Top 5 Reasons Manuscripts Get Rejected by Literary Agents and Publishers

publishing querying
Top 5 Reasons Manuscripts Get Rejected by Literary Agents and Publishers

All authors get rejected. This is common knowledge in the publishing industry, but that doesn't make being rejected by agents any more fun. If you're hoping to publish your novel traditionally, you may have already faced rejections from agents or publishing houses. Unfortunately, the competition is fierce, and not every book makes the cut. The good news? There are ways to be sure you're sending out your very best work!

In this post, we will discuss the top five reasons why agents, editors, or publishers might reject your book and how you can avoid these issues.

5 Reasons Manuscripts Get Rejected

If you’re aware of some of the common pitfalls that writers run into, it’s easier to avoid having your book rejected. Let’s take a look at five of the most common reasons novels get rejected.

Not researching agents or their submission guidelines

Whether you’re sending your manuscript to a literary agent or directly to a publisher, first, you need to know which agents and publishers represent the genre in which you write. Sending your historical fantasy fiction to an agent who only represents contemporary romance will get you an immediate rejection.

Take the time to research which publishing professionals are a good match for your manuscript. Once you’ve gathered a list of agents, editors, or publishers who might be a good match for your manuscript, next take the time to review their submission guidelines. These can be found on the agent’s or publisher’s websites. Does the agent want a query letter with a full synopsis, the first chapter, or the entire manuscript? Be sure to send the prospective agent or editor exactly what they wish to receive in order to reduce your chances of receiving a form rejection letter in your inbox.

Once you've done your research, make sure you have perfected your pitch to the agent. Write a query letter that will get the agent excited to read your manuscript, and make sure your opening pages are the very best you can make them before sending them out.

Poor quality of writing, structure, and pacing

Another common reason for rejection is poor writing quality. Agents receive hundreds of query letters in their inboxes! If your writing isn’t the absolute best you can put forth, it won’t stand a chance against the hundreds of other queries vying for that agent’s or editor’s attention. If your book is full of grammar errors, typos, or inconsistencies, it's unlikely to capture the attention of an agent, editor, or publisher.

Another reason why agents, editors, or publishers might reject your book is poor pacing. If your story is too slow, too fast, or lacks tension, the agent (and future readers) will lose interest quickly. Structure and pacing are essential elements of any good book. If your book is poorly structured, with a confusing plot and slow pacing, it will be hard for readers to stay interested.

Publishers want books that keep readers engaged from beginning to end. To avoid this issue, make sure you have a clear, well-defined plot with a beginning, middle, and end. Keep the pacing consistent and avoid long periods of exposition or dialogue. Build tension and conflict throughout the story, and pay attention to pacing by alternating between action scenes and quieter moments.

Before submitting your manuscript, proofread it thoroughly and consider hiring a professional editor or proofreader to review your work before submitting it. Consider taking courses for writers or joining a membership, such as Writing Mastery Academy, to help you master your writing craft so that you can put forth your best work and get requests instead of rejections.

Weak character development

Weak character development is another reason agents, editors, or publishers might reject your book. Characters are the heart of any good book, and if your characters are flat, uninteresting, or underdeveloped, it’s unlikely that readers will care about their journey, and thus, publishers will likely reject your work before it ever lands in the hands of your ideal reader.

To avoid this issue, spend time developing your characters before you start writing. Create detailed character profiles and give each character a distinct personality, backstory, and motivation. Give them depth, motivation, and flaws. Make sure that your characters drive the story forward and that readers can connect with them on an emotional level. This will make your characters more relatable and engaging for readers.

Lack of originality

If your book follows a cliched plotline, has flat characters, or lacks a unique voice, it may not grab the attention of agents and editors. If your idea is something that has been done many times before, it will struggle to stand out from the crowd, making it unlikely that a publisher will be interested. Publishers are looking for fresh, unique ideas that will capture readers' attention.

To avoid this issue, do your research and read widely in your genre. If you’re writing middle-grade fiction, aim to read one hundred middle-grade books published in the last five years. Know what has been published and how your novel might fill in a gap in what is already on the bookshelves. Look for ways to put a unique spin on common tropes and explore new themes. Focus on unique plot points, character arcs, or themes that will make your book stand out.

Poor marketability

Publishers are in the business of selling books, and if your book isn't marketable, it's unlikely that they will take a chance on it. This can be a subjective issue, but it typically relates to whether the book will sell to a large enough audience, or if there even is an audience for your book.

Agents, editors, and publishers look for books with a clear target audience. If your book doesn't fit into a particular genre or is too niche, it will be hard to find a publisher who is interested.

To avoid this issue, research the market and identify your target audience before you start writing. Research your genre and identify what types of books are currently popular. Consider who would be interested in your book and why. Make sure that your book fits into a particular genre, and that there is a market for it. 

Ready to fill your inbox with requests and not rejections?

Now you know what to avoid when submitting your manuscript to agents, editors, or publishers. Focus on writing quality, originality, strong characters, pacing, and marketability. Research the agents or publishers you plan to submit your manuscript to and make sure you follow their submission guidelines. By addressing these issues, you can increase your chances that your novel will get published. Remember that rejection has nothing to do with your worth as a writer; it's a natural part of the publishing process, and persistence is key to success. Keep writing, keep revising, and keep submitting your work until you find the right fit.

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