With the beginning of the year, one of my goals has been to catch up on reading through submissions. As I’ve reviewed queries and submission over the last month, I’ve noticed a few issues that repeatedly come up which virtually always lead to a rejection letter.
The following suggestions won’t necessarily lead to a contract, but they are almost guaranteed to earn you fewer automatic rejection letters.
1) Submit only to those searching for what you’ve written
The quickest way to get a rejection letter is to send an agent or publisher something they’ve stated they do not represent or publish. This may seem like a no-brainer, but a quarter to one third of all our submissions fall into this category. So if a set of submission guidelines states that they publish fiction only, don’t send them your self-help book. If they state that they are not looking for science fiction, don’t send them your space opera. If they state that they publish young adult and adult novels and novellas, don’t send them your book of children’s poetry and short stories.
2) Read the submission guidelines . . . all the way to the end
Literary agencies and publishing houses post their submission guidelines not just to save their time, but also yours. So you benefit by reading through everything they’ve taken the time to share with you. It may be that they paint a broad picture of what they’re looking for in the first paragraph, but further down give the specifics. For instance, the guidelines may start with stating that they accept all genres of fiction, including young adult novels, and further down they state that the YA protagonist must be at least fourteen years old. If you read the first paragraph, then send off your novel about a twelve-year-old being bullied in middle school, you’re headed for a rejection. Or perhaps they keep the main portion of the page static but regularly change the list of what they’re specifically look/not looking for at the bottom.
3) Show don’t tell
This is probably the most often given advice in fiction, and for a good reason. Showing draws a reader into a story; telling just gives them information about the story. Showing pushes the story forward; telling stops the story to give the reader a chunk of information. How to show instead of tell could take up a whole blog, in and of itself, so I won’t go into detail here. Suffice it to say that if your first few pages tell readers the protagonist’s backstory or the first chapter stops the action multiple times to explain to culture of the story world, the reason the protagonist is doing something, or a long narration to explain something, there’s a good chance the reviewer won’t read any further and a rejection letter will likely come your way. The following articles do an excellent job of explaining the difference between showing and telling and how to determine which style you are using:
One of the best articles I’ve ever read describing the difference between showing and telling: Novel Matters – What IS Showing? Really.
For a list of questions to determine whether you’re showing or telling, try this: Write This Way – Showing vs. Telling
For a series of articles on technique for showing instead of telling, look here: Top 10 Ways to Show Instead of Tell
Omniscient POV tells the story from the perspective of a narrator who knows everything going on in the story world, including the thoughts and feelings of each character. This POV necessarily leans towards telling because the story is related by someone outside the scene, looking in. In short, the narrator tells the readers the story. Yes, most classic fiction is written in this style. Yes, some modern authors successfully use this style. Yes, a small segment of people still prefer this style. There are a couple of huge caveats, however, that negate the above facts: 1) Classic novels have hung around so long because of their stories not their storytelling style; 2) Successfully showing a story through omniscient POV in a manner that pulls the readers in and avoids telling is a difficult task and rarely accomplished by an inexperienced author.
Rejection letters are a part of life for an author, but following these suggestions will minimize the number you receive.