Reasons Why Your Manuscript Can Get Rejected (Part 1)

1. Profligate use of adverbs. For instance, saying "She looked at me and smiled happily." That's telling, not showing. Instead of using adverbs, use action to show the characters' feelings and emotions. 2. Predictability—using the same plot as others. For example, a cliche mystery plot opening hook is this: A P.I. picks up his office phone and his ex-wife is on the line. She's in trouble, but can’t say why. They agree to meet later at a bar or parking lot, but she never shows because she’s been murdered. "I want twists. Surprise me in the first chapter and I'll keep reading." Hallie Ephron is the author of several mystery novels Book reviewer for the Boston Globe Author: Writing and Selling Your Mystery Novel (WD Books).
Author:
Publish date:

At 2007 Killer Nashville, a trio of extremely knowledgeable publishing pros held a panel on the most common reasons why a manuscript is rejected by an agent. Below you'll find part one of this post series.

Keep in mind that the panelists were discussing why a manuscript will be rejected, not a novel synopsis or query letter. They were talking about problems within the writing.

Panelist No. 1: Hallie Ephron

Author of several mystery novels
Book reviewer for the Boston Globe
Author: Writing and Selling Your Mystery Novel (WD Books)
www.hallieephron.com

Image placeholder title

Hallie's top reasons why your manuscript can be rejected:

1. Profligate use of adverbs. For instance, saying "She looked at me and smiled happily." That's telling, not showing. Instead of using adverbs, use action to show the characters' feelings and emotions.

2. Predictability—using the same plot as others. For example, a cliche mystery plot opening hook is this: A P.I. picks up his office phone and his ex-wife is on the line. She's in trouble, but can’t say why. They agree to meet later at a bar or parking lot, but she never shows because she’s been murdered. "I want twists. Surprise me in the first chapter and I'll keep reading."

3. Too many killers. A recent manuscript she read revealed six people were actually complicit in the book's murder. It’s convoluted, confusing, and shows that the author had to pull six rabbits out of a hat at the end to wow us. This problem is likely because of earlier problems in Act II—a.k.a "the muddy middle."

4. Point of view that’s out of control. If you’re in a character’s head, stay there until the scene is over.

5. Prologues that don’t work—where writers have a boring opening, so they simply pluck out an exciting scene from the middle, put it at the beginning, and call it the prologue. 

6. A plot with no spine. When the scenes seem to jump around—you’re here, you’re there, now you’re there—the book has no backbone. "You have to get me to care about the main plot for me to keep reading."

7. Getting stuck to an outline. "Don’t let your plot trap your characters." If you write an outline and, in the middle of the story, the protagonist is supposed to run into a burning building, that’s fine. But as you begin the flesh out your protagonist and write the book, you may craft a character who wouldn’t realistically run into a burning building—perhaps he’s too smart, or too cowardly or whatever.

Her final tips: "Surprise me. Make me laugh. Make me care about your characters. Don’t let the frustration get you down. We all go through the 'It’s a piece of sh*t' stage."

Check Out These Great Upcoming Writers Conferences:

Nicole Galland: On Returning to Familiar Characters

Nicole Galland: On Returning to Familiar Characters

Bestselling author Nicole Galland explains what it was like to dive into writing a series and how speculative fiction allows her to explore her interests.

6 Tools for Writing Nonfiction That Breathes

6 Tools for Writing Nonfiction That Breathes

Nonfiction author Liz Heinecke gives her top 6 tips for crafting a nonfiction book that will really capture your subject.

Flash Fiction Challenge

2021 February Flash Fiction Challenge: Day 27

Write a piece of flash fiction each day of February with the February Flash Fiction Challenge, led by editor Moriah Richard. Each day, receive a prompt, example story, and write your own. Today's prompt is to write something that makes you laugh.

Poetic Forms

Ars Poetica: Poetic Forms

Poetic Form Fridays are made to share various poetic forms. This week, we look at ars poetica and the art of writing poems about poems.

Flash Fiction Challenge

2021 February Flash Fiction Challenge: Day 26

Write a piece of flash fiction each day of February with the February Flash Fiction Challenge, led by editor Moriah Richard. Each day, receive a prompt, example story, and write your own. Today's prompt is to write about an article of clothing.

Authors Share Tips on Writing Mystery and Thriller Novels That Readers Love

23 Authors Share Tips on Writing Mystery and Thriller Novels That Readers Love

23 authors share tips on writing mystery and thriller novels that readers love, covering topics related to building suspense, inserting humor, crafting incredible villains, and figuring out the time of death.

Jaclyn Goldis: From Personal History to Historical Fiction

Jaclyn Goldis: From Personal History to Historical Fiction

Debut author Jaclyn Goldis explains how her novel When We Were Young was inspired by her real-life grandmothers and how many times she rewrote her first chapter.

Plot Twist Story Prompts: Forced Decision

Plot Twist Story Prompts: Forced Decision

Every good story needs a nice (or not so nice) turn or two to keep it interesting. This week, force a character to make a decision.

Flash Fiction Challenge

2021 February Flash Fiction Challenge: Day 25

Write a piece of flash fiction each day of February with the February Flash Fiction Challenge, led by editor Moriah Richard. Each day, receive a prompt, example story, and write your own. Today's prompt is to write about a cryptid.