Why is your novel getting rejected? You’ve sent it off to dozens of agents and publishers and none of them have bit. What’s the deal?
I’m going to ignore some of the obvious problems (a terrible query letter, targeting the wrong agents, etc.) and focus solely on the manuscript itself and the problems that can cause it to go sailing into a publisher’s garbage bin or an agent’s trash folder.
The Top Ten Reasons Your Novel is Getting Rejected
(in no particular order)
1. Your Point of View is a Mess
Point of view is a big deal – if you do it wrong, it’s a pain to fix and can be extremely time consuming in the editing process, which makes errors in point of view a surefire way to land your novel in the rejection pile.
If you’re writing in first person, you’re probably doing things right, but if you’re writing in third person, take some time to make sure you’re not blending omniscient and third limited and that you know the difference between omniscient POV and head hopping.
2. Your Voice is Unoriginal
When reading your novel, people should feel like you are the only person who could have delivered this story in exactly this way. You do not want a voice that sounds like it came from a box. You also don’t want a voice that sounds like you stole it from a famous author.
The only way to develop an original voice is to write, write, write, and write some more. Play around, experiment, don’t be afraid to try new things. Everything you write doesn’t have to be publishable, so take some time to learn your craft.
3. Your Novel is Style over Substance
This is sort of the opposite of the above issue. Some amateur writers are full of voice. Their writing screams, “Look at me, look at how cool I am, how hip I am, how awesome my word choices are!” This could be poetic and downright beautiful or edgy and in your face. But while the voice might be down pat, there’s no story going on around it. It’s like listening to the ramblings of an eccentric – it’s entertaining for a few minutes, but without a strong plot and conflict, it gets real old real quick.
If this sounds like you, check out my video on how to plot a novel for tips on keeping the plot moving.
4. Your Characters are Too Perfect
Nobody likes a character who always does everything right. Characters are interesting when they have flaws and feel like real people. A self-sacrificing character who just wants the best for everyone is boring, boring, boring! Give your characters some nasty traits, annoying mannerisms, controversial opinions, then make us love them anyway!
To learn more, check out my videos on writing great characters: Eight Steps for Creating Interesting and Complex Characters & How to Write Believable Characters.
5. Your Novel Doesn’t Have Enough Conflict
Conflict is created by a simple equation: a character who wants something + something that stands in their way = conflict. This means that a novel is much more than a series of events. Everything that happens in the novel must have conflict (internal or external) that the character has to overcome.
Conflict is what makes a novel interesting and it takes both pieces of the equation to make it work. If something stands in the way of something a character doesn’t want, who cares? If the character wants something but nothing stands in their way, so what? Make sure that every chapter in your novel contains both pieces of the conflict equation.
6. Your Opening Chapter is Boring, Confusing, or Annoyingly Vague
Opening with back story, telling, and info dumps is a huge no-no! The opening chapter should suck the reader in and get them excited about the story to come, but a confusing first chapter is just as bad as a boring one. If agents or publishers are scratching their heads wondering what’s going on, they’re going to throw the book into the rejection pile. Ditto for a book that is annoyingly vague. Mystery is a good thing, but false mystery by concealing elements of the plot or information about the characters for no reason other than to create mystery is annoyingly coy.
Read through some of my first page edits and critiques to see these problems (and their solutions) in action. You might also want to check out my videos: First Chapter Mistakes & Cliches, How to Write the Set Up of Your Novel, & How to Write a Great First Chapter.
7. You Tell Too Much and Show Too Little
A novel that relies on telling is boring to read and fails to suck the reader into the story. If you’ve got a lot of complexity to your story (common in science fiction, fantasy, and historical fiction), it can be tough to get across all the information needed while keeping things active, so some telling is required. But telling everything from emotions to special abilities to the relationships between characters is boring and off putting.
8. Your Protagonist Has Nothing at Stake
Just because your protagonist is the only one who can save the world, that doesn’t mean he or she doesn’t need something personal at stake. The protagonist must have something invested in the success or failure of whatever the novel’s main endeavor is (saving the world, defeating enemies, exercising a haunted house). If the protagonist can walk away from the conflict without losing anything, readers will spend the whole novel wondering why they don’t do it.
Have you ever watched a haunted house movie and screamed at the TV, “Why don’t you just move out of the house!”? That’s the experience you avoid by giving your protagonist something personal at stake (a kidnapped loved one, the risk of financial ruin, etc.).
9. Your Characters’ Motivations are Unclear, Don’t Make Sense, or Don’t Exist
Character motivation is vital to a captivating story. Readers can’t root for a character who has no motivation for what they’re doing or whose motivation changes throughout the novel just because it makes for a more interesting plot. A big part of what keeps people reading is the payoff when the character finally reaches their goal, but no motivation equals no payoff.
Ask yourself what your character’s motivation is. If you answer “doing the right thing,” that’s not good enough. Characters must be motivated by something personally relevant (selfish even!) in order to connect with readers.
10. Your Story is Unoriginal
No plot is entirely original, that’s true. Trying to be entirely original isn’t even necessary, but what is necessary is the ability to answer the question: What’s unique about your novel? If you’re writing a YA romance, what makes it different from every other YA romance on the market? Why should this one matter to readers? Why should publishers want to pay to publish it?
If you can’t answer this question, then start thinking about ways to increase the uniqueness of your book. Ask yourself: What would be a unique element I could add to this story? There’s no need to go overboard and create something outrageous. Just one or two elements that make your book stand out from the pack are enough.