Every would-be writer knows that manuscripts are more often rejected by publishers than accepted, but do you know the warning signs that tell those in the know that your manuscript is one that will hit the bin? Do you know how to avoid them?
1: Spelling errors
So many people submit manuscripts to publishers and competitions without taking the time to check their spelling is correct. In this day and age it is unforgivable, given that you are almost certainly writing on a computer of some description, and that computer has a built-in spell check option. A manuscript littered with spelling errors tells the editor or competition judges that actually you do not believe in your writing enough to accord it the simple courtesy of ensuring your spelling is accurate. Nor do you give the editor or judge the respect they deserve by submitting a clean document.
The answer: at least switch on the spell check option. Yes, I know the red and green wavy lines are irritating. They are meant to be, to get you to fix the problem. And if you do fix it, the wiggles go away. But don’t rely on it. You must have a decent dictionary, and make use of it. You never know what new word you might learn when checking the spelling, and meaning, of a word. A thesaurus helps as well, giving you a selection of other words that might actually convey what you mean to say more concisely or more dramatically. Get in the habit of using both a dictionary and a thesaurus, and your writing will improve.
2. Correct spelling, incorrect word
So many writers who have learned to use the spell check option fail at the next hurdle. The problem is that the wonderful tool, the spell check option, can let you down. It knows that the word you have written is correctly spelt, but it does not pick up that it is incorrectly used. One of the commonest mix-ups occurs with their, there and they’re. After all they sound the same, but they mean entirely different things. They are called homophones, but they are there to trip any writer who does not know their ‘they’re’ from their ‘there’.
The answer: here are many different homophones and you just have to learn to recognise which word is required. A good starting point is to search for lists of homophones, and study the different meanings. Yes, it means work, but it is worth putting in the effort to keep your writing up to a high standard.
3. Punctuation errors
Deep sigh. Punctuation matters. Manuscripts with errors in punctuation are just not going to be accorded the same respect from an editor or judge that ‘clean’ manuscripts enjoy. After all, if you forget to put in simple things like full stops, or the spaces around punctuation marks, it makes the job of reading your work so much harder.
The answer: you just have to get stuck in and learn the rules. They are there for a reason, and that is to make written work more readable. Get your self a punctuation guide of some sort. Learning whether the space comes before or after a comma, or whatever the rule is, will make your writing better.
4. Poor grammar
The list goes on, doesn’t it. Poor grammar is another pet hate of editors and judges. Once again it shows that you have not studied the art of writing enough. grammar seems to have fallen out of fashion, but it does make a major difference to the quality of a manuscript. You need to ensure that the tenses within a paragraph agree, that verbs and nouns agree and so much more. Good grammar lifts a piece of writing to a different level whilst poor grammar drops it down the ranks. As with all the other warning signs, poor grammar suggests you do not know your craft or you have no respect for your readers.
The answer: once again, you need to learn about it. You can try reading a grammar book from cover to cover, which might just be a good way to go sleep at night. You could get a grammar revision guide designed for teenagers, or even for primary age children. The rules are the same whether you are seven, seventeen or fifty-seven. Alternatively, invest in a good style guide and check things out in that. They are surprisingly easy to use, and contain a wealth of information. I know that they have helped me.
5. Not following submission guidelines
It is critical to find out what the submission guidelines are, wherever you plan to send your manuscript. After all, if a competition states that all submissions must be in hard copy, it is no good sending it electronically and hoping someone will take pity on you. Equally, if a publishing house asks for a synopsis and the first three chapters up to a word limit, that is what they want, not the whole novel in one helping. Failing to follow the simple guidelines is tantamount to wasting your time in sending your manuscript in the first place.
The answer: there is no room for manoeuvre on this – get it right or your submission will be ditched. Read the submission guidelines. Format your document appropriately. Your manuscript will already stand out above those poor souls who have not paid their writing the respect it deserves.