As you can imagine, we see hundreds of proposals and manuscripts each month. And, as you can also imagine, we must decline most. However, there are a few mistakes you can avoid to help your submission rise above others:
Not beginning the story in the right place.
All too often, an author will tell us about the main characters’ backgrounds before getting to the crux of the story, where the propelling action begins. I realize you need to know your character. Her past does affect how she’ll behave in the future. However, as a reader, I don’t need to be brought up to date for one or two chapters before getting to the action.
This may seem confusing since oral storytellers use this technique. For example, “You remember Buffy from high school? Uh huh. Well, she married Josh. Remember how he was the water boy for the baseball team? Well, yeah. Well, they had three kids. The youngest one just started first grade. You know they got a divorce, right? Everyone was so sad because no one had any idea he had a second family in Atlanta. I know! Shocking. Okay, so now that you’re up to date, I can tell you about the secret baby, kidnapping, and blackmail…”
You don’t mind listening to the buildup about Buffy since you knew her from high school. But your reader is just now meeting your character. She doesn’t necessarily want to sit through the character’s backstory before getting to the secret baby, kidnapping, and blackmail. Show us this terrible and exciting event first, then fill us in on her backstory gradually, as the reader becomes invested in the action and urgent situation propelling the book forward.
Defying your target market’s unwritten rules and expectations.
I can usually discern when a new writer is taking cues from the general market, not realizing that what is normal for them may not work for the Christian market. For example, a Christian character’s love for a glass of aged port wine and menthol cigarettes will not fly with most of CBA. Some CBA publishers will permit very mild curse words but most still won’t.
My rule of thumb is to write by the most conservative standards. No smoking, drinking, cursing, sexy double meanings, overemphasis on physical features and pleasures, and so forth. If it helps, imagine writing for your very strict grandmother or an aunt who’s easily shocked. Then you won’t knock yourself out of the market – at least not for that reason.
Read your story aloud to yourself. See how easy or hard it is to say what your characters are saying. If it sounds awkward to you, it will read funny to your audience. Be as natural as you can.
What mistakes did I miss?
What tips can you offer writers to keep from making mistakes?