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Keys to Effective Writing

The Most Common Mistakes Made by Authors

As an editor, I have the privilege  of reading books for a living. Because I like to read, I love my job. In my business, I offer free critiques for new authors, so I get to see a broad spectrum of manuscripts. I've read manuscripts by new and seasoned authors. There is no better feeling, however, than to help a new author make that step into publication. With that being said, many new authors ask me about the most common mistakes made by authors.
People are individualistic, and therefore, individuals make individual mistakes. However, when a person is preparing a manuscript for an agent, editor, or publisher, there are specific attributes that an author needs to know. Trust me. The editors, agents, and publishers are looking for something specific.
So in my humble opinion, the best advice I can give to new authors regarding preparing a manuscript involves active voice. You may remember active and passive voice from an English course. In active voice, there is direct action by the subject of the sentence. Here's an example of active voice versus passive voice:
She walked to the store, and she was hit by a flying rock from a nearby lawn mower. (Passive)
She walked to the store, and a stray rock from a nearby lawnmower hit her.
As an editor, I urge writers to go even further with active voice. Simply put, I encourage authors to SHOW and not TELL. Using the same sentence, an author can SHOW how the character was hit by the rock.
As Lindsey walked toward the convenience store, a nearby lawn mower roared to life. She turned her head in the direction of the noise just in time to see the mower spew a rock from its hungry mouth. The quarter sized pebble lunged toward her in what seemed to be slow motion.
In this example, we use active voice, and we show the readers the action. Lindsey walked. The lawn mower roared. Lindsey turned her head. The mower spewed. The pebble lunged.
Using active voice and showing the reader what happens allows the reader to imagine the scene, drawing the reader into the text.
It's very difficult for an author to analyze every sentence, making sure that all sentences in a manuscript draw the readers into the text. As authors, we are very close to our work, and sometimes it is difficult to change our words because we already have the images of our work in our heads. That's why editing is such an important step in publishing a manuscript.
The very best tip that I can give to authors is to make every sentence count. Don't take any sentence for granted. In addition, I always tell authors not to get their feelings hurt when they see the edits from an editor. All successful authors have an editor. It's an important part of publishing, and an editor's job is to make sure that the manuscript is the very best that it can be. Just because an editor makes a lot of changes in a manuscript doesn't mean that you are a bad author. If you have an editor, then you have a great story that needs to be told. Let your editor help you.
Keep reading for more tips and tricks to make your manuscript publishable. I'm lining up a wonderful group of authors to interview in the next coming weeks. I'm very excited about interviewing them. Not only do they have great, published books, but they also have wonderful advice to give to other authors. If I've learned anything in this business, I have learned that it's important to listen to people who have been successful and take their advice to heart.
And as always, if you're thinking about publishing your manuscript, contact Coghlan Writing for our free manuscript review.
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