Sending your novel out in the world is not for the faint-hearted. Nothing makes you feel more vulnerable than someone judging your work, and it's hard to remember that rejections are not personal, they're all business. At the end of the day, while your work means everything to you, an agent or an editor is looking at it in a monetary sense, i.e. can it make any. No matter how charming your story or lyrical your writing, if it won't sell copies, it may not see the light of day.
So what are some of the most common things a writer hears with rejections and how can you work your manuscript so that these comments won't apply to you?
THE STORY IS NOT FRESH ENOUGH
Sure, there are books we've read that are similar in story to others. In fact, some themes are used over and over again to the point of roll-your-eyes saturation. After all, how many books on vampires, mermaids, first love, road trips and kids with a super power can there be? As a writer, if crafting a novel with any of these storylines, it is certainly frustrating to see a plethora of these books on the market with new ones coming out every month and yours is rejected for this reason. But that's the point entirely: Why would someone want to plop down $17 to read a story they've already read? And why would a publisher invest thousands of dollars in a book when they already have a similar one on their list? The only thing you can do when you meet this type of comment is look for something to add to your story that makes it unique and completely different from what already exists. Research the current marketplace, see who published similar books, and make a point of reading every one you can. Then try and find what makes yours different than these and punch up that element and make sure it becomes a significant part of your query and logline to distinguish it. If you can't find one, then that's a pretty darn good place to start.
WHILE IT HAS SOME LOVELY MOMENTS, IT DOESN'T HAVE ENOUGH HEFT TO DISTINGUISH ITSELF IN THE COMPETITIVE MARKETPLACE
This translates into that while the story may be entertaining, there is not enough meat to it to make it stand out and sell. In a sea of high concept stories, why would anyone choose this one? That's not to say that every story needs to be high concept, but there needs to be something substantial enough in it other than it being characters going from A to B or boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl to make people want to read it. Publishers are buying fewer and fewer titles every year, so the bar is higher than its ever been to wow them and make them want to fight for your story when it does not have more obvious selling points. All you can do here is go through your book and see where you might be able to beef it up or add a storyline that will help it stand out. For example, if a character is bullied, maybe make the bullying aspect a bigger and more powerful theme. Or if a character has a strange quirk or obsession, play up more how it is affecting their life and everyone around them, therefore standing in the way ultimately of the character getting what he/she wants or needs.
THE STORY IS TOO QUIET
A quiet story, or a soft story, is the polar opposite of a high concept story. It may be beautiful, but again, it will appeal to a smaller sector of the marketplace and there may be reservations about its selling power. Some stories are just meant to be that, nothing more, and they become something else entirely if you try and tweak them too much to suit the marketplace. If a quiet romance can work for Sarah Dessen and sell, why can't it work for everyone else? The difference here is that Sarah Dessen has already established herself, and her publisher knows that her books will sell on her name alone because she's proven herself within her genre. It's much harder for a debut author to make a splash in this way in a quieter genre. You might want to put the quiet book aside to submit after you've sold something else, because once you've established yourself as well publishers may be more open to seeing other work from you that they might not have considered the same way initially. Regardless, quiet, soft stories remain a hard sell in this current market.
THE MANUSCRIPT DOESN'T LOOK PROFESSIONAL
Have you taken the time to go through your entire manuscript and check for spelling and grammar errors? It can make a huge difference in the presentation and readability to any agent or editor, and many may pass for that reason alone because the writer seems lazy or sloppy. Some writers may assume they don't need to go that extra mile because someone else will ultimately catch all that and clean it up for them. Not so. It is always essential to present your best, cleanest work. There are multitudes of websites out there that can help you with proper grammar and punctuation usage, so there is no excuse for not doing so before submitting your work to industry professionals.
THE MANUSCRIPT IS OVER-WRITTEN AND SELF-CONSCIOUS
This one is a big head-scratcher. What do all those buzz-words mean? Over-writing is just that: you are saying TOO much and it is taking the reader out of the story. Flowery language and over-description, or too many moments where the character is questioning everything and immediately coming up with the solution disrupts the flow and strays from an organic, consistent tone. Self-conscious writing is very often applied to first person narrative writing, and that's a tricky one. Because you are writing from one character's POV, you are relaying both their actions and their thoughts. However, there is supposed to be a wall maintained between the reader and the writer, and solid writing lets the reader forget the writer is there at all. Self-conscious writing is passages where the reader again loses that voyeur feeling and is reminded they are reading a story rather than being immersed in it. It is often an overuse of flowery language, literary devices and contrived and over-planned stories. This is a fixable problem, thankfully, and it may mean another revision or two (or more), but if you keep your eye trained to the places where this might be the case and rework them, you will end up with a stronger story.
I DON'T CARE ABOUT THE CHARACTERS
In life, there are people we like and people we don't. If we find their behaviors repugnant, their morals questionable and their personalities abrasive, chances are we won't like them much. So why is that any different when we are reading a story? If you want a reader to go on a journey with your character, he/she must be invested in him/her and care about what happens to him/her. Even if he/she is a miserable sot, he/she must have some redeeming qualities that are displayed that help a reader relate to and root for him/her. Relatability and likeability are hugely important.
There are obviously so many more, and at the end of the day, any agent or editor's pass is also completely subjective. However, it gives a writer a starting point to work with and see where they might be able to improve upon his/her story before it goes out too wide and great opportunities are lost.
Can you think of any other ones and how to fix them?