Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Top Reasons Manuscripts get Rejected

This is a re-post from a blog entry written by Kelly Wallace at

What are some of the top reasons manuscripts get rejected? How can you avoid these mistakes and have a better chance of hearing "yes" instead of "Thanks, but not for us"?

1. Read the guidelines! Be certain of what the publisher is looking for and how to submit it. If a publisher specializes in historical romances, don't send in your paranormal novel, no matter how good it is. If your book has over 100,000 words, but they take only shorter works, send your story elsewhere. If they require submissions through agents only and you don't have one, move on. There are plenty of publishers out there and you're sure to find a fit for your story.

2. Hook the reader with a great beginning. Often we start our "real" story several pages or even a full chapter after we've droned on and on to "set things up." Start off with that bang! Take a look at the first part of your story. Where does it start getting good? Start there! Put your character right in the middle of conflict and you've hooked the reader. Weave in bits of background later. Be sure to pace your story as well. You don't have to keep your characters in that constant state of stress. Give them, and the reader, time to catch their breath, but don't let things drag too long. Think of a story as a roller coaster ride with hills, valleys, twists and turns.
3. Heavily sprinkling a story with numerous adjectives and adverbs show that we writer's are there in the background making the story happen instead of allowing the reader to get lost in our characters and their unfolding drama. Look for strong nouns that say what you want them to say instead of using adverbs and adjectives as crutches to hold them up and make your point. That's not to say that they should all be omitted, but go through your story and see just how many are being used when a more simple sentence with strong nouns would get your point across.

Also, don't be afraid to say "said". Saying, "she articulated, he ranted, she whined, he uttered" just shows that we're trying to find another way to say "said" or to get the emotion of the character across. Using "said" is simple and gets your point across, but many times you don't have to add any tag at all if you SHOW what your character is experiencing or doing. Such as, "I've had it!" Mary threw the crystal vase across the room where it hit the wall and burst into a million tiny pieces. There's no reason to write, "I've had it!" Mary retorted angrily. We can see she's spitting mad by her actions!

4. Too much detail and narrative is another big problem--and one I was guilty of in my earlier days, and still can be to a point. Be sure to break up narrative passages with action and dialogue. Don't let the characters be inside their heads for too long or everything just stops. It's true that your characters have an internal life and a life before the story began, but it's best to weave in details here and there instead of boring the reader with long passages.
When giving background details, only include what's important at that moment. When a character enters a room, what does he/she first see? What's important or what sticks out? Describing a room or scene down to the last speck of dust has the reader turning pages to get to the action again. When we view rooms, scenery and people in reality, we don't make a mental note of every detail. We choose a few things that stand out to us.

5. Flat characters are another sure way to get that rejection. Be certain that your characters are people your readers will care about. The reader has to care about your character and what will happen to him/her or there's no reason for them to keep reading. Give your characters values, dreams, faults, quirks...make them real!

Be sure that your character's motivations are clear. The character must want something, but something or someone is preventing him/her from getting it. Your characters should literally take over the story as you write. Sit down and just watch what your characters do and relay that onto the computer. If we start manipulating them, forcing them to do something, the story loses its pacing and it ends up flopping on its face. Characters MUST have a compelling goal and conflict to keep the reader interested.

6. No plot to the plot, or using worn-out plots is another problem area. True there are only 20 basic plots, but use your voice and your ideas to breathe new life into them. Give your characters something they want desperately but can't have at the moment. How will they get what they want? Who or what stands in the way? How will your character get around it or through it? Editors and readers want characters with strong personalities, not wishy-washy wimps. And they want stories that have something new to say. Just because there are thousands, if not millions, of vampire novels out there, with your ideas and your voice you can add a uniqueness to it that makes it brand new.

My greatest method of moving the story along and creating a good plot? Ask yourself lots of questions and answer them. "What if a woman was lost in the middle of the jungle? How did she get there? Who is she? What is she after? Who's there with her? How will she get out?" By starting out with a simple two word question, you can generate a plethora of ideas for a novel!

7. Always read! Read what's being written out there in the world. Read for pleasure, but also read to learn. Whatever genre you're interested in writing, read as many books as you can that are in this line, especially if you enjoy the author's writing style. These people are in print and there's no reason you can't be too. As you read, make mental or physical notes of the characters, the pacing, the background details. What do you like? What could be better? I have a highlighter with me every time I read a book--provided it's my book! If there's a good line of dialogue, something that piques my interest, a good lesson in writing in detail, flashbacks, conflict, love scenes, you name it, I highlight it! This has offered me more inspiration and more guidance than any nonfiction book on "How to Write."

Although these tips won't keep you out of the rejection pile every time, by following them you have a much better chance at signing a contract than you do at adding yet another rejection to the pile.

Happy writing!

Monday, March 5, 2007

Interesting Article

This article was passed along by the executive editor of Urban Christian. I think you will find that it makes for interesting reading.
As the author, promotion is your responsibility whether you land a traditional royalty publisher, go with a fee-based POD publishing service or self-publish your book.

Some of you will also go back over the contract you signed and figure out that where it says, "We will make your book available to bookstores," doesn't mean "Your books will be sold by the thousands through bookstores nationwide." Instead, it means, "If a bookseller comes asking for a book like this, we will tell them about your book."

Yes, I speak to many disappointed, disillusioned authors every year. That's why I'm currently on a mission to find authors before they start making expensive, heart-breaking mistakes. Now this is not to say that signing with a fee-based POD publishing service is necessarily a mistake. The mistakes occur when the author is not industry savvy when he or she makes uninformed decisions.

So what constitutes the missing links I speak of? What are the steps an author should take after placing of the last period on his manuscript and before signing a publishing contract? See below.

Note: Actually, I'd rather you follow these steps even BEFORE you write the first word of a novel, memoir or nonfiction book.

1: Determine your motivation for writing this book. If you have a book inside that just must come out and you're interested only in sharing it with family and a few friends, go ahead and do your thing your way. On the other hand, if you are driven by the desire for fame and fortune - if you want to be published and widely read - keep reading. It could make the difference between pitiful failure and wild success.

2: Study the publishing industry. You wouldn't start any other business without knowing something about the field. Well, publishing is a business and your book is a product. It's imperative that you know something about the industry, your publishing options and the ramifications or consequences of your choices. When you take the time to learn about publishing, you'll also begin to understand that you - the author - are responsible for selling your book. This fact comes as a shock to many hopeful authors, especially those who learn the truth after they've entered into the extremely competitive publishing field.

Learn about the publishing industry by joining publishing organizations such as SPAWN (Small Publishers, Artists and Writers Network), SPAN and PMA. Read magazines and newsletters related to the industry: SPAWNews, PMA Independent, SPAN Connection, Book Promotion Newsletter, RJ Communications Publishing Basics and many others.Read books such as, "The Right Way to Write, Publish and Sell Your Book," "The Successful Writer's Handbook," (by Patricia Fry), "The Self-Publishing Manual," (by Dan Poynter) and "The Fine Print of Self-Publishing," (by Mark Levine)

3: Write a book proposal. A book proposal is a business plan for your book. It's something that you need in order to make the best decisions for your book and you might even land a traditional royalty publisher with a well-written book proposal. A proposal for a nonfiction book might include a synopsis, a marketing plan, a comparative study of similar books and a chapter outline. It will also identify your target audience and, if you plan to approach a publisher with your proposal, you would include an "about the author" section.

4: Identify your competition. Why is this important? You (and a prospective publisher) need to know if yours is a viable book. Is the market saturated in this area or is there room for another book on this topic? How is your book different from what else is out there? If there are no or few books on the topic or in this genre, perhaps there is a reason. Maybe there is no market for this book. How do you conduct a comparative study of similar books? Visit a major bookstore in your area and go to the shelf where your book might be. Look at all of the books shelved there. Read many of them. Determine what's different about yours - what makes it better? Maybe you'll discover that your book idea is quite similar to several published books. Can you come up with an angle or a slant that is different - one that makes your book more useful, interesting, entertaining or informative, for example? If your nonfiction book is just like all the others, why bother producing it? How healthy is the fiction market? Your comparative study will most likely reveal what sort of fiction is popular today. Young adult novels are selling well, for example. There also seems to be a big desire for fantasy and thrillers. Maybe you plan to write a memoir. If you are not a high profile person, you may want to rethink your desire to write a memoir for national distribution. Many authors write memoirs in hopes of using their own tragic stories to educate or inform others. You may well discover that a memoir isn't the best way to do that. Ask the hard questions and use the comparative study of similar books to get the answers you need in order to make all of the right decisions.

5: Identify your target audience. Even before you write that book, you need to know who you are addressing. If it is a historical novel, presumably, those who typically read historical novels will be interested in yours. It's a little tricky, though. Most novel readers are loyal to certain authors and aren't easily lured to read something by an unknown. If yours is a nonfiction book, you must identify the audience who wants the information you are providing or who is interested in the topic. This does not include those who you believe should read the book, but those who will want to read the book. If you are honest in the evaluation of your target audience, you may discover that it isn't a very large segment of people. This knowledge may even prompt you to change the focus of your book or abandon the project altogether. I can't even begin to tell you how many authors I meet who have written the wrong book for the wrong audience and now regret the money spent, the time involved and the emotions invested.

6: Locate your target audience. So now that you know who they are, you need to know where they are. And if you say, "Bookstores," you're probably wrong. Bookstores aren't always the best place to sell books, especially nonfiction books. Just look at the competition in the mega-bookstores. Your book on gnarly ski slopes throughout the U.S. might sell better through winter sports stores and catalogs, appropriate Web sites, magazines and newsletters and at ski resorts. A book on dog grooming would sell best in pet stores, grooming shops and through reviews and articles in pet magazines, for example. If you discover that you don't have a solid target audience, take another look at your book idea. Maybe you need to refocus. Now doesn't it make sense to discover the truth about your book before you publish it?

7: Plan your promotional tactics. Some people will buy the book just because they know you or know who you are. So start by developing a massive mailing list. List everyone in your personal addressbook, your rolodex at work, your class reunion roster, your Christmas card list, you email list and add your child's teachers, fellow church and club members, your mailman, neighbors - everyone you know. Collect business cards from everyone you meet. Offer your list a pre-publication discount if they order the book before the publication date. I have managed to pay a good portion of my printing expenses for several of my books through pre-publication orders.

Build a Web site related to your book. List magazines, newsletters and Web sites that might review your book. Outline articles/stories you can write to help promote your book. (Read, "A Writer's Guide to Magazine Articles for Book Promotion and Profit" by Patricia Fry.) Obtain a list of civic organizations seeking speakers. Contact bookstores nationwide and plan book signings. Ask local radio/TV stations to interview you. Send press releases to appropriate newspaper editors throughout the nation. Discover many additional book promotion ideas in books by Patricia Fry, John Kremer, Fran Silverman and others.

8: Build promotion into your book. For a novel, choose a setting and a topic that will be conducive to promotion. For example, give a character diabetes. If he handles it in a positive way or has something to teach others about the disease, the American Diabetes Association might be interested in helping you to promote your book. For a history or a how-to book, involve a lot of people and agencies. Interview people, quote them and list those people and agencies who helped with your research. They'll all buy books and promote the book to their friends and acquaintances.

9: Establish your platform. Your platform is your following - your way of getting the attention of your target audience. The most successful authors are those who establish a platform before they produce a book. If your book relates to conserving California water, your platform might be that you have been the general manager of a water company for 25 years and on the California State Water Board for most of that time. You have name recognition and credibility in that field.

Maybe your book is on an aspect of acupuncture. Your platform might include the fact that you've studied and taught acupuncture internationally for many years. You've written articles for numerous magazines on topics related to acupuncture, you have a column in a local newspaper on alternative healing practices, you have a Web site and a newsletter that goes out to 20,000 people. What if you have no platform? The time to establish one is before you write the book. Maybe you want to write a book on personal finances after retirement, but you don't have a professional background in finance. Here are some things you can do. Build on the financial background you do have - join organizations, take classes and become known in financial and senior circles. Involve experts in your book - maybe even share authorship with someone who is well-known in the financial field. Join Toastmasters to develop better public speaking skills and start presenting workshops locally for retirees. Write articles for a variety of magazines. Develop a Web site and start circulating a newsletter related to your topic. If you hope to sell more than just a few copies of your book to friends and relatives, follow each of these nine steps and you will experience the success you desire.

Patricia Fry is the author of 25 books, including "The Right Way to Write, Publish and Sell Your Book." Visit her blog often: