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6 Reasons Editors Will Reject You

Before I wrote my first novel, The Expats, I spent nearly two decades at various arms of publishing houses such as Random House, Workman, and HarperCollins, mostly as an acquisitions editor. But a more accurate title for that job might be rejection editor: while I acquired maybe a dozen projects per year, I’d reject hundreds upon hundreds. And while it may not be possible to pinpoint what exactly makes for a great manuscript or submission, it’s pretty easy to identify some of the avoidable mistakes that can virtually guarantee your project will get relegated to the circular file. GIVEAWAY: Chris is excited to give away a free copy of his novel to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (Update: Lynn33 won.)

Before I wrote my first novel, The Expats, I spent nearly two decades at various arms of publishing houses such as Random House, Workman, and HarperCollins, mostly as an acquisitions editor. But a more accurate title for that job might be rejection editor: while I acquired maybe a dozen projects per year, I’d reject hundreds upon hundreds. And while it may not be possible to pinpoint what exactly makes for a great manuscript or submission, it’s pretty easy to identify some of the avoidable mistakes that can virtually guarantee your project will get relegated to the circular file. See these mistakes below...

GIVEAWAY: Chris is excited to give away a free copy of his novel to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (Update: Lynn33 won.)

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Guest column by author Chris Pavone, author of the buzzed-about
novel, The Expats (March 6, 2012, Crown). The thriller debut received
starred reviews from Booklist (“A must for espionage fans"), as well as
Library Journal (“Brilliant, insanely clever, and delectably readable"),
as well as Publishers Weekly ("Fans of John le Carre and Robert Ludlum
will welcome [this] meticulously plotted, psychologically complex spy thriller").

1. LAME START

Whatever’s good about your book should be good on page 1, or very few editors are going to get to page 2. If you can’t figure out how to make the beginning of your book compelling, you’re probably not writing a compelling book.

2. ERRORS OF IGNORANCE

Although no one loves a typo, it’s close to impossible to eradicate every single little mistake in a manuscript. Typos are usually forgivable (except in a query letter). But what’s not really forgivable is using words or phrases whose meanings you obviously don’t understand.

(Writer's Digest asked literary agents for their best pieces of advice. Here are their responses.)

3. OVERLY LONG PROPOSALS AND MANUSCRIPTS

Editors read tens of thousands of pages of submissions per year, in their spare time. On weekends, at night in bed, on vacation. If you think any one of them wants to read a 90-page book proposal, you’re out of your mind. Whatever you need to say in a book proposal, say it in less than 30 minutes of reading time. I honestly can’t remember ever rejecting a single proposal for being too short (and I acquired a few books whose proposals were 0 pages long). Say what needs to be said, not more.
As for fully written manuscripts: an editor once confided to me that she refuses to read manuscripts that are longer than 400 pages. None. Automatic reject. And although her stance is the exception, she might be the exception who would acquire your novel if you could trim 150 pages of flab.

4. MARKETING, PUBLICITY & SALES IDEAS

Many writers feel compelled to include a section of business-oriented ideas in their pitches or proposals. “My book should be merchandised in the front of the store, in a stack next to the register.” “Window displays would be a natural fit.” “The Today show and The View are perfect publicity venues for this book.” “You know Restoration Hardware? Or Starbucks? They should put my book on their coffee tables.” These are not helpful, actionable suggestions. They’re insults to everyone who spends their professional lives making and selling books.

(Can you re-query an agent after she's rejected you in the past?)

5. COVER & INTERIOR DESIGN IDEAS

If you managed to procure a try-out to pitch for the New York Yankees, would you show up to the stadium and present the scouts with a redesigned uniform (“Pinstripes are so 1977!”), and a proposal to move from the Bronx to Coeur d’Alene? Of course not. Shut up and throw your best fastball.

6. THE HARD SELL

Editors are hoping—they’re desperate—to love it. Every time they pick up a new project, what’s in the front of their minds is, “I hope I love this.” It’s their jobs to find something new to love, and their careers are doomed if they can’t. But here’s a type of thought that never, ever pops into an editor’s head: “Oh, well, Joe Schmo says right here in his query letter that his debut novel An Incredibly Great Book is unputdownable and that he’s the next John Grisham, so we should probably just write the eight-figure check now, before he signs with Amazon.” Don’t tell editors how great your book is. Just make it great.

GIVEAWAY: Chris is excited to give away a free copy of his novel to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (Update: Lynn33 won.)


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