Why I Rejected Your Book, Part 2

Writing Rants Cover Part 1 of this post got a lot of traffic, generated a fair amount of Facebook discussion, pissed some people off, and hopefully was useful to some of you. It also spawned my new podcast, Writing Rants, which is coming soon right to this here web space.

I do want to clarify one thing about these two posts – if you are a multi-published author, most of this isn’t going to apply to you. If you have been working in the business for a while, you get to use adverbs, you get to start a story in the wrong place (#2 on the list – spoiler alert) and you sometimes get to use passive voice. Because you have been working in the field long enough to know how to do those things. Presumably.

But at least you have enough equity built up with editors through your publication history that we (I) are willing to give you a shot. If I know you, if we’ve met at a con and shared a table together, you get a lot more leeway than someone who I know nothing about. If your query letter comes in with a list of half a dozen published novels or a dozen or so published short stories, then I assume that if it starts off oddly, you know what you’re doing, and I’ll give you a little more time than someone who has no credits.

That’s not fair. I know. I also know that it isn’t fair I got cut from my Little League team. Bullshit. It’s totally fair, and it’s fine. I got cut from the team because I was too green and not athletic enough. Why did your story get rejected? Well, let’s continue on to the top two reasons I reject a submission.

#2 – Your story starts in the wrong place – I see this taking two forms. In the first, there are certain beginnings that cliché, or at least cliché for certain genres, and I just don’t want to see them. Here are a few things to avoid when submitting  –

  1. Starting off in a dream – Don’t do it. It’s trite, it’s over done, and very seldom done well. Particularly avoid being clever and tricking the audience into thinking that what’s happening in the dream is actually part of the narrative, then jumping out of the metaphorical closet and yelling “GOTCHA!” it doesn’t make you a clever writer, it makes you a douche. And it makes you unreliable to the readers. Remember that every word you put onto the page is part of your contract with the readers, and if they don’t trust you, they will not be invested in the story.
  2. Getting up in the morning – Reading about someone getting ready for school or work isn’t interesting. We all get ready for school or work every day. Unless there’s something reaching through the mirror while your protagonist is shaving, don’t tell me they shave. Start in the action.
  3. Starting away from the protagonist – Unless you’re writing a thriller, and you’re starting the book with the Terrible Thing being performed by the villain, and we’re going to return tot he villain’s POV every once in a while throughout the book, Don’t start the book anywhere but focused on the protagonist. You have limited time to introduce the main character and get the audience to love her. Because they downloaded the first 10% for free on their Kindle, and if you don’t hook them in the sample, you won’t get them to buy the rest of the book. I know I download a LOT of samples, and I buy very few of the books I sample. If you want an example of a book that hooks you from the jump and almost forces you to buy it once you read the sample, try Alice by Christina Henry. It’s a helluva book and hooked me from the beginning.

Of Lips and Tongue by AG Carpenter is one that didn’t just hook me from the beginning of the book, it hooked me from the first line of the query letter. “Delaney Green is one of them that don’t burn.” It puts me into the world of the story in one line. I know that it’s Southern. I know that it’s supernatural. I know that supernatural things are somewhat accepted. I know that the character is locked askance at because of her abilities. I got all that from the first sentence of the query letter. I bought the novella, and two more.

In the second, the story just doesn’t do anything in the beginning. Sometimes an author spends too much time setting things up and introducing characters, and not enough time moving the action along and hooking a reader. Remember that I am a genre fiction reader, I’m a genre fiction publisher, and a genre fiction writer. We are not working in the literary fiction world, we are writing potboilers and page-turners. Shit has to happen. And it has to happen from the beginning. It’s not necessary that there be a fight scene on Page 1, but it’s also not bad.

With my book Genesis, the first draft of the book was awful. I started the book 100% in the wrong place. The premise of the movie is Red Dawn meets X-Men: First Class. An EMP destroys the world’s technology, and without the interference of all the tech, people are able to harness the elemental magic of the earth again. This ability only manifests itself in teenagers and people who are more open to change and magic (hippies). I started the book with the protagonist getting ready for school. Then I realized that no one gives a shit about that. so I started the book at the point where the EMP has hit and she and her brother are hauling ass out of the school. The book works much better when it starts in the right place.

By the way, Genesis has recently been uploaded for audiobook, so that will be available soon!

And I’m almost at my thousand word limit, so you’ll have to wait a little while to find out The #1 Reason Why I Rejected Your Manuscript.

And now time for a little shameless self-promotion –

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