Tuesday, January 19, 2010

First Impressions...

We all know how important first impressions can be. Like when we’re going to be meeting prospective clients or future employers. Maybe you’re having dinner with the family of your fiancé or special someone. The fact is, at some point in our life we all have people we want to impress. If you’re a writer, that someone is probably an editor or agent.

As a first reader for a large publishing house I notice a lot of trivial mistakes new writers make. Things they might have caught if they’d spent a few hours proofing their work.

Now don’t get me wrong, there comes a point you have to turn it loose. It’s as big a problem to never send your work off for fear that it’s not perfect. (Preaching to myself here.) It’s just sad to me when a writer has misspelled or forgotten words all throughout a story. Maybe a name or two has changed since the beginning of the book. Perhaps the heroine’s eyes were blue on page 7 but on page 183, the hero gazes into her luscious chocolate eyes.

Little details matter. No, they don’t trump the story. If the story is awesome or you’re a proven multi-published author, who cares if you left out a couple commas and misspelled a half dozen words, but what if your story is pretty good, but the reader or editor sees you as a novice? Someone that needs a little time to grow as a writer. Maybe if that story was so clean it shined the editor might give you a chance to tweak the story and resubmit. It happens.

So here are a few tips you’ve probably heard before, but might not have taken the time to implement.

1. Have someone other than your close friends or family read the book before submission. Don’t be too shy to share it with them. Uh…what if it’s published? You do know people will read it, right?

Remember, you don’t need people who will stroke your ego. Also, don’t be too sensitive. Constructive criticism is meant to help you grow as a writer.

2. Keep track of character details. Names, ages, hair & eye color, etc…Those things are easy to let slip through the cracks, but they’re very important. Someone will find the inconsistencies. Let it be you.

3. Learn and implement a consistent Point of View. That’s one of the things acquisition readers are taught to look for when reading manuscripts. I always note whether or not writers understand and are consistent with their POV.

4. Finally, know the line you are submitting to. Do not just cast your bread on the water and hope somebody will bite. I recently read a manuscript that was so wrong for the line it was submitted for I had to wonder if it was sent by mistake. I almost didn’t even finish it because it was so wrong for the line.

Basically, think of your submission as an interview and try to present the best work you can!

Now that I’ve made you all second guess your submissions, are any of you in the process of submitting or waiting to hear from an editor? Let’s hear about it? And remember to let us know if you have any good news!!!

Sabrina Fox-Butcher


  1. Great advice, thanks so much!

  2. Hi Sabrina. What resource would you recommend for updated grammar/punctuation rules? For instance, I've been told "snuck" is now acceptable, along with "sneaked." And nobody seems to italicize names of books any more; instead they use quotation marks (because of the internet?). Thanks!

  3. Great suggestions, Sabrina. You just saved a bunch of writers from literary spinach between our teeth.

  4. Thanks, Karen!

    Steph, The Chicago Manual of Style is good. In fact a contest I judge suggests using it if we have questions on grammar.

    Fortunately, I do not have to worry too much about grammar as a first reader. I'm looking at POV,consistency issues, pacing, does it fit the line, and basically if it's written well.

    The thing about grammar is that if you've written a great story and it's clean (even with a few punctuation issues) you will not be rejected based on your grammar alone. It might seal your fate though if the story is not well written and you have no concept of correct grammar.

    I read a manuscript this week that was pretty good but the writer must have missed a dozen or more words. Just didn't put them in. I don't know if it was because she was writing fast and just skimmed over them or they were deleted as she proofed...sadly, if she'd have done a quick read through she'd probably have noticed them. They were very obvious.

    Those kinds of mistakes are what I'm talking about. Don't give the editors anything to pick at. Give them a clean, well written story. :)

    Rachael, I'm so excited to read your book. I always love your voice. Good luck during this exciting process!

  5. Sabrina,
    Great reminder of why we need to let others read our work! Sometimes we've looked at it so many times that we don't even see those glaring issues.

  6. Great check list, Sabrina!

    Now, do I have spinach in my heroine's teeth? She has an appointment...

  7. I'm determined more than ever now, Sabrina. Thanks for your comments.

  8. Yes I am in the submitting my first chapters and waiting, biting my nails stage.

    Thanks for the advice.