More Things You’re Doing Wrong When You Submit Your Writing

Last week, I went through a few examples of mistakes people make when they submit their writing to my publishing house, Blydyn Square Books.

Because so many people seemed interested in the topic, I thought I’d do a “Part 2” this week and offer a few more examples, all taken directly from submissions I’ve received. And no, I’m NOT going to reveal the names of the authors or their books, as much as I might like to. My experience tells me that the kind of people who send in work this terrible aren’t all that easy to shame, so what would be the point?

Example 1: When it’s clear no one—not even you, the writer—has ever so much as opened the file after finishing the first draft

This first example is literally (no joke) the very first line of a recent submission (all formatting, etc., within the quotation marks is exactly the way it was shown in the original):

“Everyone has his or herown destiny, and it’s often an inevitable fate that cannot be changed..”

In case you haven’t figured it out for yourself, here’s what’s wrong with this piece:

First off, for some reason (I have no clue what it might be), the first letter of the first word is italicized, but the rest of the excerpt is in Roman. Huh? Was the writer attempting to simulate a drop cap, like in a printed novel? Leave that to the layout designer, why don’t you? Focus on getting the WRITING correct. Because the writer certainly didn’t do that here.

Second, two words—her and own—are squashed together and the author has failed even to notice, much less take the VERY difficult step of hitting the space bar ONCE.

Third, there are two periods at the end of the sentence. (In case you’re not sure, one period will suffice in this sort of instance.)

I won’t get into the content of the sentence, as writing is a subjective thing, and different people will have different tastes. Let’s just focus on the formatting, because that’s something that you, as an aspiring writer, can control (whether your writing itself is any good or not).

Had this writer bothered to at least scroll quickly through his/her (I won’t say which) manuscript before sending it along, he/she could have fixed MOST of these kinds of mistakes (and avoided the humiliation of being ridiculed in a tiny writing blog that almost nobody reads).

Example 2: Including the Table of Contents before your submission

I’ve ranted against traditional query letters before, and I’m sure I’ll do it again, but here, I’d like to state my objection to this recent practice I’ve noticed, where submitting writers insist on placing their entire Table of Contents BEFORE the actual submitted text.

Now, most publishers or agents only want to review a small section of your manuscript (in the case of Blydyn Square Books, it’s 50 pages max). Why would any author waste precious space on a long list of chapter names (or just chapter numbers, which I see a LOT)?

It makes no sense at all. Just give us the WRITING. We can worry about the Table of Contents after we’ve signed a contract and your book has gone to a designer for layout.

Example 3: Ignoring the rules of grammar and punctuation

Here’s another quote from a submission we received (again, everything within the quote marks is exactly as it was in the original):

“My Grandmother’s father killed his brother, stabbing him many times, because he caught him in bed with his wife.  When his mother went to see him in jail, the officials asked what she would like to see happen,”

Reading this one makes me exhausted, just imagining how much work I would have to do if our acquisitions editor went temporarily insane and actually signed this writer.

First of all, we’ve got the capped word Grandmother, which makes me NUTS. (Just FYI: Don’t cap a family word/title after a possessive pronoun—that is, if it says my, then lowercase grandmother). Call it a silly pet peeve, but every time I see a writer do this, I shudder and kind of want to punch said writer square in the face.

Next, we move on to the astonishing phrase “. . . he caught him in bed with his wife.” Huh? Who are we talking about and whose wife was she? The word his is simply used too many times and all sense has gone out the window. For the love of God, writers, give us a NOUN!

And finally, we reach the end of the sentence, which our friend the writer has chosen to end NOT with the logical period, but—that’s right—with a comma.

I CANNOT make this stuff up.

You have worked long and hard (I hope!) to write and finish your book. Don’t blow it now by getting lazy. Go through your damn manuscript before you send it off, hoping to land a publisher or agent. Even if you’re not willing to pay a professional editor to improve it (which you SHOULD do), at least run a spellcheck and read the book yourself.

After all, there’s a reason spellcheck exists (to find things like the stuck-together words we saw in Example 1) and there’s also a reason not to rely on it entirely (because spellcheck WON’T know not to capitalize “my Grandmother”—you need your actual brain to pick up on that).

I beg you, writers: Read.

Read novels, read nonfiction, read widely, read wildly.

And once you finish a piece of writing, READ YOUR OWN WORK.

You’re nowhere near ready to submit unless you’ve done at LEAST that much.

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