Friday, November 19, 2010

When Spell-check Fails: Proofreading and Your Manuscript

Everyone’s experienced it: you finish a paper or a story that you’ve spent hours and hours working on, read it through one last time on the computer, and print it out. You then reread the hard copy, only to find a spelling or grammatical error that spell-check didn’t catch. What went wrong?

The problem is in the proofreading—namely, the fact that most of us have become pretty lax about it. We depend too much on spell-checkers that don’t always fix everything. I can’t count the number of times I’ve read manuscripts that have grammar or usage errors – from something as simple as mistaking the word “reed” for “read” to something bad, like repeatedly conjugating the same verb incorrectly.

Basically what I’m saying is that before sending your manuscript to us, make sure it’s been proofread. Now, a badly proofread manuscript probably will not make or break our decisions on whether to accept something—after all, it is easier to correct a few typos than it is to develop a character or to change the pacing of a story. What it does do is give us the impression that the writer does not care as much about getting her manuscript published, which is something I’m sure none of the writers sending in materials intend.

It’s even more important to make sure that query letters are well proofread, because they are our first impression of you and your ability to write. We are less inclined to request materials from someone with a poorly written and proofread query letter, again because it gives us the impression of apathy on the writer's part.

However, do not fret because there is a very easy way to proofread your writing: read it out loud. When we read silently it is far easier to skip over parts of a piece, but reading aloud forces us to spend time with every word. You are much more likely to catch little mistakes by reading aloud – I promise. If proofreading is not your forte to begin with, just ask a friend who knows their grammar to help.

It's worth the time and effort, because we are sure to notice both good and bad proofreading. Keep up the good work, and happy writing!


Tuesday, November 16, 2010

New Release & Free Read!

This month marks the release of Mail Order Cowboy, by Laurie Kingery. With beaux scarce in post-Civil War Texas, practical Milly Matthews and her “Spinster Society” friends have their hands full protecting their ranches. Their only hope: advertising for mail-order grooms. But aristocratic British cavalry officer Nicholas Brookfield isn’t exactly Milly’s idea of a cowboy—or a man she can trust. And the more Nick proves himself as a ranch hand, the more he must hide his past from the woman he longs to make his own. Learn more about the book by clicking here.

Also this month, Naughty or Nice by Tawny Weber is available exclusively as a free online read at Mari Madison wants only two things for Christmas: to help her mother win the town's annual holiday decorating contest and to reinstate her good-girl reputation so that she can start her business on the right foot. Then across the street she spots the best-looking Christmas package she's ever seen…and realizes it's Declan Cole. The man who ruined her reputation in the first place. The man who's sure he's going to win the contest. To read the serialized story (with new chapters being released daily), click here.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Character Overload

When I’m reading manuscripts, or anything for that matter, I like things to be clear. It seems that the biggest enemy of clarity is attempting to do too much. Lately, my number one critique when reading manuscripts is that there’s too much going on. As Becca mentioned in her last blog post, too many details can really take away from a great manuscript. The same is true of too many characters. A manuscript with excessive amounts of character is an immediate red flag for me; if I can’t keep track of them all, I’m likely going to become confused and overwhelmed.

We all know how important character development is to a great novel. The main character needs to be fully fleshed out and at least somewhat likeable or relatable. After all, your reader will be hanging out with her for 200 pages! Secondary characters, on the other hand, are a bit different. Although these characters can be a significant part of a finished product, it’s important to remember that they aren’t meant to be protagonists. These characters have to take a bit of a backseat to the star of the show.

Too much background about less important characters can take away from the focus of a manuscript. Though it’s nice to get to know minor characters, the reader doesn’t need to know about every aspect of their lives. Plus, too much detail in secondary characters can lead to excessive storylines. If there are numerous characters and they all have their own things going on, it’s easy to overwhelm the reader with information. Be sure any secondary plotlines don’t take precedence over the main plot.

The important thing to remember when working on a manuscript is to make sure everything you write is important and necessary to the plot. As hard as it can be to eliminate a character you’ve grown attached to, sometimes you just have to do it! Cutting out some excess can really help to turn a good partial into a great one. Plus, you can always save those extra characters for your next novel!