Editor observations: Why I reject manuscripts.


So I’ve been doing freelance editing for a small Indie publisher that primarily publishes romance. I’ve had an opportunity to read queries/submissions. I’ve also participated in a few pitch events.

During one of those events, a manuscript I’d rejected popped up. A conversation went along with it that went a little like:

Author: They rejected it.

Author’s friend: Put more commas in!

That got me thinking about why I reject manuscripts. I can tell you, without a doubt, a lack of commas is NEVER a reason I reject a manuscript. Bad grammar here and there, misspellings, and typos–these aren’t even a reason I reject a manuscript. Those are things easily fixed in the editorial process (unless the manuscript is riddled with them).

No, a combination of factors make-up a rejection for me. Each manuscript is different because every author writes differently.  Unfortunately the process is very subjective, which is why it’s nice that several editors review most manuscripts before a final decision is reached.

I’ll mark a manuscript as rejected if it has more than one of these elements:

  • It’s not a romance or romance isn’t a key plot — many authors submit women’s fiction, memoirs, and general fiction to any publisher they can find with a submission email address.
  • If romance is a key plot, there is no HEA (happily ever after) or HFN (happy for now)
  • If it’s a romance, it’s not romantic
  • Love scenes read like IKEA directions
  • The basis for the relationship between the heroine and the hero doesn’t make sense to me or it isn’t believable
  • The author used the book to work through childhood issues
  • Characters pontificate on the author’s pet beliefs throughout the story
  • The characters behave with immaturity I’d expect in a MG (middle grade) or YA (young adult) book — this includes dialogue, internal thoughts, and general narration.
  • The characters’ actions don’t make sense given the story’s context
  • The heroine is a Mary-Sue — she needs some flaws. And being snarky doesn’t count.
  • The heroine cheats on the hero in the book
  • The heroine is annoying.
  • The hero is a first-class ass. His only redeemable quality is that he’s hot, rich, and/or well-hung.
  • The hero falls for the heroine because she’s [fill in random adjectives here] yet the story doesn’t illustrate her being any of those random adjectives.
  • Similarly, if the heroine falls for the hero’s [random adjectives], those had best be illustrated in the book.
  • There’s little characterization in general
  • I’m unable to identify with anyone in the story
  • I’m unable to suspend my disbelief for the fantasy/paranormal elements in an urban fantasy setting.
  • The prose is all telling with copious amounts of adverbs.
  • The “showing” consists of overused similes (e.g. “He played her like a violin” and “He was sleek like a jungle cat”)
  • The story is so descriptive and/or filled with exposition that it takes thirty pages to relay one brief conversation.
  • Word choice is repetitive to the point of being laughable
  • The plot relies on overused tropes but the author’s voice and characters didn’t snag my attention
  • The story is just plain confusing
  • The tense changes or bounces (generally this is between present tense and past tense)
  • The point of view changes (usually between first person and third person).
  • Head hopping with no scene or chapter break denoting a change (this is house rules but personally I prefer at least a scene break as well)
  • The publisher/managing editor have already mentioned that the book synopsis reads like another well-known book

That’s the list I’ve gathered so far, and I’ve only been at this since May!

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