1. A Weak Introduction
First impressions are everything. Often, writers will start with a long description of the setting, or a mundane event like waking up from a dream or talking to themselves in a mirror.
Not only are these clichés, but we don’t learn anything about the story or the character.
Readers will keep reading when you make them care about a character and their motivations. Who are they and what do they want?
That’s why the first paragraph – no, the first sentence – is important to hook your readers right away. For more tips on writing introductions, see here.
2. Too Much Backstory
Some backstory is good to introduce your character. But save some for the rest of the book.
Whether you’re writing a thriller, romance, YA, or any other genre, some detective work on the part of the reader is what keeps them curious.
Besides, too much backstory in the beginning derails the story when it should be moving along.
Give your readers time to get to know your characters and fall in love with them.
3. Lack of Research on Genre
Different genres have their own set of conventions about word count, character ages, etc. Some new writers end up with a manuscript that’s too long, too short or a premise that doesn’t clearly fit into a category.
Genres exist to make it easier for publishers to market a book and for bookstores to know where to shelve a book.
Even if you’re doing a cross-genre, clearly decide under which category your manuscript falls under. It will likely fall under one genre more than the other.
If you want to reinvent the wheel and do away with genres, realize the risks you’re taking. Alternatively, you can always self-publish if you don’t wish to go the traditional route.
4. A Weak Plot
Plotting is one of the most challenging aspects of crafting a story. No plot = no story. Sometimes writers make the mistake of thinking a series of events equals plot.
A plot has a beginning, middle and end. Think back to your high school or creative writing classes regarding the elements of a plot: exposition, rising action, climax, falling action and resolution.
For more tips on how to outline a plot, see here.
5. Telling, Not Showing
The art of writing is also about how well you can pull readers into your world.
Instead of simply explaining to your readers what’s happening, let them experience it as if they were actually there.
Engage their five senses: see, hear, touch, smell, and taste.
6. Writing Like it’s 1889
All writers look to other writers for inspiration. And what could be better than the classics? They’re a classic for a reason, right?
This is why some writers end up writing overly flowery language or just end up sounding like they’re from a different era.
There’s nothing wrong with reading the classics. But realize that audiences now are different and the way we communicate has drastically changed since the Victorian era.
Unless you’re writing historical fiction, write for a contemporary audience.
7. Lack of Editing
New writers may think writing will take up 75% of their time, and editing only 25%.
Reality is the opposite. The first draft is rarely the final draft. The real work happens when you start editing and revising your work.
Editing is not just checking for spelling or grammatical mistakes. You have to watch for plot holes, inconsistencies, flow, etc.
The final draft might not resemble your first draft at all! Having another set of eyes, like a friend or a writing group, read over your work and give you feedback is often useful.
8. Query Too Soon
It’s understandable to get excited once the first draft is done. New writers tend to skip the editing and dive straight into querying.
The problem is, once you query an agent or publisher and get rejected, you’ve lost your chance.
Don’t rush. Remember to get your work into the best shape possible before querying!
9. Lack of Research on Agents and Publishers
Sure, it can be tempting to shoot for as many agents or publishers as possible, hoping one of them will bite.
But using a targeted approach will give you more chances of success.
10. Not Reading Enough Books in Your Genre
As you’re doing research on the genre you’re writing for, it’s helpful to read as many books as you can in your specific genre.
This way, you’ll get a better feel of the style of writing in your particular genre and the audience that might read it.
Now that you know not to make the common mistakes new writers make, you can start polishing that manuscript. Enjoy the bumpy ride!