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Editorial Pet Peeves

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on March 18, 2013

At a recent Florida Romance Writers meeting, we heard Senior Editor Callie Lynn Wolfe from The Wild Rose Press and Acquisitions Editor Lisa Manuel from Silver Publishing speak about their pet peeves regarding submissions. Here’s a summary of what they said, subject to my interpretation.writer pencil

Submissions can be really good or really bad. Most fall in the middle, and that’s where your competition lies. If it’s a choice between two manuscripts, an editor is more likely to favor the one with good grammar. Lisa advises writers to “format your work according to our guidelines.” Don’t use fancy fonts, borders, etc. Less is better in terms of formatting.

Callie says when she receives a proposal, she’ll look to see if the author followed their guidelines. By paying attention to formatting, you’re showing the editor you can be cooperative and work within the company’s parameters. She’ll check the mechanics and will evaluate the submission to see if it’s appropriate for the genre. She advises authors to “be unique and be active” to avoid clichés and passive voice.

Do these editors care about prior sales figures for returning authors? TWRP will think about this aspect but Silver Publishing judges each book by itself.

Both publishers expect authors to market themselves. TWRP has a marketing department to help with these efforts. Silver Publishing’s bulk of sales are online. Their genres include YA, mainstream, and M/M and books may be digital and print formats. Age of the author doesn’t matter regarding acquisitions.

You need an engaging hook for your opening scene. Avoid backstory up front. Word and phrase repetition is lazy writing. So is overuse of speech tags other than “said” or “asked”, and even in those cases, action beats and body language are preferable tags.

Callie said avoid animal sounds, i.e. he growled, hissed, barked.

Don’t use passive verbs. Steer clear of “was”, “get” and “got”, as well as “he heard/ saw/felt”. Avoid qualifiers like “really”, “very”, and “just.”

Be wary of head hopping, or changing viewpoints within a scene. Also make sure the viewpoint character is clearly defined. Otherwise, the characterizations will be shallow and the emotional impact lessened. In a romance, stay in deep character most of the time.

Writers will often have characters looking at each other too much before speaking or acting. Watch for this in your own work.

Use active storytelling. Show, don’t tell.

Lack of passion can be a problem. Build your characters so readers can relate emotionally to them. Give them chemistry together.

Give a description of your characters but don’t have them look in a mirror.

Lack of motivation is often evident. What drives the characters? What do they have to gain or lose? What’s at stake for them? Characters should be proactive and not reactive.

Re punctuation, know where to put your commas. Watch out for verb tense agreement, dangling participles, and misplaced modifiers. What’s wrong with this sentence: Walking into the room, the door swung open. [If you don’t know this one, get out your grammar book.]

Clichés to avoid: “He let out the breath he didn’t realize he was holding.”
“His smile didn’t reach his eyes.”
“She was the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen.”
Realizing she’s in love, she thinks to herself, “Where did that come from?”

Writers shouldn’t work in a void. Participate in conferences, critique groups, workshops, and social networking. This shows you are a dedicated professional.

When you send a submission, make sure the synopsis is complete and not open-ended. Include conflict, character, and resolution.

Lisa says shorter works (20,000-40,000 words) and more frequent releases work well for her publishing house.

TWRP has house standards for turnaround time regarding queries, partials, and fulls.

Silver Publishing: https://spsilverpublishing.com/

The Wild Rose Press: http://www.thewildrosepress.com

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19 Responses to “Editorial Pet Peeves”

  1. The held breath and smile not reaching his eyes sneak in so easily! I’m sure I’ve used each one (I hope only once) in many of my books. I’m aware of them, and although they jump out at me in other books, somehow, they still manage to avoid detection in mine on the first (or second) pass.

  2. Reblogged this on .

  3. elleclouse said

    Reblogged this on Elle Clouse and commented:
    I like sharing posts like this. I am working on eliminating passive voice in my work and found this very helpful. As well as all the tips about seeking publication and the inside process. I hope you find it helpful too,

  4. elleclouse said

    I love blog posts like this! They are so helpful. I’ve actually had a hard time nailing down passive voice but I know it’s a bad habit of mine. I can apply almost all of this to my current projects. Thank you!

  5. Nice recap, Nancy! I’m glad our talk was helpful. I’ll add, too, that once you’ve worked with an editor, remember to incorporate her editorial advice into future manuscripts so that she’s not editing for the same issues over and over again. :-)

  6. I’ve been working like a dog to stamp out all those passive verbs and sneaky mistakes in my most recently finished manuscript. I want very much to have a clean read before I sub a book to an editor.

    Very good points, Nancy!

    • I’ve put my latest book aside to get a fresh viewpoint on it before I do a final read-through. Gaining distance from our work is important. We always find more to correct at the next sweep.

  7. Barbara Flores said

    Thanks for posting the comments from Callie and Lisa. It was a great meeting.
    FYI: An article titled “Editor’s Pet Peeves” by Debbie Geiger appeare in The Writer, May 2007.

  8. I don’t care how good a writer you are, you can benefit from this post. I worked briefly as an editor and certainly could add to the list. Authors who get in a hurry to publish do themselves no favor by bypassing a strong edit before submitting their work (And I don’t mean a read-through by spouse or friend). Equally appalling are the number of self-published books that skip the editing process (and I self-pub my cookbooks, but have a wonderful editor and critique partner) altogether.

    • You are absolutely right. I have been collecting a list of freelance editors that other writers have mentioned in case I need to hire one before self-pubbing any original work. It’s a critical step that shouldn’t be omitted, along with a good cover designer and formatter.

  9. destinea4 said

    As someone who briefly interned at a literary agency and got to read and reject or approve manuscripts…this sounds about right! It’s funny because you can start reading something and just know it’s good, but actually writing something can be grueling! I’m hoping to become a YA author, and I try so hard to show instead of tell, but now I’m worried that I include too much body language to get my point across…aiyah, being a perfectionist is no fun, and I need a good editor!

    Thanks for the helpful tips! :)

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