”

Through dialogue you can show time and distance.

EXAMPLE:  “Tom’s house was two miles away…takes a day’s walk to get there…I hadn’t been back since last fall.”

All stories happen somewhere. Whether you write fantasy, science fiction, or even about the “real world,” world building is key to creating a meaningful story. World building is so that your characters have a backdrop to live, work, and engage! Your favorite books, movies, and TV shows all involve world building. Putting the time into it will improve your writing and enrich your story. No need to give all the details…readers love to fill in the blanks with their imagination. One detailed street in a town can give us the entire town’s flavor.

Alien EweWorld building is just as important for a contemporary teen story set in Wisconsin as it in an alien universe. Why? Because life in a Wisconsin small town is foreign to someone who grew up in the big city of L.A. or NYC. If your character puts cheese on his pie, we may understand that’s part of the world of his Wisconsin town, not L.A.

 
World building is more than “setting,” it covers everything in that world. Money, clothing, land boundaries, tribal customs, building materials, transportation, sex, food and more.

Remember, you’re not writing an encyclopedia but a story with flesh and blood characters put through challenges. Story comes first. World building supports the story.

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WORLD BUILDING TIPS:

  1. Create a story bible of the elements and details in your story.
  2. Build as you go.
  3. Inspiration? Use photos/cut-out collages.
  4. Make sure your details are relevant and have meaning.
  5. Not sure what to cut? Ask yourself when adding in world building elements to your story: does it move the plot along? Does it connect to the theme? Does it support the growth of the characters?
  6. Draw a map to ground yourself and your readers, even if your story occurs in one place.
  7. Build worlds that interest you.
  8. World building supports mood, theme, conflict, character, culture, and setting.

Now go. Build your world! It may help you get past the gatekeeper.

Great stuff, huh? Donna will be popping in to answer questions. This is a rare opportunity to ask someone that’s been inside the trenches, so please take advantage while I have her all tied up graciously offering her assistance for the good of all.

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About Donna: Donna Galanti is the author of A Human Element and A Hidden Element (Imajin Books), the first two award-winning, bestselling books in the paranormal suspense Element Trilogy, and the middle grade fantasy adventure series Joshua and The Lightning Road (Month9Books). Donna is a contributing editor to International Thriller Writers the Big Thrill magazine and blogs at Project Mayhem. She lives in Pennsylvania with her family in an old farmhouse. Visit her at www.donnagalanti.com.

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About Joshua and the Lightning Road:

Twelve-year-old Joshua Cooper learns the hard way that lightning never strikes by chance when a bolt strikes his house and whisks away his best friend—possibly forever. To get him back, Joshua must travel the Lightning Road to a dark world where stolen human kids are work slaves ruled by the frustrated heirs of the Greek Olympians who come to see Joshua as the hero prophesied to restore their lost powers. New friends come to Joshua’s aid and while battling beasts and bandits and fending off the Child Collector, Joshua’s mission quickly becomes more than a search for his friend—it becomes the battle of his life.

 

No, I am not crazy. I’m just really, really anal.

Last week I posted an article about word clouds and how you can use them to spot overused words.

One of the comments, from a dear friend and fantastic author, was this:

Think GirlOk, 300 – 400 times out of 80,000+ words? That’s like what, .005% of your words are the same? seriously woman? You crack me up. 

It got me thinking. “Am I crazy?”

Well yes. Just ask my kids.

But also, no.

I don’t look at 400 occurrences as .005% of the words being the same. My mind calculates the problem as “that word appears at least once a page”.

But, you might say, the words won’t be on EVERY page.  Yes. This is true. However, that means if I skip one page, there might be a page somewhere that has the overused word twice in it. Even worse if there are places where the word might appear more than twice on a page.

And in my worst nightmares, something like this happens. This is an actual screenshot of a page in on of my manuscripts, pre-editing.

1 book page

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Here is the thing: Repetitive use of a word stands out to the reader. Especially when the words appear close together.

As a rule, I try not to use a word more than once every ten pages.

Say_What

Well, that’s what I shoot for. It doesn’t always happen. If I can’t do ten pages (and I try very hard to hit this mark) I try to not repeat in less than five pages.

On rare occasion, I do go less.  But 5-10 pages is what I shoot for.

Is it crazy?

It can take me a week to get rid of a very frequently used word. Sometimes when I’m doing this kind of edit I want to give up and not care… but the end product is unbelievably worth it. I find myself rethinking paragraphs. I find new and interesting ways to describe things. Being this detail oriented takes my writing to a whole new level.

Crazy? Yes.

But for me, it’s a good kind of crazy.cropped-fire-banner-final2.png

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Taking a deep breath and admitting “I can’t do it.”

“I can’t do it.”

Wow… coming from a neurotic, over-achiever-based upbringing, you would not believe how hard it was for me to type those words … or how hard it was for me to contact my publisher and ask for an extension.

When I was offered a three-book-deal for FIRE IN THE WOODS, I knew it came with some pretty serious deadlines.  But being the psycho I am, I took it as a challenge.

The first challenge was to come up with a concept for Book Two, outline, write the book, beta the book, polish and submit ALL WITHIN 4.5 MONTHS. (While promoting the high-speed release of book one)

Wow. 

But I made it! It was tight, but I did it.

However, in order to make the deadline for book three, I needed to start the next book during the beta-reading process of book 2.

That DID NOT happen.

But I thought I would be okay.  I still had four months to write book three. (Same deal: come up with a concept, write the book, outline, write the book, beta the book, polish and submit)  Heck, it was only two less weeks. I could pull that off, right?

WRONG.

In act two, I got hung up. The writing came slowly. It was not writer’s block, per say, but I just SLOWED DOWN.  On such a tight deadline, it killed me.

Did I finish the book on time?  Yes–and no.

I did finish the first draft two days before the deadline, but it was just that — a first draft. No one had read it but me.

I am in no way vain enough to think I can write a perfect first draft in four months and just hit the submit button. Nope. No way.

Enter my beta-reading army, who had already been through the first fifty pages by then (I do not recommend sending out part of your book to beta before you are done – I did this only out of necessity)

PKO_0013466 sadAnyway… These people have lives of their own, and it was unrealistic to ask them to finish a concise developmental edit and proofread in a few days.

So I had to take a deep breath,

suck it up,

and ask my publisher for an extension.

I'm_not_above_begging

I now have an extra month to get the final draft in.

Whew! What a relief…

Until my bubble burst and my edits for Book Two came back.

 Both novels are now due on the same day.

Seriously

Arghhh! PictureHa!  No pressure.

No pressure at all!

The good news is the developmental changes are minor for book two. I actually let them sit for a week while I finished reviewing beta comments for the third book.

And at this point, I firmly believe I will be handing both books over with a smile in three weeks.

No___Pressure

Anyway… Lessons learned:

  1. Wow. I can seriously write fast if I need to.
  2. Don’t make myself write that fast if I don’t have to. It made it “not fun”
  3. The relationships I’ve made along the way have totally paid off. I have friends who are wildly talented and willing to help. (And now I get to see their work before the rest of the world to pay back the favor. Woo-hoo!)

Soooo

Sooooo… that’s where I am.  A little bump in the road, but I don’t think it is a production-stopper.

Fire-in-the-Woods-Cover 3DA year ago, if you told me there would be three FIRE IN THE WOODS books I would have laughed at you… and here they are. And even though one is not completely polished yet, I am pretty proud of them. There is a whole lot of trouble that two teenagers can get into if I put my mind to it.

How’s your writing been going?

JenniFer_EatonF

Jennifer M. Eaton’s Appearance on the Writers2Writers TV Show @month9books

Woohoo! It’s finally here!

It seems like forever that I taped this segment for Writers2Writers. What a great experience this was. Looking back to create this link to the segment, I saw that 6,400 people have watched my solo segment, and 1,400 people have tuned in to the entire 30 minute show that my segment was featured in.

That’s a really awesome feeling!

Here is a link to the Writers2Writers YouTube page where you can find more great features to help hone your writing skills.

https://www.youtube.com/user/writers2writers

And right here is my stand-alone segment, featuring my Top Ten Tips for polishing your manuscript before you submit.

Enjoy!

JenniFer_EatonF

Sometimes life just gets in the way.

I admit I am mildly psychotic. I give myself goals, and once I see them on paper, they might as well be chiseled in stone.

I hit them.

Always.

No matter what.

It’s something that was driven into me since I was very young. I thank my father for this most of the time. Being driven has helped me get to where I am today.

But I have trouble dealing sometimes when I realize what I challenge myself with is sometimes too much.

PKO_0008514 SICK GUYLike this week, when I was thrown a little curve ball.

I got sick.

Really dern sick.

Flat out in bed, can’t move, stricken-with-a-chill sick. Then sweating-to-death can’t- turn-down-the-temperature sick. Horrible… zig zagging back and forth.

Yep, I even looked like a guy.

It’s terrible to have to take off from work, waste vacation time, and get NOTHING DONE.

Arghhh! Picture

It drove me crazy, laying there under piles of blankets, sometimes with a fifty-pound poodle on top of me for extra warmth… doing nothing when there is piles of work to be done in real life, as well as my writing world.

I couldn’t even THINK of my scenes. I couldn’t formulate a plan for when I could get out of bed. My mind was dead. Caput.

My poodle all fifty pounds of her. Isn't she cute?

My poodle – all fifty pounds of her. Isn’t she cute?

What a terrible couple of days.

I’m better now, thank goodness. But now I have to take stock.

First things first.

I just completed my immediate need: The interviews/blog posts requested by wonderful people who signed up with my marketing company to help promote FIRE IN THE WOODS.

Whew… That was a lot of work.

Today, I do something I have not done in a VERY long time.

I set the writing aside.

No aliens. No space ships. No conflicts (except a few real life kids)

The book will be there tomorrow, and I know the first thing I am going to do is look at my goal sheet (yes, I have one, with word counts for each day.)

I will see that I am now a month behind, with a deadline looming.

I will not panic. (You hear that? I WILL NOT PANIC)

Life happens. Vacations are needed. Current books need to be marketed. And hey, there’s not much you can do about getting sick.

Tomorrow I re-align my goals, and I suppose I should start lining up beta readers, because if I do manage to hit my publisher’s deadline, it is going to be close.

Deep breath. This can be done.

How do you dig out of a hole when you realize you’ve fallen far behind?

Jennifer___Eaton

How to Publish Topic #1: So let’s start with agents.

Whether or not to get an agent is a VERY personal decision. It is one that I flip flop back and forth with. You need to ask yourself a few questions before you make this decision.

  1. Do I have the ability to negotiate my own contract? (Another option is to hire a lawyer to review and explain the contract, but you will still be on your own for negotiating)
  2.  Do I need an agent to get into the publisher that I want?
  3.  Are you willing to trust your publisher with income statements (Because you’d need a PHD to figure out your sales/royalties)

There may be more questions that would point you in one direction or another, but these are the biggies for me.

Number one and three, I think, are self explanatory. Sometimes it’s nice to have someone on your side. Just remember, you will pay them 15% of your royalties for them to “be on your side”

This, I think, is the major question regarding whether or not to partner with an agent:

Think GirlDo I need an agent to get into the publisher that I want?

In general, if you want to get into the Big Six (5) under one of the imprints that gives you larger advances and printed book circulation, you need to have an agent. A few of these houses have open submission once a year, or you can try pitching at conferences, but in general, you need an agent to get a foot in the door. Some of the “not big six but still really big” houses require agents, too. So do your research, and choose wisely.  However, make sure you are reaching for the Big 6 for the right reasons (which I will discuss in my next post)

The interesting thing is that many agents are starting to send manuscripts to Qualified Small Houses. You need to be careful of this, because if the only reason you want an agent is to get into a Big Six, and they get you a contract at a Qualified Small House, You have wasted your 15% (because most Qualified Small Houses take un-agented submissions.)

However: In those houses, agented manuscripts seem to get a looksee before unagented manuscripts. I learned that recently in my own querying. So again, you need to decide what it is you really want.

So what do you think? Agent or no agent, and why? Do you have a reason I did not cover above that makes you want that agent relationship?

JenniFer_EatonF

Living a week in an agent’s shoes

I recently had the opportunity to judge a writing contest.  I, and two other brave souls, volunteered to read all the anonymous entries, and choose one winner who would win “the pot” collected from the entry fees.

I am going to admit that this was a grueling experience at times.  I swore, somewhere around the seventh entry, that I would never do this again.  My relief when I’d finally read the last entry, and made my choice for winner, was overwhelming.

Then I got to thinking.  What I went through is probably not unlike what an agent or a submissions editor goes through every day.  They get a mailbox full of submissions, and they have to review them all and choose only one, or none.

Now, consider this.  The people who entered this contest paid an entry fee.  This is one of the reasons I volunteered.  I mean, seriously… if you are going to fork up ten bucks to get into a contest, you gotta know your writing is good enough to have a chance, right? I imagined my mailbox filled with fantastic, wonderfully imagined and carefully crafted stories.

Did I get that? Ummm… Not always.

Now, this is not to say that there were not some great entries. There were. But at times, I held my hand to my head and thought, “What was this person thinking”?

The good thing that came out of this is the realization that what you hear is true. There is a lot of poorly written or poorly executed work out there in the query-sphere.

If you can honestly look at your work and say:

1.       It has been edited multiple times

2.       It has been critiqued multiple times

3.       It has been beta read by multiple readers

4.       I have listened to critiques/beta comments and made changes without thinking “they just don’t understand me” and ignoring them.

5.       I have a story arc with a beginning, middle and end.

6.       There is a journey/change in the main character that makes the story worth reading.

7.       There is conflict.

I could keep going, but I’ll stop there.  If you can say “yes” to all of the above, then you at least have a chance of getting read by an agent or editor. If you work stands out as well written and conceptualized, you will be in the 25% or so that will actually be considered.  This is the place where good writing is a given. This is where you are in competition for the best story.

This is where you want to be. If you answered “no” to any of the list above, and you are querying and getting rejections, there is a possibility you are just wasting their time. (And yours)

What I realized judging this contest is that there must be hundreds of thousands of people out there that are wasting their time by submitting before they are ready.

Do your research. Make sure you have learned your craft.

Don’t be afraid to ditch a story you have worked on if it is not marketable.  Move on to something else. Every time you sit down to write you are better than the last time. Be patient until you can honestly say “This is my best work.”

_JenniFer____EatoN

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