How to Avoid Looking Like an Amateur Writer to Literary Agents and Editors

Q: If a story has a good plot and strong characters, what writer tendencies can still cause an agent or editor to see the author as an amatuer? -Nochipa


A:
The very first thing agents and editors see–long before they know the plot or characters–is the format of the manuscript. Your manuscript, like you, must dress for success, to avoid looking amateurish.

Use only standard manuscript format. Standard manuscript format calls for 12-point Courier type, double-spaced, with margins of one inch to one and a half inches on all sides. In proper format, every new chapter begins at least one-third of the way down a new page. Chapter titles are in all caps. The author name, manuscript title, and page number must appear at the top of every page. Learn to format a proper title page, too, one that includes all the contact information and the word count.

Although format is the first thing that professionals notice, errors in the technicalities jump out next. I may embarrass you with my honesty, but when the query letter, cover letter or manuscript has typos (such as “amatuer” instead of “amateur” in the question we received) or other errors in grammar, punctuation and syntax, those errors mark the author as an amateur. If you do not have someone who edits your work, at the very least, run a spell check on every e-mail, letter and manuscript you send out.

Bobbie Christmas
Owner of Zebra Communications, a Literary Services Firm