Writing Tips

Before You Submit Your Manuscript, Take My Advice

by Brenda B. Covert, Editor

Attend a writers’ workshop, and you’re likely to glean many helpful tips, such as “Make sure your book is different,” and “Look for editors or agents of books similar to yours.” If that’s not confusing enough, one speaker will stress the importance of following the guidelines, while another one says, “Don’t be afraid to break the rules.” What’s an aspiring author to do?

You might want to apply the following tips to your work before submitting your manuscript to Ambassador International:

• Know your purpose. Identify your target audience and write to them and only to them. If you find yourself addressing people outside that audience in your book, cut those sections out. For example, if you are writing a book for teens, don’t address parents or other adults in the manuscript. (If you want to communicate with parents, your message could be addressed in a marketing strategy.)

• Keep your preface, if you include one, brief. The length of the preface is inversely proportional to the percentage of readers who will read it. (Okay, so I made that up. I don’t know about other readers; I just know about me. I don’t read long prefaces—unless it’s part of an editing job. The shorter the better, that’s my motto! I want to get to the good stuff: the book itself!)

• Don’t quote the dictionary. Kids in high school use that tired, old ploy for their essays and speeches; you are better than that. There may be a rare exception when a word (such as a medical term) begs definition, but in most instances, it’s simply unnecessary.

• Avoid overusing the “to be” verbs: am, is/are, was/were, has/have/had been, be. Strive to write in the active rather than passive voice where possible.

• Never, ever copy and paste anything found on the Internet (or elsewhere) into your manuscript. If you aren’t the author, you don’t have a right to use it. If you want to include a portion of someone else’s work without violating copyright laws or committing plagiarism, you must seek the author’s permission first. By “you,” I mean you. Not the publishing company. Permission should be received before you submit your manuscript to us. (Of course, anything in the public domain is fine.)

• Avoid using profanity or expletives in the name of “keeping it real.” Do you know how we keep it real in Christian literature? We tell rather than show. “The congregation gasped when an expletive dropped from the speaker’s lips.” “Profanity laced the shopkeeper’s tirade.”

• Dialogue serves several purposes. While it informs or entertains, it should move the story forward. It should help define each individual character. Make sure your dialogue doesn’t stall your story. Also, dialogue should not repeat what is in the narrative. Here is an example of that no-no:

The session began when Pastor Ron asked us to share our favorite Bible verses.
“What’s your favorite Bible verse?” he asked.

• Fiction writers: have you created believable and interesting characters? You aren’t perfect, and your characters shouldn’t be either. Flaws, habits, and specific traits will breathe life into your characters.

• Fiction writers: identify the main conflict in your story. If conflict is missing, you have a problem. A story that lacks conflict lacks a point!

Technical Tips:

• A serif font is preferred, such as Times New Roman. It’s easy on the eyes and easier to edit than some of the very round sans-serif fonts available.

• Feel free to use italics where grammatically correct. The old rule of underlining rather than italicizing is outdated for the electronic age in which we live.

• Use spell check. Just be aware that some of the program’s suggestions will be wrong. However, many of them will help you fix your mistakes.

• If you plan to submit your manuscript electronically, please don’t list page numbers on the table of contents (if you include one) or embed page numbers within the manuscript. We’ll take care of all that after editing your work. If you submit a hard copy, then of course the page numbers should be included.

• Double-check the names of people and geographic locations for accurate spelling. Also, double-check your Bible references. It’s so easy to accidentally type the wrong number or even the wrong book, but a minor mistake can cause you to lose credibility with your readers. Too many mistakes will cause you to lose credibility with your editor.

• Speaking of credibility, strive for accuracy. Even in the world of fiction where readers might be willing to suspend their belief for a fascinating story, your work needs to be believable—and that often requires some research on your part. Don’t write a hospital scene, for example, based only on how you saw it portrayed on TV. Lose credibility, and you’ve lost your audience.

Resource links:

The Grammar Book: effective writing tips

Eight Writing Tips from C.S. Lewis

Holt Uncensored: The Ten Mistakes

Kate Brauning: The Basics of Character Development

Fiction Writing: Top Eight Tips for Writing Dialogue

Behind the Name: names, meanings, random name generator

Chicago Manual of Style: citation quick guide

Editor bio:

An avid reader, Brenda Covert was that 5th grade classmate who relished grading spelling quizzes for her teacher. Upon graduating from a Christian university, she worked at a series of jobs where her proficiency in spelling, grammar and clarity were much appreciated. She left the workforce to home school her children. Brenda returned to the workforce in 2002 as editor and author in the field of education. She became an editor for Ambassador International in 2011. She has also written more than 200 children’s stories for Union Gospel Press under a pseudonym. Because the wonder of Christmas lives in her heart, Brenda writes a blog called “Christmas All Year Long” under the name Brenda Christmas!