As an acquisitions editor for a publishing company, I see a lot of mistakes that result in the rejection of stories. Many of these rejections could have been avoided. Let’s talk about some of the more frequent reasons a manuscript might be rejected.
The first thing you want to do before you even submit, is make sure you get a second set of eyes on your manuscript, not family or non-writing friends, but a fellow author, preferably someone who writes in your genre. Even a seasoned author can miss things. Rinse and repeat. I need a beta reader. This is not an option if you want to be taken seriously.
If you don’t have one, I can direct you to a great critique group online that’s free. www.critiquecircle.com. Many authors have launched their careers from this site, developed friendships and found peers to help them along in their publishing journey. It’s important you hone your craft. Editors are not there to clean up messy manuscripts. They are there to tweak minor flaws and plot holes. We are not the author. We do not rewrite your books. Your story should be scrubbed clean and as flawless as you can make it before you even think of hitting send.
Now that your manuscript is clean, let’s talk about some of the things that will get you an automatic no.
· Your query letter. Please don’t tell me what other publishers you’ve been rejected by and why. Don’t tell me how many cats you have, or children, or that you are into this craft or that. Unless it has to do with your writing experience, I really don’t care. Your query is a sales pitch. You want to keep it positive and yes, professional. Please make sure it is free of grammatical errors and you address it properly. A submission to Mr. when the editor is a Ms., won’t sit well. If there is no specific person to address it to, dear editor is fine. Many editors reject at this introduction if you don’t go out of your way to make it the best it can be. So make sure you knock our socks off and we know why we must have your story.
· Know what the publisher publishes. This is a big one. You don’t submit children’s picture books to an erotic romance publisher. Go to the publisher’s site and research the kind of books they represent. Still not sure? Read their guidelines. It will clarify things. Still not sure—contact us. It is better to ask, than to assume.
· Which brings me to the next issue. Read their guidelines. If we ask for the first two chapters and a synopsis, give us the first two chapters and a synopsis. Not chapters five and six, or the whole thing. Or if we ask that you submit a special form and provide directions on where to get it, please take the time and fill it out. We have it for a reason and by not sending it, you are telling us you don’t take this process seriously. Why should we take you seriously?
· Formatting. Every publisher has different requirements. If we state we want double spaced Times New Roman and at 12pt, this does not mean single space cursive in red at 16pt. You’re a writer. If you don’t know what I'm talking about, you better get a book and brush up on Word.
· Simultaneous submissions. If a publisher says they don’t take them, please respect their request and either wait until you hear back from the other publisher, or hold off submitting to anyone else until you hear back from us. Most publishers have fairly quick turn around, but if it exceeds the time we stated we needed to review, feel free to contact us and ask. We may not have received it. Nothing makes an editor as angry as spending time to read a submission, only to find out the author published it elsewhere after we told you up front we didn’t take simultaneous submissions. The publishing world is a small place. Don’t burn bridges.
· No-nos. All publishers list what they don’t want to see. Ever. Slipping something we don’t accept into the middle of the story because you think we’re going to miss the incest or bestiality, won’t just get you rejected, you’ll probably end up on a do not publish list.
Now that I covered what will get you a rejection, I want to talk for a moment about submission etiquette. If you receive a rejection letter stating your story is not the right fit for our company, please do not email back and ask why. We are busy, receiving hundreds of submissions a year and do not have the time to critique every manuscript that comes into our inbox. It should have been critiqued before you sent it. If we say it wasn’t a right fit—it wasn’t a right fit—move on.
If however you are lucky enough to get a revise and resubmit, the editor will tell you what needs to be fixed if you would like to be considered for publication with our house. This does not mean you have a yes, you have a maybe. Fix it and resubmit.
Acceptance. Do a happy dance. We’ll be sending you a contract soon.
I hope this was helpful. Just remember, every author goes through this process. We do our time and eventually our craft is honed enough to start seeing acceptance letters. Rejections are part of becoming an author. Take them for what they are and keep trying.
D. L. Jackson