Monday, February 16, 2009

Why books get rejected

When a wannabe-published writer reads the stats (only between 1-5 of every 5,000 completed MSS gets published by a respectable publisher), they start to despair.

But then you realise that most of the submitted MSS deserve to get turned down, or their authors deserve to get turned down - and you can feel a bit more cheerful. Or at least you can if you are a sensible writer who is professional about your submissions and your writing.

How do I know most deserve what they get? Read here (via) or here (via) for a start.

The truth is that most wannabes, having spent hours, days, years, on an MS, can't be bothered to take a few minutes to read the submission guidelines for an agent or publisher. Instant fail, deservedly so.

Same if they don't know how a MS should look when you submit it. No excuse for this, not nowadays. Even I, in pre-internet days in a small developing nation, could find out this much.

Says Malaysian editor, Eric Forbes, "Most of the typescripts I receive are not only badly written but lack content or substance."

In the first link above, Colleen Lindsay, literary agent, lists the reasons she rejected 20 MSS, which boils down to:
About half of them had not read the submission guidelines, or had ignored them, and therefore did not meet her requirements. You don't attach something to an email if the recipient asks you not to, for a start. Oh, and don't forget to spell the name of the agent correctly, ok?
Of the other 10:
5 didn't actually write a query. They waffled on about other things.
1 was rejected on the lousy writing of the sample pages.
1 sent mutiple submissions to other agents (a no-no).
1 wrote a YA novel which is even longer than my current fantasy for adults. Nothing says "clueless" better than that.

....and two were good enough but not what she was looking for. One of those was referred elsewhere, the other was asked to submit other work if she has any.

And what is my advice for those of you who do all the right things and still get rejected? Well, if you are sure your writing is up to par because plenty of critical, non-family members (preferably people who do a lot of writing and/or reading of the genre you are writing in themselves) have told you so:

1. Keep sending out.
2. Start writing something else.
3. If you receive any kind of feedback, then rewrite and try with a new version.

My own feeling is that lots of writers get too hung up on perfecting their very first finished novel. Well, you know what? Not too many first novels actually get published. I'll make a complete stab in the dark and say that half or more successful established writers have early novels (quite possibly more than one) stashed away on top of their wardrobes. I have eight. (Ok, my first finished book was written aged 12, so I started early.)

Writing is a process. You get better as you go along.

5 comments:

Satima Flavell said...

I think one of the most discouraging things is not that so many potentially good novels are rejected, but that some truly terrible ones make it into print. That suggests that really, it boils down to the taste of the agent or editor, and if the wannabe never manages to find the one person who just happens to like the wannabe's work and just happens to be looking for exactly the kind of thing the wannabe has written, s/he will not get published:-(

I console myself by thinking that at least the odds are slightly better than Lotto!

Glenda Larke said...

Oh, definitely better odds than lotto! I still haven't ever won anything that involved buying a ticket...

I think when it comes to "terrible" novels out there, we judge it by our writing standards, instead of seeing it as a good story, which often explains the publication.

Think of it this way: someone tells you a GREAT true tale about how he was rescued at sea by Malaysian royalty on a yacht smuggling a cargo of babies for illegal international adoption when his own boat sank in a storm after it was boarded by Somali pirates and how then they were all chased by drug smugglers who thought...

I bet you'd listen, all ears. And you'd do that even if he was actually a poor speaker, repeating things, mumbling, stuttering, pausing at the wrong times, etc. His telling wouldn't matter because the story sucked you in.

A good writer and a discerning reader will roll their eyes when presented with lousy writing, but the editor looks at it another way: Will it sell because it tells a good story??

Jo said...

I'm with you there, I have struggled through books which had a good story but were badly told. Sometimes I make it to the end, other times I give up in disgust even though the story is interesting.

Satima Flavell said...

Hmm. I think maybe I'm excessively critical. I often pick up books whose first pages contain anachronisms or huge plot holes (like, how are they crossing that hundred miles of desert on foot with no food?)and I don't buy them. In fact I won't even review them, and review copies are free:-)My suspension of disbelief, once lost, seems irretrievable, and I find shonky research (or no resarch!) unforgivable.

Anonymous said...

"Think of it this way: someone tells you a GREAT true tale about how he was rescued at sea by Malaysian royalty on a yacht smuggling a cargo of babies for illegal international adoption when his own boat sank in a storm after it was boarded by Somali pirates and how then they were all chased by drug smugglers who thought..."

I have have laughed and said "go ahead, pull the other one!" :D

Truth is indeed stranger than fiction :P