Alicia posted some of the things she considers "marks of an amateur," and she spent some time explaining why adverbs used as empty amplifiers can weaken prose.
I agree with her (of course), but would add that other kinds of empty amplifiers hurt the prose, too. Bling punctuation is a good example of this, and one we've blogged about in the past. Look on the sidebar for a link to posts about ellipses if you need a refresher. The bottom line? Strong conflicts don't need gimmicks and bling. They're strong enough without them. (And if they're not strong enough without them, you might want to look at strengthening them instead of adding a chain of exclamation marks.)
Other things that can make me doubt your readiness--
-- loads of present participial phrases
-- misplaced modifiers
-- dangling modifiers
-- errors in usage
-- too much exposition or "set-up"
-- comparing your work to Hemingway's*
-- telling me you're agented when you're not**
-- selling yourself short***
-- lack of respect for the genre****
-- lots of grammar or punctuation errors*****
-- query letters that read like bad ad campaigns******
More than all this, though, is that you can just tell when a writer is not in complete control of the narrative. Maybe there are so many vague, ten-dollar words that you lose track of the action. Or maybe the prose is so flat that the characters vanish into the page. They don't know how to focus on action and exploit conflicts, or they don't know how to write sentences that crackle with energy. There are long meanders through character histories and resumes. Characters die in chapter four, and then reappear without explanation in chapter nine. Characters change their hair color, occupation, and even gender mid-story. Characters dress in parkas and boots to go snorkeling in Jamaica.
The point is that each newbie manuscript is unique to some degree, and often manuscripts fail in unique ways. There are common faults, and these should be avoided at all costs, of course. But it takes work to control a narrative. It takes careful, deliberate thought. There's a long learning curve in fiction writing, and it can be hard to accurately assess where you are on that curve. That doesn't mean you stop trying. It means you have to understand what you're in for. There may be frustrating moments and hurt feelings and loads of self-doubt.
But there's also magic. Everything you do along the learning curve brings you closer to that magic when you suddenly understand that all story is character, and all narrative is story. When you understand that, you'll know that there is no failure in writing. There is only a learning curve and, eventually, magic.
* Don't do this. But especially don't do this if you're writing romance. Hemingway is the opposite of romance. (A shocking number of writers talk about Hemingway in their queries. Why?)
** You think we can't google this? Imaginary agents can only negotiate imaginary deals.
*** "I'm not very good at this, but I'm willing to learn more." Great. You do that, and after you've learned what you need to know, write something new to sub.
**** "I am writing the great American novel, but thought I would write romance to support myself along the way." Yeah, because it's so easy to make a living writing romance these days.
***** I'm not talking about optional usages. I know when an author has deliberately chosen to use or not use a particular comma convention. I also know when they they're just sprinkling commas like glitter because they suspect commas should go somewhere.
****** "Theresa, do you yearn to discover new talent? Crave the excitement of seeing a book climb the bestseller charts? Call today to learn more about this exciting manuscript!"
Theresa the Picky