Wednesday, August 4, 2010


by Jodie Renner, freelance manuscript editor,

Here are twelve ways to avoid those “deal breakers” that will cause an agent or publisher to reject your fiction manuscript.

1. First, read a lot of published books in your genre, so you know what agents and publishers are accepting. As you’re reading, pay close attention to point of view, characterization and dialogue.

2. Make sure you have a clear genre or target readership so it will be marketable to the publishers. Bookstores need to know where to shelve your book. If it’s not mainstream fiction, it needs to fit into a specific genre, not straddle three or four genres. If you’re writing a historical romance mystery western, you’ll need to decide which of these elements you’ll want to play up and then downplay the others, so your story can be easily identified as predominantly one of them.

3. Don’t shoot yourself in the foot by racing prematurely to an agent or publisher. The world of book publishing is extremely competitive these days. Take the time to hone your craft and do the necessary revisions. Don’t depend on family or friends to give you advice on your book – they’ll very likely be afraid to give you any meaningful constructive criticism for fear of hurting your feelings or making you angry. Buy some books on writing fiction (there are lots of great resources out there!), enrol in a local or online writing course, or hire a freelance manuscript editor. Revise, revise, revise!

4. Hook your reader in right away with a compelling first paragraph and first page. Don’t start with a description of the scenery, town or room. Start with a threat of some kind or a change that disrupts the status quo and causes anxiety. And use some dialogue and action right away.

5. Make sure your plot is compelling, not boring. Your story needs conflict, and lots of it! Your protagonist needs to face and deal with ever-increasing problems, drawing on inner resources to find ways to triumph over adversity. And your interactions among characters need tension, even if it’s just simmering below the surface, or they’ll be boring.

6. Don’t lecture or preach to your readers. You may be an expert in a certain field, or have busted your buns doing research, but resist the urge to explain concepts at length to your reader. It’s condescending and disrupts the flow of the story. If the readers want to find out more info on a topic, they’ll Google it. Remember, this is fiction, and the story is the most important thing. The readers want to get carried away with a good story – they don’t care how much you know about any given subject.

7. Establish a dominant point of view. Your reader wants to identify with your main character, to bond with him/her. Don’t dilute this effect by jumping around to various characters’ points of view within one scene – no “head-hopping.”

8. Make sure your characters are interesting and unique. No dull, cardboard characters, pious goodie-goodies, or wimps. Your characters, especially the main ones, need to be compelling and memorable. But don’t make them too perfect – they need to have some flaws and maybe an inner demon or a skeleton in the past, to make them interesting. A perfect character is a boring character.

9. Your dialogue should be natural and authentic. This is not the place for erudition, long words and perfect grammar; and avoid “info dumps,” where one character is explaining something at length to another character, which is really a poorly disguised and unwelcome author intrusion into the story. Your dialogue should sound like real people talking, poor grammar and all, but without the boring bits. Skip past the “How are you?” and “I’m fine. You?” stuff and get straight to the interesting bits – cut to the chase!

10. Avoid lengthy descriptive passages. Readers are no longer interested in pages or even long paragraphs of straight description. They’re impatient to find out what’s going to happen next. Keep the description of scenery, rooms, gardens, etc. to a minimum and concentrate on moving the plot along with dialogue and action.

11. Show, don’t tell! This one is huge! Which would you rather do, go to a great movie in a theatre with a large screen and surround sound, or stay home and let a friend tell you about the movie later? Put your readers right in the action, make them see and smell and hear and feel what your characters are feeling, experience their fear, anger, elation and joy, in “real time.” Don’t tell the reader about important events later. If the event in question happened in the past, use a flashback to depict the action and dialogue in the present.

12. Make every scene, every paragraph, every sentence and every word count. Revise and tighten up your writing. If a scene doesn’t further the plot or help to develop the characters, take it out. Same thing with a paragraph or a sentence. Avoid lengthy sentences – edit them down to increase the impact and easy flow of ideas.

© Copyright Jodie Renner, July 2010,

1 comment:

  1. Wise words, Jodie! Thanks for sharing. Your article has made me take a new look at my fiction writing.