Posted On October 30, 2009 by Print This Post

Top 3 Submission Errors and How Authors Can Fix ’em

Senior Editor Ann Leslie Tuttle with Harlequin Books joins us today to share what she believes are the top three submission errors writers make and how they can fix ‘em. Ann Leslie has graciously agreed to pop in throughout the day to answer questions.

The floor is yours, Ann Leslie!

From the moment you hit the “send” key, you’re on pins and needles wondering if the editor you targeted will like your project enough to make an offer.  You’ll undoubtedly be assuaged with countless doubts as you wait for what feels like forever.

I’m hoping, however, that I can address some of the submission errors I’ve seen in the twelve years I’ve been at Harlequin so that you’ll not only feel more in control of the submission process but your project will also have a better chance of being bought.  In addition to looking for original projects that are well written, have unique and compelling voice and are free of clichés, I’d rank the top 3 submission errors as follows:

  1. Presentation. It may seem like I’m stating the obvious here but be sure to do your homework to make sure you are selling your project to the right person and the right house.   Be sure to check submission guidelines, which are pretty much online now, and make sure the information you’re working with is current, e.g. the editor hasn’t left the house, changed her name or been promoted, and the line or imprint has not folded or changed direction.  You might also go to the bookstore or online to acquaint yourself with some of the house/imprint’s most recent releases. The information in the cover letter is key as this is your only chance to sell your project.  Generally, it should briefly convey a brief overview of the plot, some marketing hooks or market comparisons and your background and credentials as a writer. Before you send off the letter and your project, don’t forget to give both a careful proofreading.  I can’t tell you how many submissions I’ve seen with typos and grammatical errors.  Generally, if the submission is great, I want to overlook those errors.  But it does raise some doubts in my mind about the writer.

  2. Pacing.  To engage readers, show don’t tell your story.  I’ve seen too many opening chapters bog down with narrative detail and not enough meaningful dialogue.  This often makes the chapters read like a rehashing of the synopsis as the author dutifully fills the reader in on the back story, descriptions and setting and I find myself skimming those pages to get to the meat of the story.  I’ve also seen the writer try to set up the story with an opening scene involving one of the protagonists and a secondary character or two.  Again, this slows down the pacing and feels like the writer is providing filler.  The most compelling openings I’ve found involve the hero and heroine interacting in a compelling, unique situation with dialogue that advances the plotting.  Not only does dialogue tighten the pacing but it also enables the reader to become more involved and start identifying with the wonderful characters you are creating.

  3. Emotional Conflicts. Because romance readers know how the story will end, it’s important to give your main characters meaningful and developed emotional conflicts.  These generally boil down to an issue of trust, especially if the character has suffered a significant loss in his/her life.  A well-developed conflict will require the hero or heroine to grow during the course of your romance so that he or she is a different person by the end of the story.   A strong conflict will also maintain a high level of romantic tension as readers wonder how each character will find the strength and courage to overcome a seemingly insurmountable emotional hurdle.  Your romance will, of course, have an external conflict but this conflict is generally resolved before the emotional conflict is.  And the events in the manuscript should all work to bring the emotional conflicts to the surface, to a boil and then to a satisfying resolution that will seem neither clichéd nor contrived.

As scary as it can be to hit the “send” button, you should know that editors are always looking for talented new writers.  We are always eager to receive a well written, original submission by a writer with a unique voice.  I wish you the best of luck with your submissions and look forward to addressing any questions you might have today.

Thank you, Ann Leslie!

RU Readers, do you have any burning questions about submissions Ann Leslie can help you with?

Ann Leslie Tuttle is a Senior Editor at Harlequin Books. Although she actively acquires for HQN Books, MIRA and Harlequin/Silhouette Books, she is especially interested in finding paranormal romance and commercial literary fiction. Ann Leslie joined Harlequin Books in 1997, having worked for Charles Scribner’s Sons and the University Press of Virginia. She earned her B.A. from the College of William and Mary and her M.A. at the University of Virginia. She has taught a course in Romance writing at Marymount Manhattan College.

Please stop back on Monday when Dorchester Editor Leah Hultenschmidt offers unpublished authors career advice on building name recognition.

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15 Responses to “Top 3 Submission Errors and How Authors Can Fix ’em”

  1. Welcome, Ann Leslie –

    We’re delighted to have you lecturing at RU today! This will be a print and re-read post for me.


    Posted by KelseyBrowning | October 30, 2009, 4:56 am
  2. Hi Ann Leslie,

    Thank you for joining us today. I’m struggling with pacing right now. According to a few contests, I can’t seem to get the right formula for how much to reveal in the opening chapters. Some judges question motivation, some want to know more about the characters. And some judges think I talk too much. LOL

    Although I think this process is more intuitive than formulaic, do you have any tips on achieving the right balance?

    Thanks! Tracey

    Posted by Tracey Devlyn | October 30, 2009, 5:42 am
    • That’s an excellent question and, unfortunately, without your project in front of me it is a bit hard to answer that in the abstract. In general, though, your protagonists should try to meet as close to page 1 as possible and reveal as much of their backstory through their dialogue and actions (spoken and unspoken). Their motivations/personality etc. should be clear to readers from the choices they make and the things they reveal about themselves. You’re basically just trying to get away from large chunks of narrative detail that set up the story and describe one or both of the protagonists. I hope this helps.

      Posted by Ann Leslie Tuttle | October 30, 2009, 8:58 am
  3. Hi Ann Leslie. Welcome to RU! On one of my loops last week there was a discussion about ‘ranking” chapter contests. I’m curious if editors and agents have specific contests that they feel are better than others. If so, what are your favorites?

    Thank you for being here today.

    Posted by Adrienne Giordano | October 30, 2009, 7:56 am
    • Based on the quality of past submissions and success in acquiring authors, editors do have favorite contests. Aside from judging the Golden Heart, I haven’t judged contests in recent years but have always been impressed with the submissions from the NOLA contest.

      Posted by Ann Leslie Tuttle | October 30, 2009, 8:54 am
  4. Hi Ann Leslie! Thanks for the post, very helpful information!

    Is there a right or wrong way to approach an editor after a contest? For example – a manuscript finaled but did not receive a request, although the editor offered some suggestions to the writer. Assuming the writer chooses to follow the editor’s advice, is there a right or wrong way to remind the editor of the contest and suggestions made/followed in the submission?

    Posted by Kristina Knight | October 30, 2009, 8:33 am
    • That’s another good question. Personally, if I am interested in a submission–even if I think it requires more work–I will let the author know he/she can contact me directly and make sure the contest coordinator forwards my contact information. Every editor works differently but I suppose you could send the manuscript to the editor, noting that you followed the comments she provided.

      Posted by Ann Leslie Tuttle | October 30, 2009, 9:01 am
  5. Hi Ann Leslie…

    Great post…tons of information in there!

    I’ve read much (both good and bad) about submitting your work to multiple editors at the same time..what’s your feelings on that?


    Posted by carrie | October 30, 2009, 8:46 am
    • It depends on the project. If it is for one of the Harlequin series, it should only go to one editor at Harlequin. If it is for single title, we certainly recognize that authors and agents will be shopping the project around. We only ask that it not go to multiple editors at Harlequin as it would be unfair to have several editors spending their time considering the same project and then have the very awkward situation of two editors competing for the same project.

      Posted by Ann Leslie Tuttle | October 30, 2009, 9:49 am
  6. Hi Ann Leslie,

    It’s really nice of you to take the time to give us some sage submission advice. I also found the questions on the thread regarding contests interesting.

    Many writers enter contests before their manuscripts are complete to get feedback as they move through the creative process. As a contest judge, if you request a full after reading a high-quality entry and learn that the manuscript is not yet complete, how do you handle that? Do you work with the writer on a deadline, or just pass on the project because it is incomplete, or something else?

    Again, thanks to you and the ladies at Romance U for bringing us great content!

    Have a nice weekend!

    Tracy 🙂

    Posted by Tracy Mastaler | October 30, 2009, 12:55 pm
  7. Hi Ann Leslie, thanks for coming to RU.

    My question is about communication. I often find myself in the posoition of waiting to hear about submissions, but how long is too long to wait? I’ve had submission lost for 8 months, but I hate asking about them becuase I don’t want to be a PITA, or, I’m afraid my sub will hit the round file.

    So, if an editor or house doesn’t have auto reply, how long should you wait to hear before tapping someone’s shoulder?


    Posted by Eva | October 30, 2009, 1:03 pm
  8. Ann Leslie,

    Thank you for answering everyone’s questions. You’ve given us some great information on this topic.

    Have a great weekend!

    Posted by Tracey Devlyn | October 30, 2009, 8:51 pm

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