Sunday, October 22, 2006

Writing and Why Editors Reject It

Somehow I always swing to extremes when contemplating my own writing. I suspect it has more to do with how much I've eaten and slept than the actual value of the writing, but today (Sunday: not enough sleep, and thus too sick to eat enough) I looked at my manuscript again (which yesterday I declared, once again, "Finished!" for maybe the fifth or sixth time) and said, "Oh no! It's boring, abrupt, longwinded, and doesn't compare favorably with what's out there. Not to mention it's only down to 166,900 words, and many publishers cap their books at 150,000."

So instead of fixing typos Mom and Dad found (and some serious logic and motivation problems which, when I saw their notes, I had to laugh at myself over), I was surfing the "agents who tell us why they reject things" pages online (mostly blogs like Miss Snark and The Rejecter, both famous and excellent resources for writers), and I found a link to a posting from some other blog in 2004 from an editor that spelled out why most authors are rejected. I post the text below, since it was enlightening and made me laugh out loud.

It also gave me hope that perhaps it's not the manuscript that's poor. Perhaps it's my blood sugar levels.

"Manuscripts are unwieldy, but the real reason for that time ratio is that most of them are a fast reject. Herewith, the rough breakdown of manuscript characteristics, from most to least obvious rejections:
1. Author is functionally illiterate.
2. Author has submitted some variety of literature we don’t publish: poetry, religious revelation, political rant, illustrated fanfic, etc.
3. Author has a serious neurochemical disorder, puts all important words into capital letters, and would type out to the margins if MSWord would let him.
4. Author is on bad terms with the Muse of Language. Parts of speech are not what they should be. Confusion-of-motion problems inadvertently generate hideous images. Words are supplanted by their similar-sounding cousins: towed the line, deep-seeded, dire straights, nearly penultimate, incentiary, reeking havoc, hare’s breath escape, plaintiff melody, viscous/vicious, causal/casual, clamoured to her feet, a shutter went through her body, his body went ridged, empirical storm troopers, ex-patriot Englishmen, et cetera.
5. Author can write basic sentences, but not string them together in any way that adds up to paragraphs.
6. Author has a moderate neurochemical disorder and can’t tell when he or she has changed the subject. This greatly facilitates composition, but is hard on comprehension.
7. Author can write passable paragraphs, and has a sufficiently functional plot that readers would notice if you shuffled the chapters into a different order. However, the story and the manner of its telling are alike hackneyed, dull, and pointless.
(At this point, you have eliminated 60-75% of your submissions. Almost all the reading-and-thinking time will be spent on the remaining fraction.)
8. It’s nice that the author is working on his/her problems, but the process would be better served by seeing a shrink than by writing novels.
9. Nobody but the author is ever going to care about this dull, flaccid, underperforming book.
10. The book has an engaging plot. Trouble is, it’s not the author’s, and everybody’s already seen that movie/read that book/collected that comic.
(You have now eliminated 95-99% of the submissions.)
11. Someone could publish this book, but we don’t see why it should be us.
12. Author is talented, but has written the wrong book.
13. It’s a good book, but the house isn’t going to get behind it, so if you buy it, it’ll just get lost in the shuffle.
14. Buy this book.
Aspiring writers are forever asking what the odds are that they’ll wind up in category #14. That’s the wrong question. If you’ve written a book that surprises, amuses, and delights the readers, and gives them a strong incentive to read all the pages in order, your chances are very good indeed. If not, your chances are poor."
From (most of the rest of the stuff is details about why authors are just too sensitive and think way too much about each rejection they receive.)

So I looked back at my rejections. I thought I had been rejected a lot and that's why I rewrote the book again, cutting those 44,000 words. I had 4 rejections. Now I have 5. I hear that you have to get between 25 and 100 to get an agent, but if you get 12-25 form rejections with no requests for sample chapters, it's time to reevaluate and rewrite. So I'm way jumping the gun on thinking it's terrible.

Probably I should have a snack and go to bed--I'll look at it again in the morning and think I'm a genius and have written the best escapist entertainment in the world and its only a matter of time before it's published, right?

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