I'm going to start a checklist for writers who are about to submit, just a checklist for the most common grammar and usage errors. So help! Any additions? I'm sort of concentrating on what I find most annoying, but you know me. I find it all very annoying. :) I do like a pristine manuscript. Make use of grammar sites (particularly university writing centers) on the web, or grammar textbooks (there are many, and often available cheap at used bookstores-- just choose one that explains things in ways you like). There is no excuse these days for mechanical mistakes in submissions.
1. Check for apostrophe problems. Apostrophes are used in possessive nouns and in contractions, and their proper use is a signal to the editor that you know what you're doing with words and sentences. You want to show that you understand what words mean-- that this noun is a possessive, or that this word has letters left out to make a contraction. Here's a good site to help with apostrophe use. Apostrophe mistakes are a real "mark of the amateur"(TM) for me, and I doubt I'm the only editor who cringes at "Shirleys mom really believes in marriage: She has had five husband's herself."
2. Check for commas after introductory elements. This comma isn't always needed, but in my experience, most house stylebooks call for it. So most editors will read a submission and make mental note of each intro element that needs a following comma, as they will have to fix this if you don't. You don't want the editor making mental notes of how much work your manuscript will require if bought. So:
If she had her way, Joey would have gone to college and become an engineer.
All things considered, he would have been happier then.
Unfortunately, there wasn't enough money to pay for school.
3. Check for misused words, including homophones ("sound-alikes") and misspellings that get past spell-check (that is, they are words, just not the right words). More than a couple uses of wrong words tells the editor that you aren't reading your own sentences for meaning, or you'd notice that you mention "the blogger form Indiana". And if you don't read your own work for meaning, real meaning is likely to be a haphazard process. Read ALOUD. You will hear the sentences as sentences, not as collections of words. And then you'll figure out if there are any wrong words, because the sentence won't mean what you want it to mean.
For more on homophones, see Commonly Misused Words.
4. Check for run-on sentences. You thought I was going to say fragments, didn't you? Well, check for them too. But fragments can be used occasionally to good effect, while run-on sentences are usually another sign that you're not reading carefully. (I've seen run-ons used to good effect in action scenes, and sometimes in highly emotional scenes and love scenes-- but that intensity is seldom created by accident, and most run-on sentences are... accidents.)
5. Check for sentence length and complexity. There's no actual right or wrong here, of course. Just check the sentences against the effect you're trying to achieve to make sure you're not undercutting (like a series of short sentences won't give that lush feeling you want as the heroine relaxes in the hammock).
6. Check for transitions in time and space. If the characters move or if time passes, show it in the narrative. It doesn't take much, maybe a few words at the start of the new sentence, but it makes all the difference. If you use these transitions (like now, across the room, a few days later, when she got into bed), the editor will get a sense of flow in your paragraphs, and also follow the action better.
7. Check for dangling modifiers. These tend to be invisible to the writer but jump right out at an editor. I'd start by checking every participial phrase, as those are the ones most likely to dangle. Then look at prepositional phrases. Almost any adjectival phrase can wind up dangling. Again, reading aloud is your best revision technique at this point. LISTEN to your narration.
What else? I mean just mechanical things. I'll add more when I am feeling more inspired, or exasperated. :)