Don't Let Errors Ruin Your Submission, Pt 1

You might think your manuscript's fascinating story potential should rise above any typos and poor grammar, but the truth is agents and publishers receive an onslaught of submissions. They give most of these submissions a few seconds before deciding whether to pass or keep reading. That means any red flags can prompt a rejection.

Poor grammar can be a red flag!

I say "can" because there will always be the exception to the rule. Counting on being the exception to the rule is NOT a good idea. You need to clean up your submission.

Don't let errors ruin your submission's chances!

We need to talk about grammar.

I know. I know. Not your favorite topic, but I'm going to do my best to simplify it. Today, I'll share the top eleven rules, identified by freshman college English professors, that most students violate in their writing.

Next week, I'll start breaking down the rules into bite-sized chunks to help you out. This will be an ongoing series for several posts, so if you have specific questions, feel free to add them to the comments below. I will attempt to address those as we progress.

What grammar rules do you recall from your school days?

Revisiting the numerous rules and exceptions of grammar can feel overwhelming. That's why I like this list. Instead of a huge English textbook, we're going to explore the top 11. 

The good news is none of these rules are difficult once you understand what they mean. Yes, there are many twists and turns and exceptions to the rules of grammar, and I will occasionally mention those. The most important point is to stay consistent in how you apply grammar in your documents.

Armed with these eleven rules, you will be several steps ahead of the average writer.

11 Grammar rules every writer should know

The rules for grammar have not changed significantly since your childhood. Below is a list of eleven writing rules that point to the most common errors people make.

  1. To join two independent clauses, use a comma followed by a conjunction, a semicolon alone, or a semicolon followed by a sentence modifier.
  2. Use commas to bracket nonrestrictive phrases, which are not essential to the sentence's meaning.
  3. Do not use commas to bracket phrases that are essential to a sentence's meaning.
  4. When beginning a sentence with an introductory phrase or an introductory (dependent) clause, include a comma.
  5. To indicate possession, end a singular noun with an apostrophe followed by an "s." Otherwise, the noun's form seems plural.
  6. Use proper punctuation to integrate a quotation into a sentence. If the introductory material ends in "thinks," "saying," or some other verb indicating expression, use a comma and quotation marks.
  7. Make the subject and verb agree with each other not with a word that comes between them.
  8. Be sure that a pronoun, a participial phrase, or an appositive refers clearly to the proper subject.
  9. Use parallel construction to make a strong point and create a smooth flow.
  10. Use the active voice unless you specifically need to use the passive.
  11. Omit unnecessary words.

We will dig deeper

Starting next week, I'll dig into these rules with specific examples and explanations. It's going to take a few weeks, so bear with me. What's up for next week? Our friend the comma! Don't worry. I'll try to make it painless.

Do you have grammar rules you want me to address? Please add them to the comments on this post (not on social media if that's where you found this post.) I'll add them to the list of topics to cover in this series.

Are you part of a writing group? Please share these posts! I've taught these rules for over twenty years to business clients as well as writers. Everyone can benefit.


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