Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Tips from the freelance trenches

So I've been stuck in the freelance trenches these past few months, pouring over my clients' wonderful manuscripts. Some are amazing. Some still have a ways to go before they're ready for publication. At any rate, here are some common problems I see in the manuscripts I read (most of which are YA fantasy):

*Also, congrats to Danielle Jensen and Katie Williams, two clients who signed with agents recently!*

-Uneven distribution of writing. Let me explain: I receive a manuscript that weights in at 130,000 words. However, the most important parts of the manuscript (world, characters, etc) remain underdeveloped. Instead, all those extra thousands of words are allocated to unnecessary description, exposition, and repetition.

-Length. If you're writing YA, you should aim for under 100,000 words. Your chances of selling increase exponentially if you can get the story under 90k, and at any rate, most stories don't actually need all those extra words anyway. You can sell a long book, it's just much harder.

-Basic grammar/punctuation. Doesn't matter how awesome your story is - no agent will take on a writer who can't use proper grammar. Master the basics before you start pursuing publication.

-Contrived love triangles. Guys, love triangles are very, very hard to do well. A lot of the manuscripts I see employ a love triangle not because it benefits the story, but because the author wants to fit the mold of current YA literature.

-Disappointing climaxes/climaxes with no emotion. Basically, even if you have an awesome physical climax, that climax falls short if it doesn't resonate emotionally with the reader or challenge your character mentally.

-Heavy-handed messages. Self-explanatory.

-Flat characters. Also self-explanatory.

-Distancing words (words that distance the reader from the main character). In the sentence "She saw him walking down the sidewalk," the words "she saw" are distancing. "He walked down the sidewalk" eliminates this extra layer.

I'll have more of these later, but for now, I should probably pay attention to my Anthropology teacher :). Hope everyone had a good Thanksgiving!


  1. Awesome tips, Kate! I just finished my new novel draft at 95k words, which is a vast improvement over the original 143k my first novel clocked in at. And I'm sure in revisions I'll knock off at least another 5k. Good news for me!

  2. I'm gonna have to work on those distancing words this next read through of my WIP. Great reminders, Kate.

  3. Passive voice is something I often notice when it appears 3rd person omniscient is being employed. I sort of hoped the grammar one was a given but I shall refrain from passing judgment lol!!

  4. I've caught myself doing most of these this NaNo-esp. the distancing thoughts and flat characters.
    This post was perfect advise read before I start revisions (once I finish my MS of course:)).
    Congrats to your clients Danielle and Katie!

  5. Pertaining to length, my problem is usually the opposite one. However, this NaNo my novel reached 73k, which I was very happy about. It seems like the perfect length.

    I've given you an award! http://brookerbusse.blogspot.com/2012/11/handing-out-awards-with-little.html

  6. Love the tips Kate! I totally agree with the emotion. A good book needs tons of awesome emotion. ;)

  7. Thanks for sharing these reminders, Kate! Your perspective helps me look at my own writing with different eyes.

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