Editors and agents so often say their least favorite part of the job is delivering bad news to clients and potential clients. Authors put their hearts out there in their work, and we then have to make business decisions about it. It’s zero fun and hard for everyone. Being both an author and an editor, I know how painful it is to receive those replies that say “not for me,” “I’m sorry, but I just didn’t connect,” “I liked it, but I had to love it in order to take it on, and x was an issue for me.”
So to shed some light on why editors and agents might be saying no, I’m going to post 10 clear reasons I had to pass on a query or manuscript. One note: these may have been from this week or months ago, or even 2016. And with the hundreds of manuscripts I’m reading, it almost certainly was not yours. 🙂 So here we go!
1: Adult contemporary romance, well over 100,000 words. Not high-concept, the pace was slow in the beginning, and the wordcount tells me it’s slow throughout. Plus, the writing wasn’t emotionally engaging. Pass.
2: Adult paranormal. No central romance in this one. Entangled’s YA doesn’t need the main plot to be a romance, but for adult, it must have romance as the story spine. Pass. (This happens a lot, unfortunately. There are so many great stories out there without enough romance for our brand. It’s not a flaw, just a branding issue.)
3: New adult science fiction. Fantastic concept that immediately hooked me. Beginning started in the wrong place but I was hooked enough to fix that in edits. However, boring, slow execution of the concept, taking way too long to get what was fascinating about the concept on the table for readers. The fix would be a total rewrite, so I had to pass, with a lot of regret.
4: YA dystopian. Nothing particularly new, and one stereotypical marginalized character experiencing a lot of aggression without any meaningful nuance or deconstruction of it. Pass.
5: YA paranormal. The writing isn’t ready. Pass.
6: Adult contemporary romance. Choppy plot, contrived conflict. Pass.
7: Adult contemporary romance. The writing isn’t ready. Pass.
8: YA SFF. I loved the voice, but the plot was weak and too many scenes didn’t move the story forward in a meaningful way. Pass.
9: NA romance. Solid plot for as far as I read but the writing and concept were too generic to stand out. Pass.
10: Adult romance. No emotional engagement for me, and the writing wasn’t ready, either. Pass.
These issues are all once that crop up multiple times a month for me in the slush pile, so one way to use this list is as checklist for your own writing. All of these things have been true of my own writing in the past–literally all of them. The good news is ALL of these things are resolvable. Books I 100% recommend to address them? Writing the Breakout Novel workbook and The Emotional Craft of Fiction by Donald Maass. The Secrets of Story by Matt Bird. Master Class in Fiction Writing by Adam Sexton. There are also more targeted pieces on filter words, prose editing, and showing vs telling on my writer resources page.
Thanks for reading! Let me know if you’d like to see more posts like this in the comments.