Why Novels Get Rejected
Many writers have asked us this simple question: “Why did my book get rejected?”
There are two ways you can answer this question: either you, the author, made some mistakes with your manuscript or the editors, publishers, and literary agents of the world are all wrong.
I sincerely hope it’s that you made some mistakes, because if the problem lies within you, then the solution lies within you too. If every literary agent and editor in the world is messed up, there’s nothing you can do about that. But if you made some mistakes, you can correct them, improve your writing skills, and become successful as an author if you’re willing to put in the effort and time it takes to learn and grow as a writer.
Our editors have put together their list of the most common reasons why novels get rejected.
Before you come to the conclusion once and for all that the acquisitions editor just couldn’t see the genius in your work or had a bad day, consider if your work makes the following mistakes.
Point of View
Most people don’t realize how powerful point of view is in engaging readers—or confusing them, if done poorly. When we are truly inside your character’s skin and brain, and not just watching him or her from an outside perspective, we develop that deep emotional connection that makes for a great reading experience.
If readers love your characters, they’ll follow them anywhere, even through a bad plot. In order for readers to fall in love with your characters, they have to identify with them, and that process will happen much faster if you use point of view correctly throughout your story.
Use these questions below as a checklist to help you ensure you’re not making point of view (POV) mistakes in your writing.
- Are you only in one character’s head per scene?
- Are you the author telling us the reader what is going on?
- Are you using filtering words such as saw, heard, knew, thought, believed, realized, felt, etc.? These generally indicate we are not in the character’s head.
- Am you using all five senses to show the character’s experience?
- Am I naming emotions or describing what the character is actually feeling viscerally, emotionally, and mentally?
Do Double Duty
Another big mistake I see is that writers fail to make every action, thought, and word do more than just convey one piece of information. Use each as an opportunity to show emotion or convey something to us about your character’s personality.
For example, a character simply crossing the room to pick up her phone can tell us a lot. Don’t just tell us she went over and got her phone. Did she stalk? Did she drag her feet? Did she nearly skip? See how each one shows us her mood as well as showing us what she’s doing? And for the phone call. Do her actions convey dread? Excitement? Anger? Make each bit do double and triple duty, and you won’t have the dreaded flab that must be cut.
Use these questions to make sure your writing is moving the story forward:
- Does each action and piece of dialogue convey more than one bit of information? If it doesn’t, can you cut it?
- How can each action, body language, or dialogue convey to the reader something deeper about your character?
- In this scene, how can you use action, body language, or dialogue to convey your character’s fears, secret desires, goals, motivation, wounds, and conflicts in addition to what’s already on the page?
Cut the Flab
When we read about what your character is doing (or has done) we expect it to mean something. If you tell us she went to the grocery story before going home, there should be a reason I need to know that. Did someone see here there? Did she need to avoid someone, so she forgot the milk? Did that errand delay her arrival at home so she missed being there when the burglar broke in?
Without meaning, actions like this are simply a waste of the reader’s time. You have to show how and why what your characters are doing is meaningful, otherwise readers will lose interest in the story. Every scene in your book should move the story forward.
Just as your words need to do double duty, so do any actions that either appear on stage or are summarized in narrative. Keep asking yourself why we need to know this. And, what else can this action tell us?
Use these questions below to help you cut the flab from your story:
- For each piece of information ask, why is this important for the reader to know right now?
- Will this information be important later in the story?
- What action is set in motion in the story because of this information?
- What conflict is this action setting up?
- What else could this action be doing to advance the story?
Where to Begin Your Story
One of the most frequent errors I see is that writers don’t know where to start their story. That also applies to scenes. I often see scenes that flounder a bit in their beginning, giving us too much info about how we got here.
Readers don’t need a lot of set up. Regardless if you’re a plotter or a seat-of-your-pants writer, you need to know what you want to accomplish in each scene. Scenes can take place close together or farther apart in time, but they should only contain actions that move your story forward.
If you’re writing a romance and the hero and heroine haven’t spoken in two weeks, you don’t need to spend a lot of time in your next scene explaining what they’ve been doing or why (unless it directly relates to the plot or subplot). You can easily say something like, “After not hearing from John for two weeks, Jane was surprised to see his number pop up on her phone.”
You could change “surprised” to something that might more closely convey her feelings, like annoyed, irritated, elated, angry, or miffed. We don’t need a long explanation; we need action. So just jump into the action right away. When in doubt, start with the action and add any explanation or transition later if you really need to.
Use these questions to help you write a great beginning for your story and each scene:
- For a book beginning, what is the day where everything changed for the main character? How has her world been rocked? Are you starting there?
- Is it clear when and where this scene is taking place?
- Are the stakes clear? What will happen if the character doesn’t take action? What will happen if she does?
- Are you simply relating how your character got from point a to point b? Or are you beginning the scene where the vital information starts?
- What is your character’s goal for this scene? What does she need to accomplish or what decision does she need to make?
- Do you have a strong opening line?
When It’s Over, It’s Over
When the purpose of the scene is over, end it immediately. It’s much better to leave your readers wanting more than to linger too long in the scene. Think about the purpose (or better, purposes) of each scene. How does it move the plot forward? How does it deepen how well we are getting to know your characters? What questions does it raise that will keep the reader turning pages? When that’s done, your scene is done.
If your scene appears to end abruptly, that’s a good thing if it has done its job in moving the story forward—readers will be eager to turn the page and start reading the next chapter to find out what happens next.
The problem is that, as writers, we love our characters. They live in our heads; they are our friends. We want to hang out with them and spend time with them. And that’s fine, but do it elsewhere if it’s making your story flabby.
Use these questions to help you find the proper place to end each scene:
- Has your character reached her goal from the beginning of the scene? Failure is a good thing here. It drives readers to turn pages.
- Did your character make the decision she needed to make? That sets up the goal for the next scene.
What to Do If Your Novel Gets Rejected
If your novel has been rejected by TCK Publishing or another publisher or literary agent, use the information in this article to go back over your writing and revise the sections of your book that need work.
Remember that even bestselling authors like J.K. Rowling received multiple rejection letters, so you’re in good company!
Keep working to improve your writing craft and skills, and never give up on your dreams.
P.S. If your novel hasn’t been submitted to TCK Publishing yet, you can submit our manuscript for review on our submission guidelines page.
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