Last week, I spoke a bit about Escape’s acquisition process. In that blog, I promised another covering the problems I see most often, those that lead to a rejection. Without further ado…
Here are some of the major issues that I see on a regular basis:
- Pacing: this is huge, and the number one reason I reject a submission. Your story needs to keep moving forward at a steady pace (it doesn’t have to race, but it needs to progress). Too much back story, exposition, world-building -> those things known colloquially as ‘info dump’ will slow your story down, diminish any momentum you may have already created, and bore the reader – who in this case is me, and doesn’t bode well for a positive reply.
- Narration vs. Story: the second most often reason for rejection. What is your core story? What is the story you want to tell? Now where exactly does that story start? That’s where your narration should start as well. I receive countless submissions where the author doesn’t think their readers will catch up if they don’t provide full family histories on both sides. Trust us. We will. Start the story with the narration.
- Inconsistent characterisation: It’s one thing to tell me your heroine is whip smart, quite another if she consistently does very dumb things. It’s one thing to tell me your hero is one of the best guys ever, quite another if he’s a jerk through the whole novel. If your character is going to be something, make sure he or she is that something.
- Waffling, bloating, unnecessary fat: The best advice I can offer is to keep your story to your story. Does this scene move the plot line forward? Does it provide vital information? No? Cut it. Keeping your story lean and focused will solve a myriad of other problems – including that indefinable ‘pacing’ issue.
- Clumsy writing, poor punctuation, problematic grammar: we can clean up a lot with a thorough edit, but if the actual writing is problematic, especially wooden or unnatural dialogue, I’ll reject. A great way of determining natural rhythm in writing (especially dialogue!) is to read it out loud. It will quickly become apparent where rough patches exist. Balzac used to go out to his backyard and shout his sentences to the sky. You probably don’t have to go that far, but a little out-loud reading never hurt anyone.
- Not paying attention to the publisher’s requirements: we publish romance novels, not romantic novels. There is a difference: for us, a happy ending is mandatory. Not paying attention to what the publisher publishes does two things: one, it tells us that it’s likely you’re not actually interested in publishing with us, just publishing; two, it tells us that you’re not professional enough to do a little bit of research.
Take-home messages: Tell your story. Just the story. Save the other stories for later. Trust your reader. They’ll be able to catch up, make connections, understand emotional baggage. They’ll also know if you’re being insincere. Just as in real life, actions speak louder than words, so make sure your characters live their descriptions. Keep it lean. Pay attention: to your reader, to your writing, to your publisher. Be professional. Keep writing. Always keep writing.