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Amateur Mistakes Can Kill Your Chances of Acceptance
by Beth Fowler

Editors reject writing riddled with amateur mistakes faster than you can say SASE. Booboos in queries, proposals and manuscripts help editors separate wanna-bes from the pros. Wanna-bes pile up rejection letters. Pros pile up dollars.

Down With Up: The word "up" pops up everywhere, cluttering up newspapers, clogging up airwaves, cropping up in stories. Join up with others who are fed up with messed up directional prepositions. Up is unnecessary in the sentence "She was promoted up to executive secretary". Up is superfluous in "Sharpening up one's communication skills is vital". Up indicates a direction and is used correctly in the sentence "Turn up the volume so people in the back can hear," and in the sentence "Company stock went up two points".

As Editors Like It: Why did Shakespeare write "As You Like It" instead of "Like You Like It"? Like is a preposition used in a sentence comparing noun or pronoun with another noun or pronoun. A preposition requires an object. "You look like a million dollars!" As is a conjunction used to join clauses. "You look as if you need a million dollars!"

Advertising Slogans are Hazardous to Your Writing: Listen to TV and you'll hear slogans such as "Nothing is better than Vavoom for your hair!" Besides being overused, comparisons beginning with negatives (nothing, nobody, no place), when taken literally, have a meaning opposite than the one intended. If nothing is better, then I'll use nothing. The writer means "Nothing else is better than Vavoom." The writer could be more specific. "Vavoom was preferred by 90 per cent of our test group."

This Mistake is Really Bad: "Actually, totally, absolutely, completely, continually, constantly, continuously, literally, really, unfortunately, ironically, incredibly, hopefully, finally - these and other adverbs promise emphasis, but suck the meaning out of every sentence," according to Pat Holt in the article "Ten Mistakes Writers Don't See (But Can Easily Fix When They Do)" at www.holtuncensored.com. Delete empty adverbs and insert concrete and objective words. "The church was really full," is meatier as "Every church pew was full and latecomers had to stand in the aisles."

Generic is Boring: Make is a generic verb that muffles or tries to stand in for a stronger, more specific verb. "Make a donation to the fund," becomes "Please, donate to the fund." "Make a cup of tea" becomes "Brew a cup of tea." Give robust verbs a workout. Give make some time off. Other generic verbs include do and go.

To be or Not to Be: Communications students from Wisconsin experimented with avoiding forms of the verb to be. (am, is, are, was, were, be, being, been) in their essays. One student rewrote "'Independence Day' is a great movie," without is. She decided to explain what made the movie great, rather than simply stating her opinion. "'Independence Day kept my attention so much that I've seen the movie three times." Writing without to be verbs encourages writers to pay attention to what they mean and explain otherwise unsupported labels, judgements and opinions and resulting in more powerful writing.

Delete It: "I hate and mistrust pronouns, every one of them as slippery as a fly-by-night personal-injury lawyer," wrote Stephen King in ­On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. Jack Kerouac wrote that the pronoun it is a spook, as in "It's raining outside." What exactly is "it"? Determine the true subject of the sentence or phrase and replace "it" with that specific noun. Compare these. Original sentence - It was midmorning when Allied Forces became entangled with a large truck convoy moving south through the city. Rewrite - Around midmorning the Allied Forces became entangled with a ...etc.

All Grammarians Agree: An antecedent is a word referred to by a pronoun. The most common error is using the pronoun "they" to refer to a singular antecedent. "If you ask a grammarian, they will say that you are wrong to use ‘they' as a singular antecedent." People probably choose "they" because the gender of the antecedent (grammarian) is unknown and the compound pronoun "he or she" is clunky. We have three options: 1. Use the default pronoun "he" and tick off women. 2. Find out the grammarian's (antecedent's) gender and use "he" or "she" accordingly. 3. Pluralize the antecedent and the pronoun "they" will be correct. Learn about pronoun antecedent agreement and more at http://www.soyouwanna.com/ under so you wanna avoid common writing errors.

Grabbing an editor's attention for the wrong reasons is the last thing serious writers want. Boost your chances of acceptance and your writing income by avoiding common, amateur mistakes.

© Copyright 2008, Beth Fowler

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