It's Not You, It's Me: 7 Reasons Your Manuscript was Rejected (That Have Nothing To Do with How Good it Was)
Rejections can feel very personal. You’ve spent months—maybe years—writing this story, and in one word, your hopes are dashed. Writers always look to the manuscript for reasons why. Was it too long? Did she find your heroine annoying? What if she didn’t even get past the first page? Why are you even bothering to write at all?
But getting a book contract isn’t as simple as an editor liking your book. Here are 7 reasons why your manuscript might get rejected, even if it’s good.
1. They’ve got something similar in the queue
There’s a fine line between a book being similar enough to fit an editor’s tastes and so similar that she already has several just like it on her list. Writing a series about hot California firefighters, for example? She might already have one under contract.
2. They don’t have any spots for your genre
Maybe she likes your book. Maybe it’s original enough to fit on her list. Except . . . she doesn’t have room for another contemporary author. Lists aren’t unlimited—there are a certain number of spots each month, and they can also be broken down by genre. When they’re filled, that’s it.
3. They don’t see a clear way to market it
Publishing is, after all, a business. If an editor doesn’t think she knows how to sell your book, she can’t contract it, no matter how much she loves it. This happens more often with cross-genre books.
4. The editor is having a bad day
Yes, editors are people too. Sometimes we need to read submissions, even though we really aren’t in the mood to read. So a book that might catch our eye on a good day may slip through because we are tired or cranky. It doesn’t happen often, but it does happen.
5. Your book just doesn’t match the editor
Sometimes editors come across books that we know will sell, and will get offers from other publishers, but for some reason or another, it just doesn’t tickle our fancy. Maybe it’s a trope that just tends to annoy that editor. Sometimes, the editor might pass the manuscript to another editor at her house, but sometimes she’ll reject it, knowing she’s not a good fit.
6. You are nagging for an answer
I don’t say this to scare you. You are allowed to follow up with a manuscript after a reasonable amount of time has passed. But if you are being unnecessarily pushy and breathing down an editor’s neck, her standards for accepting that manuscript are going to be REALLY high. Saying “yes” takes time and effort. Saying “no” is quick and easy.
7. The book might be decent but we’ve heard through the grapevine that you are difficult to work with
Sometimes a book comes across an editor’s desk, and she recognizes the author’s name for all the wrong reasons. Maybe an editor friend told her the author was months late on her last couple of books (for no real reason). Or perhaps an agent friend told her the author is on her 6th agent this year (which could mean the author is a bit flaky). The offense has to be pretty egregious to stop an editor from making an offer, but it does happen occasionally.
So before you go deleting half your book after a rejection, remember that it’s not all about the manuscript. Take a deep breath, and then Google “famous rejection stories” for inspiration to keep going.
Want a pro to take a look at your manuscript? Click here for a list of the services I offer, or contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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When an editor says the pacing is too slow, what does that mean? New authors often interpret this as “you need to add more plot.” But that’s not always the answer! It can lead to a convoluted plot line and scenes that feel crammed in. It’s better to think of this as “you need more tension.” And there are plenty of ways to add tension without adding plot points.
1. Adding context details
Have you given the reader enough context about what’s happening in the scene? Specific details can make a mundane action much more interesting.
For instance, say you have a scene where your character is walking from the subway station to her office. In and of itself, that action is rather boring. But maybe throw in that it’s raining, and she couldn’t find her umbrella this morning, so she’s desperately trying to cover her head with her tote bag. Now all of the sudden there is tension, and the plot has stayed exactly the same.
2. Adding motivations to hook the reader
Making sure the character’s motivation is clear to the reader can keep the tension up. Make sure you communicate why the reader should care.
In our example above, why should the reader care that our MC is getting wet? Maybe our MC has an important meeting that morning and wanted to look polished, but now she’s going to arrive a sopping mess. So now the reader knows her motivation for wanting to arrive at the office dry and tidy, and is a bit more emotionally invested in the outcome of this scene.
3. Deleting unimportant details
Sometimes the problem isn’t the lack of information, but that you've given the reader too much of it and have overwhelmed them. What comes to mind is long, drawn out descriptions of food. Don’t get me wrong, detailed descriptions are great and really help the reader see a scene, but at a certain point, the details aren’t helping and weigh down the scene instead. Consider snipping any particularly long descriptions.
4. Deleting unnecessary words
Are you one of those writers who tends to be verbose? Some people naturally use more words to say what they need to say. Sometimes this leisurely sort of writing can be very useful, but other times it's hurting the story. This is probably one of the hardest changes to make yourself, because it involves going in sentence by sentence and deleting words. But it can yield great results.
5. Condensing dialogue
Dialogue is one of those things that’s boring if it’s true to life. Shortening dialogue can make your scene move along much more smoothly.
For instance, note this exchange between Adam and Lisa:
“Hello,” said Lisa.
“How are you?”
“I’m fine. You?”
“Pretty good. That weather is crazy, huh?” Adam said.
Boring, but probably true to life. In fiction, you want to make the dialogue purposeful. So the exchange should go something like this:
“Hey, Lisa! How are you? This weather is bonkers, isn’t it?” said Adam.
“I’m good, thanks. Try to stay dry out there!” Lisa replied.
The second exchange actually has more words than the first, and yet it feels like it is moving much more quickly, doesn’t it? Keeping exchanges shorter and more concise can help your pacing without adding any action.
So there you go, 5 ways you can fix slow pacing in your manuscript without trying to shoehorn in more action. Happy editing!
Want a pro to take a look at your manuscript? Click here for a list of the editorial services I offer, or contact me at email@example.com.
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You need to read your genre before you start writing. Yes, really. This is true whether you plan to publish traditionally or go indie. If you don’t read books in your genre, you are going to have a hard time marketing effectively. You won’t know the general parameters of the genre, and therefore you won’t know when you are stepping outside of the genre. (I am all for risk-taking, but you need to understand that it IS a risk, and not just be making a choice out of ignorance.)
Let’s say you’ve written a contemporary romance, but haven’t ever read one. How do you determine if your book is long enough? How do you know if your story is marketable to romance readers? You might waste a lot of time querying agents and editors who aren’t right for your book, because while you call it a contemporary romance, it might actually be chick lit, or a cozy mystery. If you don’t read, you can’t properly classify it. And since agents and acquiring editors usually specialize, you should make sure you are targeting ones that are right for your book.
“But I’m planning on self-publishing,” you say. “So labels don’t matter.” Okay, how do you know what type of cover you’d like? If you don’t read your genre, you don’t know your market, and are going to have a tough time attempting to reach that market.
If someone said to you, “I’ve never eaten cake before. But I knew it couldn’t be that hard, so I made one. Now I’m going to make tons of money selling them on the internet.” Sound crazy? That’s because it is.
Of course, there are exceptions to every rule. Best to assume you aren’t one of them.
Congrats to all the RITA and Golden Heart nominees! For those not familiar with the contest, the RITAs are like the Oscars of romance publishing. The RITA awards are for published books, and the Golden Hearts are for unpublished manuscripts. It's a real honor and achievement to be nominated.
My TBR pile just got a bit bigger...
For the full list, click here.
I just finished the latest Lisa Kleypas novel, Hello Stranger. Lisa's historicals are auto-buys for me, and this one did not disappoint! Garrett is a fascinating heroine and Ethan is a good match for her. I'm impatiently waiting for West's story--hopefully that one is next.
So what are you reading?