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8 Ways to Make Your Story Stand Out

Mile high stack of papers

Your manuscript has arrived!

Editors and agents see enough manuscripts in a day to make their heads spin, most of them with the same mistakes. If you want to forestall the “Not again!” reaction, follow these 8 steps to a more competitive story. 

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1. Make sure you base your story on some kind of action that propels it forward. This could be a problem that the protagonist encounters in the first scene, one that she works the entire length of your story to resolve. Sometimes even writers with a good publishing track record submit what are known as “walking around thinking stories,” which follow the protagonist from encounter to encounter, each one related to her problem in some way, but not bringing us any closer to the point where she solves it.
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2. Conversely, avoid the “macho hero story” in which your protagonist goes from climax to climax like Sylvester Stallone in Cobra. You will have a hard time making this kind of story seem fresh.
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3. In a similar vein, avoid repetitive profanity, sex and gore. If they are necessary for the story, then fine. But these, when not essential, will do nothing to hold the attention of weary and revulsed editors. Quite the opposite. Add alcohol, drugs and rape to the list. The writers of these tales (there are many!) realize they must avoid “walking around thinking stories.” But rather than turning heads, they will be turning stomachs.
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4. Sympathize with your characters, even in a comic novel. Too many agents meet sorry, unrealistic characters who fart, belch, scratch and pick their noses throughout the story. If we don’t feel for you protagonist at least, we will turn off and put your manuscript down.
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5. Persist. As science fiction great John Campbell said: “The reason 99% of all stories written are not bought by editors is very simple. Editors never buy manuscripts that are left on the closet shelf at home.” You can be absolutely sure your favorite author was rejected far more than you before the publication of her first book.
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6. Don’t just submit. Resubmit. Find the right home from the thousands available online and in print. Editors may reject a newcomer many times before letting him into the fold. Submit, rewrite, resubmit.
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7. Be yourself. Don’t just try to hit the hottest new fad in publication. Chances are prospective agents and editors are sick to death of it. Harlan Ellison put it this way:
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“Publishers want to take chances on books that will draw a clamor and some legitimate publicity. They want to publish controversial books. That their reasons are mercenary and yours may be lofty should not deter you.”
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They make money off of finding new things.
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8. Work on a strong ending. End your story in the right place. Does you ending focus on particulars and the tying up of loose ends? Or does it focus outward and help us see something greater? Is there an earlier point which would fill the bill? You may have to cut a few pages off the end of your tale.
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You can do it. Remember: the good news is, if you can avoid the mistakes that editors see 99 times out of 100, then you have a foot in the door. Make the best of it.

Permanent link to this article: http://goldenkeyscribes.com/blog/8-ways-to-make-your-story-stand-out/

3 comments

  1. Rhyssa

    Had a dream Olivier Giroud took me to buffet dinner in a mansion, gave me a golden key as a gift and I had to find out what it opened HA

    1. ScribblrScribe

      Sounds like a germ for a story idea! Give it a try!

  2. Pauline

    Publishers don’t really want anything from a new author, nothing original, they just want to regurgitate the same old tripe over and over again. It’s hard to make your novel stand out when they are just looking for past successes to replicate. I was at a conference where the participants were asked to sum up how they got their start in writing. As they went around the table, each person reported the same: he or she know somebody, got a helping hand. They had a relative or friend in the business. I just sat there hoping they would call on me, but the discussion didn’t evolve that way.

    I achieved my little bit of success by submitting to the slush pile and repeating it when I got a rejection slip.

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