This is another one of my favorite LTUE panels. It was given by Jason King, the acquisitions editor at Curiosity Quills Press as well as the author of the Age of the Infinite series.
He started off this panel by reminding everyone that while rejections sucks, it’s also a big part of being a writer. It’s all part of the writing process. After this reminder, he launched right into the biggest reason why he rejects manuscripts.
- They are ugly– What he means is that they are not formatted correctly. All submission guidelines include a standardized format for authors to follow when submitting their manuscripts. This includes a specific font and size, spacing, and sometimes they have header guidelines (author names and titles). When you don’t follow those guidelines, your manuscript automatically gets rejected. This can also mean that your manuscript is clearly unedited, meaning spelling and grammar errors. That will also get your manuscript rejected immediately.
- Weak hooks– King said that he gives every manuscript (except the ugly ones that he can’t get through) a 50 page limit to hook him into the story. If he isn’t hooked by then, he’ll reject it. He doesn’t like long worldbuilding introductions, extended prologues, or expansive yet uninformative story set-ups. If by page 50 he is not interested, it gets rejected.
- Inconsistent point of views– Any of the following will mean immediate rejection: switching from 1st to 3rd povs, headhopping without scene breaks, or switching tenses. Limit POV characters for the sake of the reader and to keep the story moving along. And remember that characters only know what other characters are thinking by their actions because people don’t read minds (unless, of course, that’s the premise of your whole novel).
- Telling instead of showing– This is something we, as writers, hear ALL THE TIME. But do we really know what it means? I know that I, personally, have a hard time identifying passages of “telling” in my own writing. Luckily, King offered up a few hints to help fix this problem. First, find “I” passages, meaning “I think this color is pretty” or “I feel sick”. Those are telling (and frankly, rather boring). Instead, focus on action and description. For example, say “The color reminded me of the sky on an early Christmas morning when I was a child.” Or “The bile rose in my throat, stinging all the way up.” But the one thing you have to be careful with is the next reason why manuscripts get rejected.
- Purple prose and cliches– Purple prose is when you overwhelm the reader with flowery descriptions, big words, and details that are hard to follow. I may offend people here, but I could never make it through the Lord of the Rings books because Tolkien’s extensive descriptions inhibited my ability to read the book. After a month, I only made it to page 40 and I still had no idea what was happening, so I ended up putting it down and never picking it back up. Now the reason why I used Tolkien as an example is to show how there are always exceptions to the rules. For him, his prose worked. For me, it wouldn’t.
- Poor pacing– This doesn’t necessarily mean slow pacing, drawn out scenes, or a lack of story development. It can also be caused by a jarring change in pacing. You can’t skip from a slow scene in the character’s mind to the middle of a battle where the character is facing possible death. It pulls the reader out of the story.
- Stagnant characters– If your characters don’t change and they don’t have an effect on the story, than they’re stagnant. If the story doesn’t have an effect on them, than they’re stagnant. A character’s progress as a human being is what the story should evolve around. If there is no progress, then there is no story.
- Lack of humor– King said that humor equals humanity, which in turn equals believability. Life is funny. And stories need to have breaks from the constant tension or else you’ll wear the reader down. Your story doesn’t need to become a joke book, but you should try to add some humor here and there.
- Edgy for edgy’s sake– Examples of this are excessive language to make your characters sound more dangerous, descriptive violence, or excessive sex scenes to keep attention *coughs* Fifty Shades of Grey *cough* These are big signs that your storyline and characters are not as fleshed out as they should be.
- Deus ex machina– aka the Hand of God magically saves everything and they all live happily ever after. This is bad story writing. Take this episodes of Phineas and Ferb for example.
(I know, the video isn’t very high quality, but it’s all I could find.) Doofenshmirtz is pitching a tv show idea to an executive, and he throws in a monster at the end. Of course, the executive interrupts and says, “It’s lazy writing!” No miracles, and no surprise plot twists that make no sense. Everything needs to be foreshadowed at some point so that the story remains cohesive.
- Mistakes in the Query– If your query letters has misspellings, bad grammar, generic forms like “To Whom it May Concern”, doesn’t fit with who you’re querying to, you’ll get rejected outright. Make sure you do your research and follow the guidelines for each individual publisher. And research who you’re talking to specifically! For example, in my query letter, I mentioned that I met the submissions editor at LTUE in 2015 and 2016 and that she caught my attention for her publishing company (I won’t say who, though). That’s something unique that will (hopefully) keep my letter from sounding formulaic or impersonal. I know who I am addressing, and it’s addressed to a specific name and company.
I spent about a month editing my story pitch so that it’s short. Publishers and editors call that an elevator pitch. Make sure you can summarize your story in a few quick seconds so that if you meet someone in an elevator, you can tell them what you’re book is about without taking up all of their time. Mine is-