What makes me reject a submission?
I have been asked at conferences how many rejections I make per each book acquired. I have never actually done the math, but I would guess it’s probably somewhere around 200 rejections to one acquisition. Insane, right? As a writer, what can you do to make your manuscript stand out? What makes an automatic rejection? What makes me stop reading?
Let’s tackle the automatic rejection first. I only accept submissions electronically. When I open up the Word document, I am expecting proper formatting.
- The entire book is saved all as 1 file – a Word document is preferred.
- Font in Times New Roman or something similar, 12 pt font.
- All text is double spaced.
- Please eliminate extra line breaks, spaces, or returns. For example, only 1 space required after a period.
- Please denote intentional white space with a # symbol.
- Do not use the space bar to create the tab that begins each paragraph. Allow Word to do that for you.
- Page numbers are required; please include them in the footer or header.
I have received manuscripts in funky fonts, in 14pt font, single spaced, etc. If I have to do work to make your manuscript readable, well, I’m not going to read it. Also, I am sure you have noticed those green and red squiggly lines under words. Fix those. With the exception of dialect, if a manuscript is full of squiggly lines, it’s an automatic reject. I don’t have time to fix your manuscript, no matter how good it may be. Remember, at all times, this is a business and you need present a professional, polished manuscript.
What makes me stop reading?
This is a little bit harder to put my finger on because there are so many reasons. As a writer, you need to draw the reader in immediately. When I start reading a submission, I want to be compelled to find out what is going on. I read as long as it takes for me to get to no. It might half a page, it might be 250 pages, or it might be the whole manuscript. I need to hear your unique voice. I need you to show me what is happening and where the book takes place. Don’t tell me your protagonist is freaking out and driving fast. Show me how she nearly clips a pedestrian and that she takes the turns with squealing tires. Or show me her quirky, colorful personality. Or immerse me into the scenery so much so that I feel like I am in the oppressive heat of Minnesota when it is 100 degrees outside with 90% humidity and you start to sweat the minute you step out of your office building. You have exactly one page to engage your reader. I am absolutely sure that I have rejected some great books because I haven’t read long enough. If your story really takes off on page 35, you need to cut off those first 34 pages.
No passive voices! And make sure each of your characters has their own voice. By doing so, you not only solidify the character, but you can (and should) drop dialogue tags. Create a character bible, so you know all your characters inside and out. That will keep you from having them do something that is totally against their nature. Develop your antagonist. Why is your bad guy the bad guy? Does he have any redeeming qualities? People are a mix of good and bad so your characters should reflect that. It will help the reader identify with the characters. And at the end of the day, that is what you are looking for. You need the reader to have an emotional response to the characters and the situations they are in. I know I am reading a good manuscript when my heart beats a little faster and I bite my nails to the quick.
Another hint – know your audience and what type of book you are writing. If you are looking to hit the cozy market, you can’t graphically describe the murder scene. If you are writing suspense or a thriller, you need a fast pace and danger around every curve. The tone and the action need to match.
If you can do these things, you are on your way to an excellent submission. That does not guarantee that it will sell though. Every editor has his or her own style. I like my characters to be a little quirky. I want them flawed and interesting. A different editor may be looking for something else entirely. Write your best book. Join a critique group and revise. Polish that manuscript. Knowing you only have one shot at an editor, make sure it is as perfect as you can. Then take a deep breath and send your baby out into the world!