This post, from Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen, originally appeared on her Quips and Tips For Successful Writers blog on 10/24/08. Even if you intend to self-publish, this list of traps to avoid will still have some applicable wisdom for your work-in-progress.
These 17 reasons book manuscripts are rejected are from a panel of editors, literary agents, and publishers at the Surrey International Writers’ Conference in British Columbia, Canada. I’ve also pulled out some great writing tips and quips about the book publishing business from this discussion…
But first, a quip from an agent about getting published:
“You don’t have to have an agent to get published,” says literary agent Janet Reid, of Fine Print Literary Management. That may be true, Agent Reid, but representation sure greases the literary wheels! I’m with Special Agent Jon Sternfeld of Irene Goodman, and he’s knocked on doors of houses that I can’t even see…
Julie Scheina (Little, Brown editor) and Haile Ephron (writer and book reviewer at the Boston Globe) joined Reid for a 90 minute session about sending queries, editing manuscripts, and publishing books. For more info on literary agents, click on the Guide to Literary Agents by the editors of Writer’s Digest (and read my 12 Steps to Finding a Literary Agent). And, read on for 17 reasons book manuscripts are rejected…
17 Reasons Book Manuscripts are Rejected
1. “The writer uses the phrase ‘fiction novel’,” says agent Janet Reid. Misusing the English language is why she – and many editors, publishers, and agents – stop reading and reject manuscripts.
2. The manuscript doesn’t seem organic or authentic. “If you’re trying to follow a trend, you’ll lose your voice,” says Scheina. “If I feel like this is something I’ve already read, I’ll put it down.” Read How to Write Authentically From Anne Lamott.
3. The manuscript is too complicated. “If there are too many characters and I have to make a list to keep them straight, then I’ll put the book down,” says Ephron. Your manuscript will be rejected if it doesn’t flow or transition easily.
4. The book is boring. “If your opening paragraph is someone driving and sleeping, I’ll put it down,” says Reid. “Most writers need time to warm up – but I don’t want to read that. Make sure your story starts in the first sentence.” Read Grabbing Your Read by the Throat for tips on writing introductions!
5. The writer offers no reason to care about the character. “Why do I care?” asks Scheina. “Each character has to be unique and special, or I’ll want to close the book.” The first day of school, moving, or packing your boxes aren’t gripping leads. “Prologues are really boring most of the time,” says Scheina.
6. The writer slips into a sliding point of view. “You get one point of view character per scene,” says Ephron. “Every scene should be narrated by one character in that scene.” Don’t shift the point of view. Stay with one specific character’s perspective throughout the scene.
7. The writer includes too many stock characters. Beautiful blonde bombshells, evil billionaires, and hookers with a heart of gold are all stock characters – and agent Reid is tired of them! Limp descriptions are also boring. “I want complex, nuanced characters,” she says.
8. The writer offers didactic messages. “Don’t send me fiction books that give moral messages, because neither kids nor adults will [read] them,” says Scheina. “If you have a message, it shouldn’t be on the first page or in the first chapter.” She also says readers don’t want to be preached to; morals and messages should occur to the reader after they put the book down.