This is a checklist for all writers to use in order to pre-edit their own work before submission. In addition to proper grammar (please see “Hints” above), Martin Sisters Publishing will consider whether or not each submission meets our criteria by correctly conforming to all items in the checklist below.
1. OPENING: Is there a hook to capture the short-attention-spanned reader’s interest? Does the book start in the right place, or is there too much backstory? Backstory (like what you would see in a prologue) is almost always overwriting.
2. CHARACTERS: Are the hero and heroine vivid, likeable characters? Do characters have that “something special” that makes them come alive? Are they described well? Do they change and grow from beginning to end?
3. PACING: Does the pacing flow throughout the book? Does the reader want to keep turning pages? Does the writing style change? For example, does the author suddenly stop using nouns as subject of a sentence? This usually happens when a character’s vocabulary is used to distinguish where that character was born. Are there “flashbacks?” A story is usually MUCH better if it is told in the sequence that the action occurred. Limit flashbacks to a bare minimum. Are the sentences too long? A technique an author can use to build suspense is to write paragraphs and sentences that become shorter and shorter as suspense builds.
4. DIALOGUE: Does the dialogue sound natural and realistic? Does the dialogue build characterization and move the story forward? Is the author trying to dump too much backstory information by having a character tell what happened in the past. Does every speaker own his/her own paragraph? Is it clear who is speaking? Be VERY careful when using pronouns with dialogue. Do we really know who “he” is, as in, “he said” before or after the quotation mark?
5. SECONDARY CHARACTERS: Are the secondary characters believable? Do they provide a valid addition to the story?
6. SETTING: Is a time and place established? Is the setting easy to picture without taking over the story?
7. POINT OF VIEW: Is the POV for each scene wisely chosen and is the point of view consistent? Are the POV transitions smooth and important? Does the writer avoid head-hopping? This mistake is the biggest and most recognizable one that is made by novice writers. Each scene/chapter (if not the entire story) should be from one character’s point of view. Remember, the POV character cannot see himself/herself without looking at a reflective surface. Thus, the POV character’s description must come from some else who can see him.
8. CLICHÉ: Does the writer avoid clichés in plot, characterization, dialogue and narrative? (This doesn’t mean tried and true plot devices can’t be used. If clichés are used, they need to be done in a fresh way that makes the reader want to read on.)
9. GOOD GRAMMAR – Every submission, whether query, synopsis or manuscript should be double and triple checked to ensure that the punctuation and grammar is correct. Remember, when someone uses a dash, it usually means that the author does not know the correct punctuation. Use ellipses (…) to indicate a pause or unwritten continuation. Do NOT use ellipses to replace correct punctuation marks like periods or commas. A dash should be hoarded, so that it can be used only when exceptionally strong emphasis is needed.