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Sunday, August 30, 2009

Retreat Day 2: Making Your Character Sympathetic


First a shot of my sunset cruise tonight off the coast of Waikiki beach. Now onto work.
Since I can't possibly cover everything Bill taught today and get my homework done, I'm going to focus on his lecture about making your character sympathetic. This is not to be confused with empathetic. Bill describes sympathetic character traits as something about the character being likable. He describes empathetic as the character having something about them the reader can relate to. Here are William Bernhardt's seven ways to make your character sympathetic (please note, Bill does not recommend having all seven in one character, he says two or three is plenty. His words are in quotes, my embellishments follow unquoted.):

#1. 'Have them be very good at what they do.' Who doesn't love an expert right?
#2. 'Give them a sense of humor.' This doesn't have to be typical, it can be quirky or dark.
#3. 'Have them treat others well.' What garners sympathy better than that, eh?
#4. 'Have them be kind to pets, children, or elderly.' It doesn't have to be all three, that too
could be a bit unbelievable or over the top.
#5. 'They have undeserved misfortune.' Undeserved being the key work here folks.
#6. 'Give them a physical, mental, or educational handicap.' Hitting low, but it works.
#7. 'Have another character like the main character and say so.' Bill stressed saying so.

If we don't like or sympathize with the main character in some way, shape, or form, chances are we won't make it very far into the book and may not even make it to the checkout stand.

Of course there was more packed into the second day but I must cover it another day as I have homework to finish! More tomorrow.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

First Lesson: Outlining

Just because you outline doesn't mean you're not an artist nor does it mean you are being omnipotent and forcing the story in your own direction. Rather, it means you're allowing the story to force you in the right direction and keep you on track. If you've never listened to a New York Times Bestseller lecture on outline then you probably haven't seen it's true potential. William Bernhardt's first class today was an eye opener on why outlining is so important to the structure of the story.

Bill draws it out like a timeline. The inciting incident occurs very close to the beginning of the timeline. What the heck is an inciting incident? It is the event that upsets the protagonists life and sets off the rest of the book. Think of it as what starts it all. A murder, a quest, a war, something that creates conflict and compels us to keep reading.

Further down the timeline is plot point one. Plot points are major events that change the story in some way. Then you have the midpoint. This is where the protagonist comes to some point in their journey (spiritually, physically, emotionally) that changes them or their outlook. Next should be plot point two, or another significant event in the story. Bill says you can have more than three major plot points but that it should depend on the length of your novel. Last comes the climax. In between you'll have scenes and each one should be important to the story. Remember as I've said before, if it doesn't add something to the novel, take it out!

Once you break your story down in this way you'll see where the holes are, if something needs to be taken out, and if something just doesn't work. Before his class I was determined to never limit myself by such constraints but Bill has made me a believer in outlines. He has made me see that I'm not limiting the story, I'm setting it free and making sure I don't screw it up in the process!

Check out William Bernhardt at this link: http://blog.williambernhardt.com/

Friday, August 28, 2009

Aloha Writers


This place is an artist's paradise and inspiration is around every bend. Today I walked the streets of Honolulu going from one incredible gallery to the next. From photographers and painters to wood carvers, it's teaming with creativity. It's so inspiring I might have to write a story based in Hawaii! I met an amazing lady, Dora Barrera, who really set my afternoon into a good vibe. She works at the Peter Lik Fine Art Photography shop. Remember what I said about a picture being worth a thousand words? Well this place could make Webster's dictionary look short. Peter takes pictures all over the world, specializing in Utah and Hawaii. The way he captures light is unbelievable. If you don't think photography is an art then you haven't seen this man's pictures.

While Honolulu is a big city and I'm not real fond of big cities, I do love the people here and coming back is like coming home. Time for me to go register for the retreat! You guys enjoy the link below and I'll check in tomorrow to let you know how things went!
http://www.peterlik.com/home.html

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Is Your Novel Ready To Submit?

So you've finished your novel, does that mean it's ready to start submitting to agents or editors?That really depends on your definition of a finished novel. When I write the last words I consider that my first draft. No one but me, and sometimes my readers, reads my first draft. I believe in getting the words on the page in a timely fashion, which results in a very rough first draft. The next thing I do is print it out and line edit it with a red pen. I also add quite a bit as I'm going through it in this round. Once finished I sit back down at the laptop and enter all the red into it. After that I spellcheck and save. Now, and only now, is it ready for someone else to read it. This is the main reason I don't do editing for other people. To me the first edit should be done by the writer so they can tweak the story where they need to and still keep it their own.

So what goes into all that editing? What is this mysterious editing process that makes a novel ready for submission? I've gone over bits and pieces of what I look for when editing my work in prior entries but here's a great link to another writer's take on editing:
http://writetodone.com/2009/08/19/5-reasons-your-story-stinks-and-how-to-air-it-out/
Check it out, your novel will be glad you did.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Retreat Classes

The Hawaii Writer's Retreat is fast approaching and they've posted a semi-finalized schedule of classes. Looking at some of the lectures that will be available has me pretty excited! I'm going to have so much to blog about for you guys that it won't all fit in one week. I'll have to take a lot of notes. With speakers like William Bernhardt, Jacquelyn Mitchard, Ann Hood, and Gary Braver and many others, it will be a wealth of information.

Here's how it's going to work: There are short morning lectures that are about specific topics. After that we go to a homeroom for the majority of the day where we'll work in a small classroom setting, 6-10 students, with our instructor. The specifics of what we work on there is largely up to our instructor. At the end of the afternoon there is another short lecture available to us by one of the other instructors. Then we're free to enjoy Hawaii for the night, well sort of. If it's anything like last year (and I hope it is!) there was a lot of homework. But I don't mind, every bit of homework improves my novel.

It's going to be a very intense seven days and I'll do my best to keep you updated so you feel like you're along for the ride. Who knows, maybe my experience will convince you to attend a retreat of your own!

Monday, August 24, 2009

Character Growth

Once you've create a believable character (see my past entry on creating characters) with depth what comes next? As I go over my first two young adult novels I find myself thinking this over. Aside from just riding through the plot there are some very important things your characters must do through the course of the story.

When people experience things it often changes them, they learn and grow, or become bitter and introverted. Life changes people. Your characters should reflect this. Think of the horror novel where the woman always runs from the killer. It's annoying. The truth of the matter is she'll eventually learn to either stand and fight, hide, find a way out of the situation, or she will die.

Just like readers, agents and editors want to see character progression by the end of the novel and on an even greater scale by the end of a series. For example; in my young adult book my protagonist goes from being the shallow, popular girl to realizing the value of real friends and family and she learns to start accepting who she really is. It doesn't sound like a monumental change but in the course of a person's life, its pretty important.

If you want your book to get picked up make sure your characters grow and learn, or suffer the consequences! Check out this link to an agent's speech on why manuscripts get rejected: http://www.inkygirl.com/scbwi-2009-notes-reasons-why-your-manuscript-got-rejected/

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Monks Would Make Great Writers

Bear with me, I'll explain. As I get further into the process of becoming a published writer I'm learning that there is a lot of zen needed to pull this off. For one, you must absolutely be hard as nails to take all the criticism and rejection dealt out in this line of work. Got that one down, bring on the next challenge! Before I can even finish that sentence it's swinging at me with a wicked right hook. But I'm ready, I can roll with it.

Next comes the critique process from the agent. How quick can you get this back to me? Watch the keys on my computer smoke. I can make overnight express look like the pony express. When it comes to re-writes and editing I'm a machine, lightning fast and spot on.

So what's next? Bring it, I'm ready! Oh, what do you mean now we have to wait for the editor to consider it? How long do we have to wait? What, months! Ugh. Not that, anything but that! But oh yes folks, it comes right back around to the waiting process. Time again to stalk the inbox and wonder if the e-mail is still working. The yawning emptiness of the box mocks me. . .

Now you see why monks would make great writers. To be a writer you must have the strength to endure, the tough skin to take criticism, and the patience to wait for success. I'm all over it, but dang it, I'm not shaving my head!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

What To Take To A Retreat

As the empty suitcase yawns at me this question arises. Thankfully I've been to a writer's retreat before and so I have a good idea of what to throw into that shrinking abyss. Since it's in Hawaii the temptation to throw in all my cute shoes and clothes is tough to fight. However, with the rising cost of checked luggage I will be limiting myself to one checked bag, one carry on, and of course my laptop.

The thing I have to remember here is that a retreat is all about improving my book. Therefore I must take everything necessary to achieve that end. This means not only my computer, but a printer, a lot of paper, extra ink, and all the appropriate cables and plugs. Not much room left for my favorite wedge sandals. Not knowing what parts of the book we'll be working on I must remember to have my query letter ready, my synopsis, a chapter index, an outline, and oh yeah, the manuscript! Thankfully these don't need to be hard copies, whew! Having all these things already done and saved as documents on my computer will give me a huge jump on any homework at the retreat.

With all that done I'll throw in the last few necessities, a book to read during the flight and some sunblock, then I'll be ready to go!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

A Picture Is Worth 1000 Words

Of course I've heard this saying but I'd never really thought much about it. Well, I just had my first experience that proved it true! Much of the book I'm working on takes place in Ireland so I was searching for inspiring photos near the areas it takes place. Out of the six photos I downloaded I was inspired to write four scenes for my book! I'm blown away, I never expected that level of inspiration. But just looking at this photo on the left you can see why they had such an impact on me.
I'm so inspired now that I can't stop writing. The words are flowing faster than I can write in short hand. If you get stumped I highly recommend looking through old photo albums or even jumping on the internet and searching. If you haven't played with google maps yet you really need to. You can zoom all the way into a lot of streets all over the world and see the buildings as if you're standing right there. I can't tell you how much that has helped my writing, it's priceless. Not to mention it really helps when you're considering where to stay on vacation! Happy surfing!

Monday, August 17, 2009

Why Attend A Retreat?

Last year I attended both the Hawaii Writer's Conference and the retreat. I had an excellent time at both. So why am I only going to the retreat this year? Several reasons came into play. Last year's retreat was a huge eye opener for me. My writing skills increased by leaps and bounds and I met a lot of great people that I still stay in touch with today. The book I took to work on went from being a good idea to a publishable piece of work that is now represented and is being presented by an agent to editors. Achieving that was priceless.

The conference was an excellent opportunity to meet people in the industry and make connections, which I did do. A conference is a lot of lectures and success stories with the chance to pitch your work to agents and editors thrown in. The agent I met in Hawaii last year is now considering my YA novel.

So why am I only going to the retreat when it sounds like you get your money's worth out of both? Cost aside, I decided to go to just the retreat because I wanted to improve my writing skills even further. I want to be the best I can be. I don't want to just get published, I want to hit the bestseller list and have my books in print for a very long time! To do that I have to take the time to learn from the best. The fact that I have an agent for my adult fantasy series and that another is considering my YA novel did have a bit to do with my decision. If you don't need to meet an agent then the conference isn't as much of a necessity. However, I'm kicking myself for not attending to pitch my books to a few editors there who are looking for this particular kind of book. But there will be other conferences throughout the year. When it comes to retreats the Hawaii retreat is the best I've found and I wouldn't miss it this year for anything!

If you've heard of any great retreats or conferences leave me a comment!

Friday, August 14, 2009

Sequel Or Stand Alone?

I finished editing the sequel to my young adult urban fantasy! As I did so the question of what to write next surfaced it's ugly head. I was hoping to hear back from the agent who is considering the first in the series before I delved into the third and final book. Why write the third if I haven't received representation for the first? Well, because I have no choice. The story has it's claws firmly embedded into my mind and will not let go. It must be finished. This got me to thinking about writing sequels.

Should you write a stand alone book or give in to the sequel that's been nagging at the back of your mind? Is there more than just the story to consider when thinking about writing a sequel? Yes to all of the above. What do agents and editors think about sequels? Will it help or hinder your book's chance of getting picked up and published? All good questions.

There is a lot more than just the story to consider when writing a sequel. But no wait, it's all about the story you say! True, and false. If the story compels you to write a sequel I say absolutely write it because if its hooked you that strongly chances are it will do so for readers as well. I always let my characters tell their story, and if they aren't done then I keep writing as long as the story is compelling. Once it's lost a certain amount of fire and interest, you've gone to far.

So will a sequel increase your chances of getting picked up, or make it harder? Consider this: agents pick your book up not only because they like it, but because they think they can sell it. The more you write, the more they can sell. Agents like a writer who continues to write! When an editor buys your book you're given an advance. If you promise them three books on that one advance then their chances of recouping it are three times as great! Trust me, its a big motivator for them if they can guarantee you'll sell enough for them to not only recover that, but make much more.

More books means more money for you and all involved, but they must be just as engaging or even more so than the first book. So what the heck did I mean by you should write a stand alone and a sequel? Your books should always be able to stand on their own, that way the publisher has a choice of whether or not to go ahead with it. You can leave a cliffhanger but try to wrap up enough of the elements of the story that the reader feels satisfied. In the sequel, assume the reader hasn't read the first book. This doesn't mean you have to constantly repeat things you wrote in the first book, just reference things now and then with thoughts or flashbacks (personally I'm not a fan of flashbacks though). Look at your own bookshelf. Pick out a series that you really liked, reread it. See how that writer does it. Anne McCaffery, Brian Herbert, Sara Douglass, and Margaret Wies & Tracy Hickman are all excellent examples of writers who really know how to write a great sequel that can stand on its own. Best of luck!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Creating Characters That Live

Excellent characters are the staple of a good book. Without them the book is just words on a page. While I love the intricate worlds in a sci-fi/fantasy novel, it's the characters that keep me interested and that will make me buy more by that author. Dune is one of the most riveting books I've read but not just because Frank Herbert created an unforgettable world, because he created Paul Muad'dib. Consider your favorite book, what did you love the most about it? Chances are the answer will be one of the characters.

So how do we as writers create characters that will keep not only ourselves, but readers glued to the page and wanting more? One of the most populars authors of all time has the answer; Stephen King. His fans will tell you they love his books because his characters are so vivid and realistic. Readers need to be able to relate to characters, to sympathize with them, love them, or hate them, anything so long as they're passionate about it. King's characters are notoriously flawed and utterly human. That's what allows readers to relate so well to them because what human isn't flawed? Don't answer that. But you get the idea.

To breathe life into your characters you need to get to know them. If you have a plot first then it lays the ground work because you know somewhat how you want your characters to react to situations. Go a step further. All over the internet there are character development questions and exercises. Find one of these you like and take the time to fill it out. You'll be surprised what you learn about your character when you do this. It will give them depth and make them much more interesting to you and your readers.

Here are a few links to character development exercises:
100 questions about your character: http://www.gather.com/viewArticle.action?articleId=281474976908598
45 questions about your character: http://character-development.suite101.com/article.cfm/developing_memorable_characters

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

What Makes A Great Novel Great?

For a novel to be great people have to want to read it. To discover the recipe for a great novel you have to discover what people want to read. We all have our own reasons for enjoying the books we read, but are they the same as everyone elses? Ah if only this were easy to discover, we'd all be bestsellers. Getting inside other people's heads is no simple task, but there are tools out there that will help you do it. Don't worry, you won't need a degree in psychology.

The first thing you need to do is to read new books in your genre. Pick up the bestsellers, get to know how those writers write, discover if they're bringing something new to the table. Join writers groups, either on line or in your neighborhood. Ask people what they looked for in a book of that genre, what makes them keep turning the pages and most importantly, buying more books by that author.

Keep up to date on the news in the writing industry. This can be done by following the blogs of agents and editors or by following them on Twitter, FaceBook, etc. Book mark sites that give you news of the industry. Such as http://www.publishersweekly.com/

The bottom line is, to write you must read!

Here's some great advice from an agent on ingredients for success: http://scbwiconference.blogspot.com/2009/08/sarah-davies-recipe-for-writing.html

Monday, August 10, 2009

Pitching In Person

If you've decided to go to a conference chances are you'll be pitching your manuscript to an agent or editor. Packed full of great agents and editors, a conference is the perfect place to do some networking and actually get your work looked at. I don't recommend it for those who have just finished their book and just want to test the waters though. Approaching an agent or editor is a step you should take only when you think your manuscript is polished and in the best possible shape it can be. You want to look like a professional after all who takes pride in their writing and is willing to work hard to make it successful.

So now that both you and your manuscript are ready to go, how do you prepare? This can be one of the most nerve wracking experiences you've ever put yourself through if you approach it wrong. The point of the pitch is to tell an agent/editor about your book and then get their response. The second part is the really important part. Too many people make the mistake of talking through the whole pitch session. You need to hear what they have to say about and have the time to ask them questions. So what do you tell them about your book then? Easy, the same thing you'd tell them in a written pitch. If your query letter is good enough to send across the web or through post then it's good enough to tell them in person.

Memorize your query letter and plan on telling that to them. You don't want to sound like a recording but this will help you so you don't leave parts out. Just remember to be excited about your story and the chance to tell it to them, turn your nervousness into excitement. You love the story so let them see that. Also you should have a hook, one sentence that sums it up. Think of this sentence in terms of how a commenter would describe your book. It should be part of your query, the first part.

Once you've said your pitch they will most likely ask a few questions. Then it's your turn to ask questions. You should have already researched the agent and found out everything you can about them so you don't waste time asking personal questions about them or their agency. If you get the impression they aren't really impressed by your idea ask how you can improve it. Ask what editors are purchasing right now. Find out why they aren't interested!

On a positive note, be prepared for them to be interested. Have at least a sample of your manuscript, five to ten pages. Also bring a synopsis and a query letter with all your contact information on it. Most likely they won't ask for these things because the likely hood of losing it during packing and flying home are pretty high. They'll probably want your work to them. However, there are some agents who prefer the old fashioned way so it doesn't hurt to have hard copies of everything on hand just in case. I'd bring an entire hard copy of my manuscript just in case. You don't want them to be excited about it and then have nothing to give them.

If they ask to read your entire manuscript don't forget to ask them how they would like you to send it to them. Some will want you to e-mail it, others will want a hard copy sent through the mail. Believe me, when they ask to read it, you could be so excited you forget that important detail! Best of luck.

Here's a great link to important things to remember when pitching in person: http://blog.writersdigest.com/norules/2009/08/06/TheArtOfLivePitching3Rules.aspx

Friday, August 7, 2009

My Book Is Finished! Now What?

I'm incredibly excited to report that I've finished the first draft of the sequel to my young adult novel! There is a huge sense of accomplishment that comes with writing the last words of a book you've been working hard on. It surprised me by turning out even better than I had planned, taking me a direction the outline hadn't predicted. While I write outlines now (didn't used to, see my past entry on outlines) I still allow the story to evolve on it's own. Writing the end was absolutely thrilling down to the last word. It felt like the characters were letting me in on their story, I love it when that happens!

Once you've celebrated and revelled in the feeling for a while, what then? That depends on you and what you plan to do with your manuscript. I'm always moving forward, seeking representation so I can become published. I feel that my characters have a right to have their stories told to the world, so I fight for them. After I've finished I soak in the joy for a day or so then I print out a hard copy. I mercilessly take a red pen to it, cutting and changing things as if I'm not the author but an editor seeking the hidden gem. It's not easy to slice and dice my babies but this way I end up with a much more solid piece of work. When I'm finished I set back down at the computer and put in all the changes I've just done. Only then, when I feel its in the best possible shape, am I willing to present it to an agent. The editing can take me anywhere from a couple of weeks to a month, depending on the length of the manuscript.

So what happens when all the changes are entered and it's sent off? I start a new book. I never stop, I can't there are two many stories in my head. What am I going to start next? There are a few ideas battling for the forefront of my imagination but it will all depend on what I hear from the agent who is currently considering my young adult novel. A yes will send me one direction a no will send me another, but regardless of the answer I'll keep writing.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Preparing For a Retreat

Attending a writer's retreat will sharpen your writing skills and give you a chance to network with some of the people in the business. It's one of the most beneficial things you can do to give your writing a kick in the bindings too! With the state of today's economy its not an easy thing to do, but it's an investment in your future that's well worth it. My writing has improved exponentially from the retreat I attended in the past and this year I hope to move it to a whole new level yet again. For those of you who can't attend one stay tuned because I'll give you a play by play of the one I'm attending this year so you can benefit from my experience.

For those of you who can manage to attend one I highly recommend doing so. I'd love to say there are a lot of great retreats out there, but honestly I've been looking and coming up pretty empty handed. If you know of any please leave me a comment so I can check them out. That said, what should you look for in a retreat? Normally published authors are the teachers. I look for retreats that have authors I've heard of or that I can easily verify. If they're New York Times Bestsellers all the better because then its obvious they know how to write and sell books.

With a good retreat so hard to find which one am I attending? The Hawaii Writer's Retreat-formerly known as the Maui Writer's Retreat. Yeah it's a long way away but oh so worth it. The faculty is brimming with New York Times bestsellers and they run a great retreat. The classes are small, less than ten students with a teacher in most cases, and the instruction is top notch.

How is a retreat different than a conference? A retreat is all about hands on learning with an instructor who reviews your work and suggests changes. A conference is about meeting people in the industry and pitching your book idea to them. So why go to a retreat instead, or first? Because there is always room for improvement and if you're having trouble impressing an agent there's probably a reason why. Attending the retreat will help you discover that reason and fix the problem.

Check back at the end of August because I'll be blogging about my experience there! For those who want to check it out here's a link: https://www.hawaiiwriters.org/retreat.php

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Bad Marketing Ideas: Meyer Sued For Plagerism

If you can't get your own publicity, don't steal it from others! Stephanie Meyer, author of the Twilight series, is being sued for plagiarism. My feelings for the author and/or series aside, this is wrong! It sounds very bogus because the guy is claiming such petty things as her characters call each other the same pet name his characters do. He also claims she describes the vampire change in the same way. BFD! There have and always will be similarities in literature. I don't know how many times I've heard the saying, there are no original ideas! And hey, popularity isn't about writing the most original book out there, its about writing it in the best possible way and getting it out there first. Just because she wrote a similar book to his (supposedly) and did it better, he's whining.

What this man is really trying to do is get people to read his book to compare the two. Don't do it folks, if you do it gives credence to all the bogus lawsuits out there and only encourages them. This rates right up there with the whole expecting coffee to be hot thing. Besides it makes him money he does not deserve. Think I'm wrong? I read in an interview that his attorney said people should read both books and decide for themselves! That makes his goal for the whole lawsuit pretty obvious. Even if he loses and is forced to pay all attorney fees, there's a chance he'll gain enough sales to cover everything and then some. I'd give you a link to the interview but honestly, I don't want to spread the man's name or the name of his book around. He shouldn't gain any sales from this at all, it's wrong. If your book cannot succeed on its own, suing someone to get more readers is really not the answer. We would all be a lot better off if the judicial system would refuse to even hear frivolous lawsuits like this with an obvious underlying plan.

Okay, stepping down off the soapbox. Who wants to step up next? Don't worry, I won't throw fruit if you disagree, vegetables are a possibility though!

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Inspiration For Your Writing

This incredible picture is the inspiration for the final scene of the book I'm working on. Whenever I'm writing I look for pictures that relate to what I'm working on. Usually it's my background on my computer so every time I turn it on that's the first thing I see. It's very inspiring and helps get me in the right frame of mind immediately. The moment I see it I begin thinking of my book. I like to pick different backgrounds based on what chapter I'm working on. It keeps things fresh and motivates me, not to mention it doesn't hurt with the descriptions either! I like to write about all different kinds of locations so I'm always hunting for pictures of different parts of the world, and yes I'm one of those crazed tourists with a camera!

Normally I only write about places I've actually been to though, that way I make sure to get everything right. Seeing a picture of something isn't the same as standing there smelling the scents, feeling the weather, and hearing the sounds of life there. So, I don't recommend this as an alternative to going somewhere and experiencing it. I would personally have an extremely hard time writing about somewhere I've never been. But, if you've been there or feel you have a good enough grasp of the place and people, don't let my reservations stop you. Just remember, when you need a little extra inspiration, find a picture and place it somewhere you look every day!

Monday, August 3, 2009

Editing: Taking Off the Rose Colored Glasses

When editing your own work it can be really hard to look at your novel objectively. You worked hard for months, maybe even years, taking the hatchet to it can be a bit traumatic. But for the sake of the novel, it must be done. Take off the rose colored glasses and prepare to polish that baby up. Professional editing is expensive. Not to mention, if you can edit decently yourself, you become that much more attractive to an agent and or publisher. Don't make the mistake of thinking the publisher's editor will do all the work, that just doesn't happen any more. Besides, the better the piece of work you submit is, the more professional you look and the more they'll want to work with you again.

So how does one go about doing it? Spellcheck is wonderful but it doesn't catch everything and it makes mistakes. Use it, but don't rely on it alone. Polish up your English skills. Go over your kids English text books, or even pick up one of your own. Know the format publishers expect to see your work in. Usually that's 12 font, double spaced, 1 inch margins all around, with the title of the work & your name as a header and the page numbers as a footer.

Here's a big mistake a lot of agents/editors complain about: number your chapters properly! Go through and thoroughly check that your chapters are in numerical order, you don't repeat a number, and that they are in a natural break for the book. Make sure your chapters aren't too far apart. When I went back over my first book I realized I hadn't broke for another chapter the entire final 70 pages! Typical chapters can be as short as a page (but don't over do that!) but shouldn't be much longer than twenty. Readers like a place to break.

On to the tough part, cutting. When reading back over your work try to cut anything that doesn't accomplish something for your novel, meaning for the protagonist, antagonist or the plot. If you find a scene that doesn't have a purpose, delete it. This is not to say that you can't set a scene, just don't go off on a wild tangent that isn't going to tie in later. There are also a lot of words we tend to use that are completely unnecessary. I'm guilty of this myself. That is a common one, often you can do without it completely. So,well, and though are a few more. If you think you might have overused a word go to the 'find' button and type it in. You might be surprised by how many times it pops up in your novel.

And of course look for mistakes or parts that just don't read smoothly. If all of this is just not something your good at don't worry, you can hire an editor to do this for you. Just be prepared to spend a chunk of cash and ask around for someone your writer friends recommend!

Here's a link on commonly overused words to look for in your novel: http://preciseedit.com/Article10OverusedWords/tabid/215/Default.aspx