What I can talk about, however, are the most common mistakes I see with manuscripts.
Most of the time, I feel like this when I read a query and turn to pages:
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Why? Top three reasons:
1. Poor pacing
2. Not connecting to voice
3. Plot not stand-out enough
In my opinion, there is a way to avoid all three: they’re called beta readers. Just kidding. That’s a copout; you should never rely on your beta to make your manuscript publishable and/or readable – which is step one on how to avoid these mistakes.
1. Avoiding horrible pace
Cut your prologue, dream sequence, and first chapter. Second, take a look at your synopsis. A lot of the time, the synopsis highlights the heart of the story, and will pinpoint exactly what the important details you should have – and what you shouldn’t have – are. Too much back-story upfront really drags pace, and too many tiny, unimportant, menial things like sports games, day-to-day activities, talking to mom/sister/great-aunt also really slow pace. You don’t need to tell me when your character goes pee or brushes her teeth. In other words, don’t summarize events; realize them in the plot.
The best way to improve pacing is to go back and snip snip snip from your finished manuscript; ask yourself: why is this scene really here? Does it actually serve a purpose to the plot?
Here’s a great site on pacing
2. Creating a likeable voice
This is the hardest one. Voice is impossible to fix. It’s the most subjective aspect of the book.
However, a few pointers from voices I haven’t liked: make a character snarky, not rude. Make your character believable and relatable (there’s a reason so many characters have no boyfriends and no lives and are so poor – the majority of us are like that too). If your character has un-likeable aspects, make sure there are still flaws, too. Sarcasm is great; whining is not. Think cheeky and feisty rather than arrogant and violent. Inner strength should shine through the voice, even if not in the action.
Personally, I gravitate toward more open and sarcastic voices, voices I can relate to in real life. Think of your audience – what kind of narrator would they relate to?
Voice is the aspect of the novel that lets the reader forget about the writer. In other words, it's what makes characters real. Your character should have a perspective, a unique way of thinking about and looking at things based on where he/she is from and the experiences he/she have had. Figure out that background and what that would mean for your voice.
3. Avoiding the “done” plot
RIGHT when you get your sni (shiney new idea), THINK about it. A lot. Write down the idea; see exactly how far this spark takes you. The reality is, there are a LOT of books out there, and having a “twist” alone isn’t going to make your book stand out. Adding a supernatural element is NOT enough to turn your teen love story into a sellable book, nor is changing up an existing supernatural creature or mashing two themes like death and divorce together.
Hopefully, you are reading in your genre – that is the BEST way to know if your sni is too close to what’s already been done. Make me go, “oh wow” when I read your query letter – and do not fall into the trap of the “done” plotLINE. A fabulous idea that follows the same structure as every other book out there – such as, teenaged girl discovers powers at 16, meets mysterious boy, has to save the world, or perhaps London debutante who hates the idea of marriage suddenly meets her match – is still a no for me. Avoid lighter, chick-lit plots; they often fall flat!