So, I have been picking the brains of friends of mine who are authors or are/were in the publication field (literary agents, editors, etc). I have been doing this because I see a lot of people compiling lists about why manuscripts get rejected. I read these lists because I want to give myself the best shot I can at getting published.
But what I seem to be finding is that a lot of those lists are really bunk, or at least these lists are subjective and often contradict one another. Don’t start your story too fast. Don’t start your story too slow. Too much description. Not enough description. Too many characters. Too few characters. Too much dialogue. Not enough dialogue.
Blah, blah, blah. Get the point? And, what’s more, we can all name published works, some are even best sellers, that should never have been published if these lists were true.
So I asked the question of why manuscripts get rejected to those that I know and found what I think are the three real, big reasons that manuscripts get rejected. Agree or disagree, that is your propagative. But for me these are the reasons I have heard from almost everyone I have asked with first hand knowledge.
1. Submission is to an agent/publishing house that does not publish that type of story.
2. Story is poorly written!
3. Personal preferences/biases of the agent, etc. that you submitted to.
That seems to be it. It seems like it pretty much covers things too. So no need to make things more complicated if you ask me.
Now, what I have been told by people in the know, because they deal with this sort of stuff daily, is that 80% of the manuscripts they receive fall into pitfall #1. Then, 90% of the rest drop out in step #2.
So, right there, if an agent gets 100 queries a day, only two (2) even make it through to the final step. Then you have to battle with the personal preferences of said agent. If he or she doesn’t like stories that start slow, even if good, you’re boned from the start. If he or she has decided to only take on works with a strong female main character and yours is a man, you’re boned once more.
It’s kind of a crap shoot at step #3. And, logically, that makes sense. If it weren’t, then any book that makes it through steps 1and 2 would be wanted by any agent that reads it and you would have to beat them off with a stick. Yet authors often send out dozens, if not hundreds of queries before getting that single letter of acceptance. My list of friends includes many who have had to fight this battle to get published.
But what isn’t a crap shoot is getting to step three. As authors, we control steps 1 and 2. Worrying about step 3 is like worrying about why grass is green instead of red.