*Today we are re-sharing a post by Senior Editor Ann Leslie Tuttle with Harlequin Books that was originally published by RU founding member Tracey Devlyn in October 2009. This long-time editor discusses what she believes are the top three submission errors writers make and how they can fix ‘em. Although it’s been some time since this first appeared, the information still applies.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
Join us on Friday, March 18 when author TRISH MILBURN discusses “Marketing in Disguise.”
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.
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