Five Reasons I Reject Manuscripts

It’s apparent the writer hasn’t actually read
books in the genres in which she is writing. 

If you have ever been tempted to think, “My first love is
horror, but I’ll write sunny children’s picture books because I heard an agent
say that was the hot market now,” slap some sense into yourself, please.
I’ve had writers tell me they have never read a YA book, but
they are writing YA because YA sells. The same goes for romance. They don’t
like romance—they think it’s rather silly and they are sure they can write a
silly romance in two weeks with one hand tied behind their backs.
Hear me: When you hold genre books in disdain but figure
you’ll knock out a few to support yourself while you work on your literary
novel, it will show in your writing. I’m not saying you can’t write a romance
while you work on your 800-page fantasy. I’m saying if you want to write
romance, you need to read and understand romance.

The writing is full of grammatical errors.

Has anyone ever read your stuff and thought that English was
your second language?
I hate to write this because I am sure that tomorrow or next
week, I’ll be scanning this very post and I’ll find typos and/or other errors.
Every time I get snarky about someone else’s shortcomings, God allows me to
fall flat on my face. Nevertheless, I have to say it: If you can’t write well,
in a technical sense, you need to hire an editor. Pay attention to your crit
partners, learn from the things they mark, and if you still can’t figure out
how to stop switching between present and past tense, hire an editor.

writing feels wooden.

Vary your sentences. While writing, you should vary your
sentences. Before sending a proposal to an agent or editor, read over your manuscript,
checking to see if you’ve varied your sentence structure. Varied sentences make
the work more interesting to read.

And…slavishly following rules makes our writing feel wooden, too. 

Too much showing.

He went to the car. He opened the door. He sat in the
driver’s seat. He turned the key in the ignition. The engine roared to life.
This is the kind of writing we get when we pay too much
attention to the rule about showing instead of telling.  
Just tell me he hopped into the car and sped out of the
drive. I don’t need to see him turn the key—I know how to start a car. Don’t describe
the expressions on a person’s face or the feelings of despair in his gut so
often. Sometimes it’s OK to say she was happy instead of painting the wide smile
that filled her face like the sun coming over the mountains.

 I don’t care about what happens to the characters.

If the writing is clean and flows well, I still will reject a
story if I don’t care about the characters.
I don’t mean to say I dislike the characters so I turn the
books down. It’s that I don’t like or dislike them. I simply don’t care about
them one way or the other.
This is kind of a personal thing.
For me to care about a character, she must be vulnerable,
smart, and conflicted. She also must be willing to act to make her life better. A character with a good sense of humor is attractive to me.
And a character that is humble. I really love characters that are generous and suffering
unjustly. Give me Cinderella, any day. Sweet and hardworking, and her
troubles were not of her own making. She’s been wronged and I want to see her
get her own back.
But I don’t think we’re all attracted to the same
characters. I could not read Gone With the Wind, but look at how many people
cared about what happened to Scarlett.
What about you? What makes you automatically reject a book
and what attracts you to a character? 

photo credit: davemc500hats via photopin cc

Sally Apokedak
Sally Apokedak is an associate agent with the Leslie H. Stobbe Literary Agency. She’s in the process of of building a dynamite list of authors. She is also active in the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.