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Why Do Publishers Reject Your Work?

Updated: Sep 11, 2021


Even some experienced writers forget or miss some of these key elements. Avoiding these common pitfalls will go a long way to increasing your chances of landing an agent, editor, or publishing house.

Spelling and grammar! These two pesky buggers can be trouble. The good news is—Editors and agents are people, too. Do they want you to be absolutely flawless and know every rule to the English language? Of course not. However, if you send your query, the first 50 pages, or other material, and they can count 10 mistakes per page, then you will receive a speedy rejection. Why? Because, it’s readily apparent you put very little work into self-editing or proofing your project before sending.


Following Trends- When following trends, it’s very easy to lose your own writing voice. If penning fiction, create entire new worlds, quirky and interesting characters, dilemmas, conflict, etc… If you write a ‘cookie-cutter’ novel and it’s similar to every other book in that genre it will hurt your chances significantly. But, if done correctly, this is a chance for your creativity and originality to burst forth.

Plot is too complicated. If you reader needs a list to keep track of names or is scratching their head by the end of the first chapter and wondering what they just read, you’re project will likely never survive the submission process. Manuscripts must flow or transition easily.

Boring- Opening the first chapter with someone driving, eating, sleeping, or scenery, like the sun coming up, very rarely works. Start with a great hook. For example, your first fantasy novel sentence could be: “The demon howled in pain.” (Raymond Feist uses this technique in a majority of his books. And, he’s sold 15 million copies.) Alert! —Avoid first sentences like: “It was a lovely winter day.”

Make folks care about your character(s)? Each character has to be unique and special. Make readers love the heroes, or—if they’re evil—make readers hate them! The readers flipping the pages want real, flawed, ‘fleshed-out’ people, who struggle with choices, and don’t lead a ‘perfect’ life. For crying out loud, Sherlock Holmes was a smoking, drinking, drug-user!

Please (pretty please) don’t write stock characters. No more irresistibly beautiful women, evil billionaires, extraordinarily attractive men, or the well-to-do playboy turned hero. They all fit the ‘stock’ category. For a much larger chance of success in any genre, invent something new, or give an old idea a new twist. (Think Stephen King, here.) Even if you dislike horror, you have to admire the way the man sees story twists in the most everyday things. *Note: Within the harlequin-type romance stories/genre it is more acceptable to use stock characters.)

Get your hooks in! As touched upon in ‘Boring,’ during your first chapter, avoid writing things like doing homework, watching the sunrise, or taking a shower. (Unless it’s a horror scene and there’s immediate danger—like Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho scene) Hook your reader quickly. If you do, they want to see what is happening on the net page. (Please see the examples at the end of this article for reference.)

Prologues are becoming obsolete. Prologues hurt many stories. Years ago, when I first began reading, it was commonplace to have amazing prologues setting the premise for a book. Now, they’re nearly a thing of the past. Some folks (readers/editors/agents) love them, yet a growing number despise them. Readers have told me they skip them entirely and don’t care about the content. So, be mindful of the risk you’re taking if deciding to use a prologue.

Point-of-view (POV) is inconsistent. During any one scene the reader should be ‘watching’ from one character’s view. Shifting during a scene is confusing and throws your reader’s attention off. Say your book is a mystery. Well, we can’t very well have our MC (Mr. Detective) explaining why he believes Mr. Evil did the murder, then two sentences later, suddenly shift to Mr. Evil’s perspective as he watches Mr. Detective solve the crime and point the finger at him. The bouncing, rubber ball effect will confuse your fans.

Flowery writing. As with prologues, this style has been fading for years. Writing Basics 101 says—'Show, don’t tell.’ You’ll hear this often during your career. Delete those adverbs and adjectives, or your manuscript may be rejected quicker than you can blink.
Don’t say: ‘My book is fantastic’ when you query! Here is where an amazing query letter comes in handy, but it’s not the place for lines such as: ‘All my friends love my work.’ ‘My book is amazing,’ or ‘I promise it’s the next Lord of the Rings.’ Your query must describewhat your manuscript is about. Bragging on yourself or the story could lead to a quick rejection. (See my blog at Next Journey Books for tips on how to write a proper query letter.)

Learn to write queries. They should be professional and easy to read, include white spaces and don’t send big blocks of text crammed into a paragraph. As my blog article says, you basically have about 5 or 10 seconds to catch an agent/editor’s attention. Your entire success may rest on those precious moments. Be professional.

Cut out the cliches. Be a wordsmith. Describe things. Make me experience the MC’s emotions. Tell me how the unbearable tension is twisting your stomach into knots and you wanted to throw up as you waited for the enemy attack to arrive, or how you’re mentally prepared yourself to die when you hear your commander yell ‘Charge!’ Make me sit on the edge of my seat and feel like I’m rushing across that battlefield with bullets zipping past my head as I run alongside your character in my mind. Don’t say, ‘I had butterflies in my stomach before we charged.’

Graphic violence, profanity, and explicit sex do not belong on the first pages. This is definitely not the way to open a book. Take the time to develop characters, show your style and voice, then perhaps move on to other things. Putting many unsavory things in the first chapters will likely doom your cause.

Pacing is critical! Writing slow parts too slow or too fast completely throws off the book’s pacing. Steady, logical, progression works well. Going back to Stephen King, once more, he demonstrates that even with twists and turns in the plot the story can easily move forward. It’s not choppy, bunched into a few chapters, or glazed over.

Word count. If the submission guidelines, which I hope you’re checking before sending anything to an editor or agent, say 75,000 word limit and your manuscript is 110,000, your chances are severely reduced. Example: Middle grade fiction goes for an average of the above mentioned 75K words. For example, if you just wrote the fifth volume of a Harry Potter-type work, unless you are a very established author with a great reputation, this will likely be turned away. (Note: Harry Potter Book #5 had over 257K words.)

Lastly—don’t become angry. Rejection is NOT the end. Yes, it’s easy to harbor hurt feelings over being told your work ‘isn’t what we’re looking for’ or ‘thank you for submitting, but your work is not a good fit for us.’ Honestly, it stings your pride. We all experience it. Still, J.K. Rowling received one rejection after another. Nearly 18 in total, I believe. As did ‘The Hobbit’ when J.R.R. Tolkien penned it and tried to publish back in 1937. Were they failures? Obviously not! So, never quit.

As a writing coach, I am here to help you through each step, if needed. Or, any one step in particular if you find they have become a struggle or roadblock. At Next Journey Books we are here to help you become the best writer you can be. I love my job and strive for you to love your writing.

Check us out and contact us when you’re ready, if you have questions, or want to chat.

Peace!

Mark

The Unknown Warrior reined in on the crest of a rise overlooking the once tranquil lakeside port of Arlen. In the gathering gloom and encroaching mist, battle raged through its streets. Buildings were burning across the town, a heavy pall of smoke thickening the mist. The thud and crack of spells echoed against the mountains to the north…. Elfsorrow: Legends of the Raven #1, by James Barclay.

I am shown into a small, drab room, told to sit down and wait. Six empty brown plastic chairs face each other on tired linoleum. In a corner, a fake green plant, shiny leaves coated with dust. I do as I am told. I sit down. My thighs tremble. My palms feel clammy, my throat parched. My head throbs. I think, I should call our father now. I should call him before it gets too late. But my hand makes no effort to grab the phone in the pocket of my jeans. Call our father and tell him what? ….. A Kept Secret, by Tatiana de Rosnay.
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