Editor observations: Why I reject manuscripts.
So I’ve been doing freelance editing for a small Indie publisher that primarily publishes romance. I’ve had an opportunity to read queries/submissions. I’ve also participated in a few pitch events.
During one of those events, a manuscript I’d rejected popped up. A conversation went along with it that went a little like:
Author: They rejected it.
Author’s friend: Put more commas in!
That got me thinking about why I reject manuscripts. I can tell you, without a doubt, a lack of commas is NEVER a reason I reject a manuscript. Bad grammar here and there, misspellings, and typos–these aren’t even a reason I reject a manuscript. Those are things easily fixed in the editorial process (unless the manuscript is riddled with them).
No, a combination of factors make-up a rejection for me. Each manuscript is different because every author writes differently. Unfortunately the process is very subjective, which is why it’s nice that several editors review most manuscripts before a final decision is reached.
I’ll mark a manuscript as rejected if it has more than one of these elements:
- It’s not a romance or romance isn’t a key plot — many authors submit women’s fiction, memoirs, and general fiction to any publisher they can find with a submission email address.
- If romance is a key plot, there is no HEA (happily ever after) or HFN (happy for now)
- If it’s a romance, it’s not romantic
- Love scenes read like IKEA directions
- The basis for the relationship between the heroine and the hero doesn’t make sense to me or it isn’t believable
- The author used the book to work through childhood issues
- Characters pontificate on the author’s pet beliefs throughout the story
- The characters behave with immaturity I’d expect in a MG (middle grade) or YA (young adult) book — this includes dialogue, internal thoughts, and general narration.
- The characters’ actions don’t make sense given the story’s context
- The heroine is a Mary-Sue — she needs some flaws. And being snarky doesn’t count.
- The heroine cheats on the hero in the book
- The heroine is annoying.
- The hero is a first-class ass. His only redeemable quality is that he’s hot, rich, and/or well-hung.
- The hero falls for the heroine because she’s [fill in random adjectives here] yet the story doesn’t illustrate her being any of those random adjectives.
- Similarly, if the heroine falls for the hero’s [random adjectives], those had best be illustrated in the book.
- There’s little characterization in general
- I’m unable to identify with anyone in the story
- I’m unable to suspend my disbelief for the fantasy/paranormal elements in an urban fantasy setting.
- The prose is all telling with copious amounts of adverbs.
- The “showing” consists of overused similes (e.g. “He played her like a violin” and “He was sleek like a jungle cat”)
- The story is so descriptive and/or filled with exposition that it takes thirty pages to relay one brief conversation.
- Word choice is repetitive to the point of being laughable
- The plot relies on overused tropes but the author’s voice and characters didn’t snag my attention
- The story is just plain confusing
- The tense changes or bounces (generally this is between present tense and past tense)
- The point of view changes (usually between first person and third person).
- Head hopping with no scene or chapter break denoting a change (this is house rules but personally I prefer at least a scene break as well)
- The publisher/managing editor have already mentioned that the book synopsis reads like another well-known book
That’s the list I’ve gathered so far, and I’ve only been at this since May!