Congratulations! You’ve written your first manuscript, and you’re about to hire a book editor. Before you do, you’ll want to look it over and make sure that you’ve avoided the mistakes new writers tend to make. Handing your editor a thoroughly reviewed manuscript saves both of you a lot of time and effort.
There’s another big reason to review your manuscript: When your editor calculates the rate they’re going to charge you, they look for how many mistakes they see in a sample of your manuscript and estimate how long they think it will take them to complete your edit. The fewer errors they see, the less they’ll charge. So taking time now to review your manuscript can save you a lot of money.
Here are the top 10 first-time manuscript mistakes to look for before you send your book to your editor:
1. Writing one draft only
Nothing you write is going to be perfect the first time, which is why you’re going to want to revise your manuscript at least a couple of times before you send it to an editor. The purpose of a first draft is just to get all of your ideas down on paper. You want those ideas to be refined and organized before you hand over a lot of money for a professional to look at it.
2. Sending it for editing right away
Taking a break between writing your manuscript and doing your final review before sending it to an editor helps you spot all of the little errors that you might have missed earlier. It’s hard to see the flaws in your writing when it’s still fresh in your mind. Take a break and go back after a couple weeks when you can look at your work with what we call “fresh eyes.”
Lots of first-time writers take much too long to get to the point. It’s great to build a really detailed world and spend time in it, but you also need to grab and hold your readers' attention by keeping your plot moving. Make sure you’re not spending too much time with description instead of action.
"But I created this cool world and readers need to know every little thing about it."
"No. No, they don't."
4. Telling, not showing
The advice “show, don’t tell” is a classic for a reason. Show and reveal details of the scene, characters, and plot by having your characters interact with them, rather than “info-dumping” and telling readers “this happened,” “this is what it looked like,” and “the character looks like this.” Showing makes for a more captivating story.
Here’s a brief example:
Telling: The blue sky made Herman feel joy.
Showing: Herman gazed at the blue sky. As the sun shone on him, he said, “I feel such incredible joy!”
Inconsistencies can be small (spelling your main character's name “Hannah” on page 1 and “Hanna” on page 15), or they can be huge (setting your story in the Louisiana bayou for the first half and the arctic for the second).
Put the time into catching those little, preventable errors (and the big ones) and into getting a solid, consistent story down on the page.
More is not always more. You don’t need to use ten words when five will do, and a fancier word isn’t always the better option. Make sure your manuscript doesn’t look like you ran every sentence through a thesaurus because overwriting will take readers out of the story and into a dictionary instead.
"But I must use all the adjectives to describe my world"
"No. No, you don't."
7. Passive voice
The dog was walked by the man or the man walked the dog—which one sounds cleaner? The second one, right? That’s because it’s written in the “active voice,” not “passive voice.” Passive voice is when it’s not clear that the subject of the sentence is doing the action because the subject comes after the verb, instead of before it. For more info, check out this passive voice post.
It’s very easy to fall into the passive voice, and an over-reliance on it can make your writing boring and overly wordy, so beware.
8. Crutch words
Often writers end up relying on certain words or phrases without even realizing it, and they overuse them in the text. Check your manuscript and make sure that you’re not repeating yourself too often. You can use find/replace to see how many times you’ve used your crutch words. Here is a post for more help with crutch words.
9. Spell Check
Only using spell check to check your work is the writing equivalent of doing your Spanish homework with Google Translate. While it’s okay to use spell check when you’re revising, you also need to go over your manuscript yourself because there are a lot of sneaky word-confusion mistakes it will miss (think if, in the example above, you typed “jay” instead of “joy”).
10. Over-reliance on your editor
It is not your editor’s job to write your story for you. Editors will help you with your prose, and they can make suggestions about your characterization and plot structure, but you need to hand them a coherent vision first.
Knowing these mistakes and catching them when you make them can set you up for a successful manuscript (and a very proud editor). Keep them in mind as you write!
Maud Grauer, a content creator and book editor for Dot and Dash, wrote this article.
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