Here’s my list of the ten things you should do before submitting to anything–agents, contests, editors, contract manuscripts, homework, self-pubbing, etc.:
- Run spell check–Seriously, just do it.
- Read aloud–You won’t believe how many errors you catch by reading aloud. Including continuity errors. For some reason saying a fact aloud makes it easier to remember. In my latest manuscript, one of my characters changed eye color, and no one caught it except me on the read aloud. Which leads me to…
- Have someone else read it–New eyes find errors your eyes gloss over. By the way, pick someone not related to you who will tell you if something is good or not, not your sister or even your best friend. Unless you have a family like mine where we rip each other apart (only in our work–they are great editors)
- Let it rest–You aren’t always able to do this one, but if you can, put the work aside for a while before the final re-read.
- Do a word check–You know which words you used often while writing. Do a search and find for those words to make sure they aren’t overused.
- Be careful using global replace–If you decide to change a character’s name from Liz to Jennifer and do a global replace, every time you use a word like realize, it will look like reaJennifere. Yup, I’ve done this. Especially short words. Same thing happens if you want to search for how many times you used “is”. Every his, isolated, wishful, and list will come up.
- Use “said” or “ask” in dialog–If you’ve used something else, make sure that word is warranted. Characters shouldn’t announce, declare, or hold forth unless you want to distract from the dialog.
- Watch out for homophones–You’re a writer; you know the difference between there, their and they’re, but that doesn’t mean you typed it that way. Know or learn or look up the difference between pore and pour, past and passed, led and lead. There are some obscure ones too, like just deserts (that’s correct, by the way; it’s not just desserts. And on that note, but a totally different expression, the phrase is “You have another think coming, not another thing). Expose yourself to language. *
- Check the submission rules–If an agent wants you to include the first three chapters in the body of the email, then don’t attach a document.
- Don’t worry about it–Did you hear my laughter as I typed this? Really though, you’ve done your best (I hope), turned in the best version you possibly could, so forget about it. You’ll hear back or you won’t. Once you’ve sent something it’s out of your control. Sure, you have a little more control when you’re self-publishing your work, but even there, you can’t guarantee how readers will react to your words, nor how it sells, nor word of mouth, etc. You could be doing everything right and still have little success. So make sure the work is the best it can be.
Okay, maybe these simple things aren’t so simple after all, but the more you write and learn the easier they become. Can you think of any I’ve left out?
*My two favorite homophone mistakes were made by students I had: “Huckleberry Finn crossed the Mississippi on a fairy”; and , while reading The Crucible, “Reverend Hale came to Salem to get rid of Satin.”
Books I’m reading now:
Still Storm of Swords by George RR Martin.