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Submitting a Manuscript

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What to look for in a submission

  • A strong opening that grabs the attention – action that throws us into the story, a question to which we want to know the answer, a character or situation that makes us curious about what happens next.
  • Interesting and believable characters – even if they are fantasy characters, we should be able to believe in them and want to know what happens to them. They may not be likable, but we need to be able to identify with them and with the situation in which they find themselves.
  • A story that draws us in from the start, beginning with the ‘inciting incident’ that turns ‘normal world’ upside down. This incident needn’t happen on page one, but from the opening, the writer should be building up to the point at which everything changes for the main character, forcing them to take action.
  • Dialogue is an essential part of a novel, pushing the story along, strengthening our impression of the characters through distinctive voices, and adding variety to the pace. A story that is heavily descriptive from the start is unlikely to grip the reader, who will want to skim forward to see what’s happening. Dialogue also breaks up the text visually.
  • The writer’s style is the individual way in which they tell their story, e.g. in a lyrical, descriptive way, or in a satirical way, or in a casual, formal, intimate, or detached way. Does the writing sound distinctive, as if the author has confidence in their material and their story?
  • Presentation can be a clue to a writer’s level of commitment in the submission process, but if the other qualities are in place, presentation can be improved by third-party involvement, as can other technical aspects of the manuscript.

Nikki Copleston with additional points by Jessica Lawrence.

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