Writing and Editing

10 Surefire Ways to Get Rejected by a Fiction Editor

Greetings all. My apologies to all who were expecting my usual Saturday post. My excuse is that I was fully immersed in the South Coast Writers Conference and never had the time to write a post. Not even a post about not having time to write a post.

However, as always, the Conference experience has left me both re-enthused about writing and mentally exhausted. Interesting how both can happen at the same time, isn’t it? I also have received an infusion of new material for the blog and my personal writing career. I hope you’ll find them as interesting as I do.

Without further ado, the top ten ways to get rejected by a fiction editor:

1. Be predictable

If the editor can tell you exactly how your work is going to end after reading one page, she’s not going to publish it.

2. Treat a common theme without an original take.

Editors see a LOT of stories about cheating spouses, alcoholism/drug addiction, death, loss of a child, etc. If you’re writing about any of these subjects, be earth-shatteringly original or be rejected.

3. Use cliches.

Cliches are cliches because they are over-used. Their appearance in your fiction screams lazy writing and amateurism almost as much as–

4. The manuscript is not edited.

Nothing tells an editor that you are an amateur (or that you really don’t care about your writing) as much as submitting a manuscript full of misspellings, grammatical errors and typos. They’re editors; they care about such things. You should too.

5. The work is overwritten.

Everything in your work should be lean and utilitarian. If a sentence is six words long, but you can efficiently say the same thing in four words, make it so. The same goes for descriptive paragraphs. Don’t use three paragraphs to describe the character’s house if you can do it in one.

6. The story actually starts on page 4.

Also part of the editing process (or should be). It can be useful to write backstory to build up momentum going into the actual action, but this should be edited out of the final product.

7. The dialogue is not realistic or is bogged down in meaninglessness.

Real people don’t normally speak in long, complicated, or complete sentences. Nor do they normally give speeches lasting more than a sentence or two long. It should scan (sound) similar to real speech. In the other direction, avoid “Yeah,” “Well,” “I see,” “Uh-huh,” and similar types of statements in dialogue. If a character is just agreeing with someone, summarize in exposition and move on.

8. The characters don’t do anything.

There has to be a purpose to the work. Why was this written? What’s the point? (Clever or amusing dialogue by itself is not enough.)

9. “Beautiful,” “wonderful,” “colorful,” “vivid,” “inspiring,” and most of all, multiple globs of adjectives.

Virtually cliché. As in they don’t really have much meaning anymore. Push the edges. Be creative. Use all and any adjectives sparingly, if at all.

10. Narrator not believable, inauthentic.

For instance, if we write a story as a 17th Century Caribbean pirate, but don’t do enough research, odds are the voice will still be that of a 21st Century insurance adjustor. (Or whatever you happen to do.)

(Many thanks to Stefanie Freele, from whom I borrowed this).


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