If you are pursuing publishing your novel with one of the big five publishers (Hachette Book Group, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Penguin Random House, Simon and Shuster), and if you are lucky, at some point, your manuscript will find itself in front of what’s called an acquiring editor. This is the person in the publishing house who will argue for your book with the other editors and make your initial contract offer. Your manuscript must appeal to this ultimate buyer.
And yet, too many authors get to this heavenly stage in the submission process and find their work rejected for fundamental problems. Here are four simple pet peeves shared by many acquiring editors:
Repeated or too similar character names
Never name two characters (even a major and a minor one) the same thing. Rarely, and only with a very good reason, name two characters with names that start with the same letter. What you think is cute is just confusing to the reader and infuriating to the editor.
Describing what is not
Remember, words are paint. If you write: “Susan was not wearing her red dress,” all your reader will be able to visualize is Susan in that red dress. Only describe what is there, not what is not there. Still thinking about Susan in the red dress, aren’t you?
Failing to nail down your pronouns
Be absolutely sure you understand to whom or what each pronoun in your sentence refers. For example: Martha told Cindy that she (Cindy) could take her (Cindy’s) car to Martha’s house and put it in her (Martha’s) garage.
Characters who overact
“Show don’t tell.” Every writer’s heard it, but some take it too much to heart. Don’t set your characters twitching their fingers, arching their eyebrows, and high-stepping their way from the living room to the kitchen. Describe your characters’ physical movements and tics, but realistically and in moderation. Act the scene out in the privacy of your office and see what it really looks and feels like to walk across a room. Even consider taking acting lessons to figure out how your characters move.
Every editor is different, and many will have very specific likes and dislikes. But these four pet peeves are likely shared by most of the acquiring editors who will be making some important final decisions on your book.