Last weekend I attended my first writers conference with James River Writers. I’ll admit I was incredibly nervous. I’m an introvert and have anxiety about new situations and strangers. I saw two friendly faces as soon as I arrived though (Phil and Melissa from my writing group) and Melissa took me under her wing. We attended many of the same classes but there were times when we couldn’t decide which class to take so we tagged teamed it and took notes for each other.
I don’t want to inundate you with one long, drawn out post about the whole weekend, so I’ll just share some of my notes and highlights from the conference.
My favorite panel was probably the Top Mistakes That Get Manuscripts Rejected. A panel of four agents and editors compiled a list of the top 12 mistakes that people make when submitting their manuscript (either with process of submitting or the actual manuscript). For a minimal fee of free.99 I now present that list to you.
12. Not following directions – easiest one to make mistakes. Guidelines are on the website.
11. Conflict – a huge part of making a manuscript (like a string instrument, the strings need to be tight). Where does the story actually begin.
10. Dialogue – looking at first moments of dialogue. Look at the authenticity of the dialogue ~ making sure it’s authentic to their age. Take a step back and just look at your dialogue. Use dialogue tags and narrative to break it up. “Ask Know Bob” or “ask no bob” or some other saying – watch out for a character telling another what’s up.
9. Lack of causality and actions – each action leads to another action. The character is the harbinger of change. The character needs to do something. Are the big events connected?
8. Not enough reading in your novel – read in the genre you want to publish. Seeing a gap and “I can fill it”. Book bloggers are a good source for a list of types of books. Goodreads -> Listopia. Keep an eye out for debut authors. Independent bookstores can spot trends as well.
7. Flat Characters – Characters that grow or stay the same. They have to make the reader want to read through the end. Dynamics between two characters. Give everyone some flaws. How can you tell – write a bio of each character – you should know their favorite type of ice-cream. It doesn’t come into the book, but little details help create the voice. Check this list with your critique group. Could the reader come up with the same top 5 adjectives the writer has. DISTANCE – put it away for a few months and come back, you’ll see it with fresh eyes. Look at the people in your life for imperfections and graft them in to your characters.
6. Cliché beginnings – Just because you see it a lot doesn’t mean it’s good. No birthday beginnings; first day of school; the weather report; the “face report” aka reflective surface issue where they happen upon something to see their reflection and they describe themselves. NO ALMOND EYES; gathering herbs – don’t introduce the protagonist in a moment alone, but be careful not to do a 180 and start off with life threatening. IF they do start off alone the reason needs to be original.
5. In everybody’s head – too many POV. A contract with the reader, stay with one character, get to know them deeply. Chapter by chapter break if you DO POV changes and tell the reader whose head you’re in. Let your reader know from the beginning (within the first three chapters) if the POVs will be changing.
4. Boring – Pacing, didacticism, different editors and agents get bored by different things.
3. The plot plateaus – characters kind of float around. Make sure a lot is happening. Three to four major sparks that are happening. Make sure some things don’t resolve until the end.
2. Too much exposition – too much of the character’s or world’s background. What details are not helping to move the story forward. (look for a lack of indents).
1. Burying the lead – waiting too long to get to the lead. Why are we opening here? Establish – but get going to the rest of the story.