Skip to main content

7 Reasons Editors (Might) Toss a Submission (Plus Prompt)

Every so often, us folks at Writer’s Digest throw our doors open for intensives (think blitzkrieg weekend conferences). Writers come from around the U.S. to check out the events, which include craft and career sessions, a mixer for writers and editors, and perhaps the key perk for attendees, a critique of the first 50 pages of their books. (Alongside, of course, the experience of Cincinnati’s overly sweet, eyebrow-raising signature chili.)

Now, while any critique is subjective, we try to give each writer a good sense of whether or not the first chunk of his/her book is ready to be submitted to an agent or editor. With the next intensive coming up this weekend, I’ve been looking over notes from the last few, and have pooled a small list of hang-ups from the “Why I Stop Reading” panels where the editors discuss, well, why publishing reps might have stopped reading.

Why might they have given up?

The information dump. Avoid introducing an unmanageable load of characters, or unloading an epic amount of backstory. Rather than offering a summary, delve deeper into moments and let scenes breathe. Also, be wary of flashbacks too early in a piece.

“Show, Don’t Tell.” While it’s often overused, the familiar writing adage can still ring true. Instead of rehashing how a character feels, frame them in action and let us discover it for ourselves.

 The usual suspects: Waking to an alarm clock; starting with the weather; revealing that your first scene was only a dream; providing overly thorough physical descriptions, clichés or wild grammar; fluctuating tense and point of view.

A surplus of jargon early on. Be it scientific or technical, consider trimming it to free your prose and bring the people in the scene to the forefront.

False starts. Should the piece have begun 30 pages in, when it took on a life of its own and hit its groove? To give the early pages the life found later in the manuscript, perhaps cut extraneous material or reincorporate it later.

The need for side action/any action. If you’re stuck in long passages of dialogue or backstory and are losing a sense of life in the piece, add side action. Sometimes it takes a familiar dog growling nearby, a barroom brawl, a proverbial dollar bill dangling out of the pocket of a thief who has bumped into an old acquaintance while fleeing a crime, etc., to frame chunks of dialogue/story in a new way.

A surplus of adjectives and adverbs. (Yeah, I know, I’m guilty of it on a daily basis. But still.)

If you have a free weekend and are looking to get out of town, consider trekking to Cincinnati for the intensive. They’re fun, and a great literary escape from the holiday chaos. This weekend’s event is set to include presentations on landing literary agents, succeeding as a writer in a transformational time, using social networks to further your career, and more. If you come, bring your manuscript—and consider bringing some of your own chili in case you don’t like ours.

Update: Courtesy of WD's publisher, use code "Eetweet" to save $25 off registration.

--

WRITING PROMPT: Lowering the Ears

Feel free to take the following prompt home or post your response (500 words or fewer, funny, sad or stirring) in the Comments section below. By posting, you’ll be automatically entered in our occasional around-the-office swag drawings.

It started out as a haircut, but something happened.

--

Befriend Zac on the new Writer’s Digest community, or befriend Promptly on Facebook!

How to Write Through Grief and Find Creativity

How to Write Through Grief and Find Creativity

When author Diana Giovinazzo found herself caught in the storm of grief, doing what she loved felt insurmountable. Here, she shares how she worked through her grief to find her creativity again.

writer's digest wd presents

WD Presents: Our Brand-New Digital Guide, 6 WDU Courses, and More!

This week, we’re excited to announce our new “Get Published in 2022” digital guide, six new WDU courses, and more!

5 Tips for Keeping Your Writing Rolling

5 Tips for Keeping Your Writing Rolling

The occasional bump in the writing process is normal, but it can be difficult to work through. Here, author Genevieve Essig shares five ways to keep your writing rolling.

From Script

How to Write from a Place of Truth and Desire and Bending the Rules in Screenwriting (From Script)

In this week’s round up brought to us by Script magazine, exclusive interviews with screenwriter Steven Knight (Spencer), Mike Mills (C'mon C'mon), and David Mitchell (Matrix Resurrection). Plus, how to utilize your vulnerability in your writing and different perspectives on screenwriting structure.

Writing Mistakes Writers Make: Forgetting To Read

Writing Mistakes Writers Make: Forgetting To Read

The Writer's Digest team has witnessed many writing mistakes over the years, so this series helps identify them for other writers (along with correction strategies). This week's mistake is forgetting to read.

Tapping Your Memories for Emotional Truths on the Page

Tapping Your Memories for Emotional Truths on the Page

Sharing even a fraction of our feelings with our characters will help our stories feel more authentic. Here, Kris Spisak explains how to tap into our memories to tell emotional truths on the page.

Poetic Forms

Trinet: Poetic Forms

Poetic Form Fridays are made to share various poetic forms. This week, we look at the trinet, a seven-line form based on word count.

Tammye Huf: On Real Love That Sparked Inspiration

Tammye Huf: On Real Love That Sparked Inspiration

Debut novelist Tammye Huf discusses how her own familial love story inspired her historical fiction novel, A More Perfect Union.

Announcing the Second Annual Personal Essay Awards Winners

Announcing the Second Annual Personal Essay Awards Winners

Congratulations to the winners of the second annual Writer's Digest Personal Essay Awards!