Dec 5, 2009

Turning Rejection Around Through Good Editing

By Christine Thackeray

Recently, I was reading an article outlining the 17 most common reasons manuscripts get rejected by Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen, a list she got from a panel of editors and agents. As I read through all the causes of rejection, it occurred to me that of 13 of the 17 have little to do with the plot or power of the story. They are all a matter of editing.

Let me get specific.

17 Reasons Book Manuscripts are Rejected

1. “The writer uses the phrase ‘fiction novel’ or misuses the English language in some other obvious way.
My experience: So I wrote this incredible story for ABNA and in the end of my first chapter used the word "straddled with the nickname" instead of "saddled with the nickname." My reviews were wonderful over storyline but because of my misuse of language, I was eliminated from the competition. BUMMER!

2. The manuscript is trying to copy another style or follow a trend.
Nothing to do with editing. Sorry.

3. The manuscript is too complicated.
My Experience: I always over-write my stories and then go back and combine and kill off characters. Sometimes that complicated book is only a first draft to a leaner and happier version. My first draft of "Crayon Messages" was over 600 pages. When it came out in print, it was under 200.

4. The book is boring. “If your opening paragraph is someone driving and sleeping, I’ll put it down. Make sure your story starts in the first sentence.”
My Experience: This is completely an editing issue. Many manuscripts don't start until the second or third chapter but the writer needs to write those chapters for herself. It's just you have to be willing to throw them away later. My latest book just lost its first two chapters, and it's a lot better for it.

5. The writer offers no reason to care about the character.
My Experience: Again, this is totally an editing issue. Often as a writer you can't see if you have not explained enough to have the reader relate to a certain character. An editor or critique group can see that more clearly and catch it before you submit.

6. The writer shifts point of view.
My Experience: I stink at this especially when my first version incorporated different rules than subsequent versions. Thank goodness for Terry Deighton who is working with me on my latest POV errors, which are many. She is so sharp. I don't know what I'd do without her.

7. The writer includes too many stock characters- beautiful blonde bombshells, evil billionaires, and hookers with a heart of gold.
Again, editing will catch this and may help you flesh out a stock and make them real or kill them off.

8. The writer offers didactic messages.
And again, an good edit will wake you up when you are laying it on too thick... or being redundant.

9. The writer keeps saying how great the book is. Describe your book, don't brag about it.
Editing's not going to help you with this one.

10. The writing is too flowery. “Show, don’t tell.”
My Experience: Sometimes I think I'm showing when I'm really telling. It's nice to get a second pair of eyes.

11. The manuscript isn't clean and professional.
My Experience: This is were editing may backfire if you think you can send the hard copy your editor used to submit to the publisher. Please, give them a clean, new copy of their own and after the edit is done, check for blank pages between chapters and basic formatting. It's not uncommon for those things to change during the editing process so you do need to do a once over before printing it out.

12. The writer relies on cliches.
Duh, editing helps.

13. The writer incorporates graphic violence, profanity, and explicit sex.
It's important to have someone you trust tell you if it's too much.

14. The writer has an unpleasant tone and attitude.
An editor can't help that much with your attitude. Remember the publisher needs to market you and if they think your a grumpy monkey, they may love your writing but not buy it.

15. The writer’s pacing is off.
I hate how ethereal this concept is but a good editor should tell you where they got bored and where they wanted more.

16. The manuscript is great but the writer is a stalker.
Again, editing's not going to do much here.

17. The manuscript has an improper word count.
When my next VT adventure was rejected, it was for length. I had to cut it in half and that was PAINFUL! Now it's coming out next year. Making sure you stay within word count for novels and especially magazine articles can be almost as big a determiner of rejection as content. If you are off, you won't even get in the running.

So, if you are writing for fun, then simply have fun. But if you have hopes of bringing your work to market, find an editor. I like to have three initial edits- one from a writer who is technically based, one from a writer who is idea based and one from a non-writer who loves to read. After the final revision, it's nice to have one more technical edit.

Remember, you either need to swap, pay or use a fan that would read you anyway. Irene Radford, a prolific writer, has a group of three other writers that she works with at this level and still swaps with.

Nothing feels better than finally printing off the clean final copy, knowing your really done. Someday I dream that when the publisher looks at one of my manuscripts they will come back with zero secondary edits. Wouldn't that be cool?


  1. Thanks for the list Christine! I am going to print it off and save it. and zero secondary edits? Wow...that would be amazingly cool. When Aprilynne tells me about the pages of edits she receives after she first turns in her manuscript to her publisher, I cringe. Then she will say..."and my book is so much better because of [those edits]."

  2. OH yes thank you indeed. I've printed it off and sent a copy to my co author. Yes we are still trying to make this work somehow.


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