Monday, October 11, 2010

Intern Tips: Edited & Consolidated

I have to admit, the recent upheaval about agency interns has me terrified. Petrified, even. I watched InternAmie disappear, and have watched as other interns quickly regressed back into their intern holes (aka their offices or bedrooms, depending on where they work). The whole situation is just depressing. Before the recent controversy over #queryslam and #queryfest, interns were still sometimes disrespected by querying authors. I saw many comments and entries on blogs about how we shouldn't be allowed to make decisions on incoming queries and submissions, and how, because we aren't agents, we don't know what to look for.

I believe that's false, but I'll let Janet Reid argue that point, since she says it better than I ever could.

I truly believe any intern or agent who has tweeted or blogged about queries or submissions was trying to be helpful. Rejection is never fun, but this business is full of it. I've learned to accept it, and I think every author, querying or otherwise, would benefit from a hard shell.

That being said, I know there are still going to be people who are unable to look past this. And that's their right; they're allowed to feel however they want to. And because I would never want to hurt someone's feelings, or make them think they're being criticized, I've made the decision to take down all of my intern tip posts and consolidate them into one giant list. I've taken out repeats and deleted those that could have been misconstrued as someone's personal submission. I promise that everything below has been seen in numerous submissions, or is just a general tip I've picked up over the last few months. I will not be adding to this list in the future, and I'll probably keep #interntips on twitter to a bare minimum. I hate seeing authors upset, and I hate seeing interns lose their voice. There really is no happy medium, so I'm bowing out gracefully.

1. Do not write a synopsis that is a blow-by-blow account of each chapter. 2-5 pages is normal. Anything above that gets a bit iffy.

2. Label anything you send to an agency. Page numbers in one corner (upper right), along with your name and the title of your novel (upper left). Don't forget to label your synopsis, too.

3. Make sure you know what your genre is, and don't overdo it. You don't need to have vampires, werewolves, zombies, mythical gods, witches, warlocks, unicorns, and aliens in one story just for it to be considered paranormal.

4. Keep pop culture references to a minimum.

5. Do not forget to send a SASE (self-addressed stamped envelope) with hard copies.

6. Double-space your material.
7. Stick to traditional fonts: Times New Roman, size 12, is always acceptable.

8. Be careful of repetition. Show your readers your vocabulary isn't limited to basic adjectives.

9. But please don't make your entire manuscript a ride through the thesaurus.

10. Not every line needs a dialogue tag.

11. DO include a copy of your query when sending partials. Either that, or provide some sort of cover letter, reminding us what your story's about, and how long it is.

12. It's not always necessary to send a copy of your query with full manuscripts. I asked Naomi about this, and she told me that, because the number of fulls agents request is so much smaller than partials, it isn't really necessary. "If they've asked for the full, chances are they'll remember who you are."

13. A partial that is free of typos is impressive.
14. Know the difference between 'too' and 'to,' and 'their,' 'there,' and 'they'er.'
15. Your synopsis shouldn't be longer than the first chapter. Neither should your prologue.

16. If the information in your prologue is repeated in the first chapter, you don't need the prologue.

17. Be a good intern. You get cupcakes. (This is the best advice I will ever give. Take it to heart.)

18. It's probably a bad sign if your supporting characters are more interesting than your main character.

19. If you're writing a mystery, your killer needs to have motivation. Unlike killers in real life, who sometimes just murder people for the sake of murdering people, fiction needs motivation.

20. If you're going to put quotes at the beginning of every chapter, make sure they're relevant.
21. SHOW, don't TELL.

22. If someone requests a partial, send a decent amount of pages. If your first three chapters only go to page 20-something, it's probably a good idea to send the first 50.

23. Your average human being doesn't have fuscia, purple, yellow, or red eyes.
24. Black clothes, tattoos, and an earring do not a bad boy make.
25. You probably don't need a prologue.

26. For those embarking on collaborative projects, make sure your voices blend seamlessly.

27. Be open to feedback. If any agent gives you suggestions on how you could improve your story, and offers to look at the manuscript again if you make them, it's worth considering.

28. 30,000 words is not a novel. 200,000 is a monstrosity. 60-80,000 words is generally a safe number to strive for.
29. Characterization is SO important. Even if your plot is The Greatest Thing I've Ever Seen, it won't go anywhere without characters who are well rounded and believable.
30. I can tell when you basically rewrote a movie.

31. Proofread.

32. If you're going to write about an actual town/city/school/place, do your research. If your facts aren't accurate, someone's going to notice.

33. Unusual names are fun. Indecipherable ones are not.

34. If your female character has a male name, make sure you let readers know, right away, what her gender is. Same goes for men with feminine names.
35. Never send out your first draft.

36. If you're going to use foreign words in your manuscript, give some context clues.
37. Keep the text speak to a minimum, and make sure people can understand it.
38. Watch out for shifts in tense. You don't want a sentence to start off in present tense, then switch to past tense by the end.

39. Multiple punctuation marks are not necessary.

40. If one of your characters has an accent that's actually written into the story, make sure you're consistent.
41. 'Anyways' is not a word.

42. Always give away the ending in your synopsis.
43. Setting: you need to have one.

44. Don't spell real people's names wrong.
45. A synopsis should always be written in present tense.

46. Be careful of leaving things out. If your character is outside one minute, and the next minute they're walking around the kitchen, you need to mention that they actually went back inside the house.


  1. This is a great list! Thanks for posting.

  2. I'm sorry to hear the world of interns is a bummer just now, but these are some fabulous tips. Thanks!