Thursday, September 12, 2013

Avoid Rejection Letters… An Editor's Check List by Dee Lloyd


During my six years as Acquisitions Editor for the now-defunct LTDBooks I must have read several thousand submissions. Many of the manuscripts I reluctantly had to reject had much to offer. If the authors had looked carefully at the following aspects of their writing, my response might have been more positive.

Here are some of my pet peeves. I address many of them in my October course PUTTING THE SUSPENSE IN ROMANTIC SUSPENSE at Savvy Authors .


1.    Spelling and grammar. There is no more obvious fault to an editor than poor grammar and spelling. No matter how intriguing your opening scene is, faulty sentence structure and spelling errors will influence the editor’s decision. Even if you are confident about your writing skills, it is wise to have a knowledgeable person do a careful read through. Don’t rely solely on spell check. It will accept “There”, “their” and “they’re” because they are all properly spelled. Their meanings are totally different and their improper use is jarring.

2.    Compelling opening. Too much background information slows the beginning of your story. This is my most frequent reason to reject a novel. Save the backstory for the moment that you need it. The reader loses interest in long introductory paragraphs where the setting is lovingly set out and the characters' backgrounds are given in detail.

3.    Believable characters. Know your characters in depth. Show me who the character is by how she behaves in a real, compelling situation. Don't tell me she has been hurt in the past. Show me how she overreacts now. Explain later, much later. (Perhaps at a point when she has to explain her actions to someone.)

4.    Natural dialogue. Read your dialogue aloud. Make sure that each character has his or her own voice. The professor doesn't use the same language or have the same rhythm to her speech as the man who is repairing her roof. (If he does have the same kind of vocabulary, there had better be an explanation for that.)

5.    Essential characters only. I always remember Timothy Findley saying in an article for students of creative writing, "Be prepared to kill your darlings." Of course he was talking not only about editing out characters but about cutting delightful, poetic descriptions that might not be appropriate to the story you are telling.

6.    Point of view. Beware of having a character describe herself in a scene that is written from her point of view.
      "How could he sit there cheerfully filling his face when he had just destroyed her world? Marcie blinked back the tears that were threatening to fill her sea-green eyes. Her waist-length, chestnut hair swayed as she stalked up to his table. She would fix his little wagon!"

She obviously cannot see her own hair or eyes. In this example, the reader is jerked out of Marcie’s mind for the description, then back into it. Don’t lose the reader/character connection.

7.    Length of sentences. Don’t write too many long sentences. I have no objection to long sentences; however, in this day of dedicated ereaders and smaller screens, I have found that they can lose their effectiveness. When I started to read on my first electronic hand-held device several years ago, I noticed that shorter sentences had more punch. Be careful though that you don't fall into the trap of beginning each short sentence with the subject. Sentence fragments must be used even more judiciously because the shorter page makes everything more obvious.

8.    Similarity in character names. I got myself into a bind by being too cute about the names of a couple of gorgeous twins in CHANGE OF PLANS. Calling them Bret and Bart was funny, I thought, for a couple of secondary characters. However, when I had some requests for a story for Bret, and wrote GHOST OF A CHANCE, I was stuck with the names. And it wasn't easy to prevent confusion. Then Bart got his story in UNQUIET SPIRITS! Be careful.

9.    Word count. This is more important in a print book than in an ebook. In an ebook, the prescribed length of the manuscript is the length of the story. However, be aware that many publishers release ebook and print simultaneously.Before submitting to any publishing house read the guidelines carefully and follow them. Each publisher posts guidelines on its website.

10. Pace. Your text must be tight and move along. No reader will tolerate an author wallowing in description or in long unnecessary philosophic dissertation. Nothing puts a reader (or this editor) off faster than a sermon or a political statement passed off as a novel.

These are the most common areas for rejection. I deal with them in depth in my Romantic Suspense course (October 7 – 27).

My best advice is to read what the publishing house you are targeting has already released. Each house has a style and a tone which is hard to describe. Make sure your story fits that style.

Good luck with your writing career!

Dee Lloyd

Get Dee's books from AMAZON - click HERE


  1. Hi Dee,

    Very nice post, it is refreshing to an author to get some advice from an acquisitions editor. A bit of insight can be a very helpful thing. Thanks :)

  2. A post to print, cut out, stick on the wall - thank you.

  3. Dee really nailed it, didn't she? Good advice, and worth remembering!

  4. Great post! This covers some really important points.