Congrats (a few weeks early). Folks are posting excerpts from their works, bleary eyed and hopeful. Some are old pros, just trying to crank out an already contracted work. This post is not for them. This is for YOU, o first-time romance novel writer. By now you know it’s not easy. It’s what you don’t know will break your heart. It would be as if no one told those talented dancers that they truly look absurd. In front of millions. Don’t look absurd.
I’ve been editing on and off for twenty years (mostly nonfiction, but more recently, romance fiction). I’ve written 15 books, most of which probably drove editors to drink (more). I’ve done everything I list below (although hopefully not in recent years…). I’m not an expert. I’m just sayin’–these are the things that will make editors cringe. That will label you “new writer who needs a hell of a lot of work and man, is this story really all that/worth it?”
As a debut author, you won’t have much to pitch except the work itself. Your name won’t ring bells. So, here’s a list of things that absolutely make me break open the extra dark chocolate stash. Because I know it’s going to be a long, many edit-round haul. Your (also new) critique partner will probably not catch this stuff, because he or she is doing it, too.
1. Point of View. You’ve heard about it. You think you’re doing it right. You may be. But hell, it’s wrong so often. And it’s a heck of a thing. An editor can’t fix this for you–she’ll just point it out and slam it back into your in-box. That’s assuming you got a contract on a book that screams “new author.” When you get it wrong, it’s often called head-hopping. If you are in heroine Mary’s point of view, we won’t hear her describe the sound of her own voice, the look of her new dress (*please, do not do the mirror thing), or the way hero Jack likes it when she smiles. Let alone what he’s thinking at the same time. Look it up; get it right.
2. Funky funky passives. Just do it: do a search on all forms of the word “to be.” (Especially “was”.) If you can’t figure out how to make most of those sentences more active, ask someone for help. It kills pace, depth, interest.
3. Dialog tags. They are good. Learn what they really are. “Jack,” she walked across the room, “I love you.” Nope. Just not a dialog tag.
4. Spiffiness deteriorates exponentially with each use of an adverb. He walked quickly. There are a lot of ways to say someone walked quickly. Try one of those other ways.
5. Junk. Began, started to, then, like, just… the list is long, but these junk words are killers. You probably know a writer who has their hands on a publishing house’s style sheet. Ask to see the list of junk words. Get rid of them.
6. Stupid human tricks. We’ve all written them, we’ve all lived them. But we sure don’t want to read about them. Why does she go into that dark basement alone? Why does she go after the unavailable idiot? Why does he insist on running through the woods on two broken legs when he has a cell phone and could dial 911. Don’t make your characters stupid.
7. Confusing sex and love. Oh, look, we had sex on page three so we’re meant for each other! That works in real life, too. Even worse: I’m going to throw in a menage simply because it will help me sell this book. Makes no sense for the story or the characters, but the heck with that.