Congratulations! You’ve just finished writing your story! I assume that you’ve already done your first editing pass to get rid of all the grammar errors and get your word count down. (You have done that, right?) But you’re not done yet!
Before you submit that bad boy to a publication you need to re-read your piece and judge it like an editor might. Here’s some basic things editors look for to get you started:
- The Beginning: Does it take forever to get going? Pretend the editor has 100 stories to read today and they can only accept 10 of them for publication. If your story can’t grab their attention by the end of the first paragraph they will toss it. (Note: not all editors do this, but be wary of anyone who has a super-short rate of return. You probably have very few words to impress them.)
- Pacing: On a related note, now that you’ve got their attention, don’t lose them! Don’t over-pack your plot. Don’t rush the ending, but wrap it up after that climax; don’t waste words by drawing it out into five different endings. (*Cough*Return of the King*cough.*)
- Conclusion: Is it a good ending? Be objective. If this editor stayed with you all the way to the end you want them to be glad they spent their time with you.
- Completeness: Did you solve all your problems? None of this “To Be Continued…” nonsense. I have a personal pet peeve against anyone who ends a story with a cliffhanger. If you read this story as a stand alone piece in a magazine would you be annoyed that that was all there was?
- Real threats: Was it an important problem? Don’t rely on paper tigers or deus ex machina to get you out of a jam. (This is one reason why twist endings* are so hard to pull off: important stakes always beat consequence-free conflicts.)
“Coincidences to get characters into trouble are great; coincidences to get them out of it are cheating.” – Emma Coats
- Characters: Are your characters easily identifiable & likable? If not likable, are they at least relatable or entertaining? Do you have too many? Does everyone in the story have something meaningful to contribute? If not, cut it!
- Interesting: Is the story engaging? How about the characters? If there’s something important you’re trying to say, make sure it comes across clearly and edit out anything that draws focus or contributes nothing to the narrative.
- Dynamic: Did anything happen or was this just an atmospheric piece? (Seriously, no vignettes, I can’t say this enough.)
- Market: Read your competition (I don’t mean the other submissions; anything that’s been published is still competition.) Make sure your idea is unique. Last I checked publishers are really sick of zombie stories and paranormal romance. If you wrote something too common you don’t necessarily need to toss it, but maybe hold off until the timing is right.
- Offensiveness/too dark: This is going to depend on the publisher, but in general, don’t be gratuitously graphic with violence or erotic content. And keep in mind that even mild content can be too depressing to print. Check out this feedback from my personal rejection files:
“Superb writing, but the story is just too much of a downer for us. We don’t insist on happy endings, but we prefer to avoid stories that leave us contemplating suicide.”
Seriously reader, learn from my mistakes. There’s a reason why I always revert back to this checklist before submitting. If you find yourself breaking any of these “rules” make sure you know why and ask yourself if you’re talented enough to pull it off.
Otherwise, edit it! You’ll be glad you did.
*I’ll do a separate post later on why twist endings are hard to pull off and why it’s better to avoid them. For now, just know that if you have one it could become a problem.