Reasons for rejection


Yesterday I blogged about why we are unable to do personalized rejections, so I thought it would be helpful to follow up with ten main reasons that manuscripts are rejected. What I’ve done is sorted through the reports editors have sent me over the past few months and grabbed clips from them to highlight various reasons manuscripts are rejected. The names of the editors are withheld to protect the (mostly) innocent. What I’m showing here is the ten themes repeated over and over in the rejection reports I received and I selected only a sampling of quotes to share, to give you insight into the editors’ thought process. Also, I think it should be noted that often rejection is for a combination of these reasons, and indeed, some of these clips came from the same report. The exception to that is probably number four, as unsophisticated writing is often a standalone reason for rejection.

1.    The manuscript doesn’t catch the reader’s attention from the start.

“I kept turning pages wondering when the author would stop telling me things and let the action actually start.”

“…major info dumps in the first few chapters that slowed the pacing to a crawl.”

“…There is way too much irrelevant backstory at the beginning that slows down the pacing and does not directly affect the immediate plot.”

“…I’m also not sure where the story is going—it seems like it wanders leisurely through the narrative, rather than having a focused plot.”

“Nothing happens in the prologue or chapter one except the heroine thinking and establishing the backstory…”

2.    The story doesn’t stand out as fresh or unique.

“No matter how good a story, starting with a [common urban fantasy theme] starts you at the disadvantage of being utterly derivative.  In an overcrowded genre, there needs to be something really unique to the writing or world-building to make that scenario stand out, and nothing here does.”

3.    The author has included too many unimportant details and not enough important details

“…the narrative was too focused on the superficial chicklit aspects (her hair, her clothes, her dating) at the expense of pacing and plotting.”

“The story gets bogged down by backstory, dream sequences, repetition…”

4.    The writing just isn’t there (I could have divided this up, as it’s so broad)

“This is the author’s first novel and it shows, with many new-writer problems: too much narrative, thought & flashbacks vs. present action, POV problems, cliché situations and characters, and odd switches between past/present tenses.”

“…the writing was clumsy—especially in the overuse of adjectives.”

“…had a bunch of awkward dialogue and lacked characterization. The author has a problem with telling instead of showing.”

“…This manuscript has very confusing changes in POV, character identity, time and place; and I could barely follow it even with the synopsis.”

“…her writing is very tell-ish with constant play by play by play and jarring word choices.  Also, the hero and heroine’s internal thoughts are cheesy and unrealistic.”

“…the descriptions and dialogue are full of clichés.”

“The writing here is capable but not engaging. It can also be a bit repetitive…”

“…it’s riddled with grammatical errors, misspellings, and choppy scenes…”

“The writing lacks energy and doesn’t flow smoothly, with overlong sentences interrupted with many appositives…”

“The writing lacks subtlety and there’s too much telling, a lot of redundancies/repetition, with the first-person narrator thinking something before expressing the same thing in dialogue…”

“…some of the language took me right out of the moment and made me laugh…”

“It’s riddled with clichés and repetition, including portions where the same actions are repeated from different characters’ POV with no added depth or insight into their importance. In fact, it could probably be cut in half with the elimination of all the repetition and not lose anything in the way of story.”

“…tendency toward overnaming, wherein several characters who we meet once are named, but the numerous names aren’t unique enough to prevent confusion when some other new, insignificant character appears later. Not every character needs a name, and to have so many takes up space in my brain that should be left for the story’s main conflict.”

5.    The voice of the manuscript/characters doesn’t work

“The first person voice in this manuscript feels off—too young and casual—and not particularly likable.”

“My biggest problem with this contemporary romance is that it is meant to by funny, but the humor feels forced. The voice just didn’t win me over…”

“…problematic because the heroine is carrying the story, and I just don’t like her voice. She comes across as snotty and shallow instead of strong, and she assumes a level of friendship with me as the reader that I can’t reciprocate”

6.    The reader can’t connect to the characters, they’re not fully realized or believable

“The characters do not inspire caring; they’re rather like cardboard cutouts doing what the plot says to do.”

“I never warmed up to the heroine as a reader (she’s so shrill!).”

“…the flat characterization is the real deal breaker.”

“…the characters almost come off as two-dimensional. And the character development lacks skillful handling…”

“…despite the wittiness, the heroine was unlikable, and she never really grew or learned anything.”

“The characterizations devolve into caricatures: the gay friend, boss’s evil wife and even more evil mother.”

“…secondary characters feel like they act almost cartoonish at times…”

“The lack of emotional engagement in the story, either with page-turning action or relating closely to the characters, makes it hard for me to feel passionately about a ms.”

7.    The story requires too much suspension of disbelief

“…the historical accuracy of some major plot points made me question how likely they were to happen…”

“This one was tough for me, and the reason for the rejection comes down to my inability to suspend disbelief to believe in the premise that joins hero/heroine and provides the driving conflict for the story.”

“In addition to these plot issues, the hero often speaks in romance novel narrative e.g. ‘I’ve been wanting to bury myself in your heat since I met you.’ And he thinks gooey thoughts too soon, too often and too gooey”

8.    The manuscript starts well but doesn’t follow through

“…one of those books that begins with a really intriguing premise…”

“The set up promised…but, in the end, failed to deliver.”

“The ending lacks oomph.”

“So the whole motivation/stakes that initially propelled the story collapses…”

9.    Unnecessary subplots

“The subplot…didn’t really add much to the story. They didn’t make me care any more about the heroine and actually made me like her less. I was left wondering what their purpose in the story was supposed to be, since her actions surrounding them actually weakened her characterization”

“…this is a plot element in the story I feel is completely unnecessary.”

10.    The conflict wasn’t sustainable

“I like this author’s voice very much, it’s fresh and has good energy and is written cleanly. I like the h/h and their backstories and I love the snappy dialogue and vivid descriptions. But…the story itself didn’t sustain my interest.”

“There’s no hook, no compelling conflict or plot or page-turning tension…”

“The story bogs down, with scenes that feel too similar to what came before. It lacks set-backs and the sense of escalating conflict.”

“The ending also lacks the emotional punch I’m looking for…”

“While I like the story, I don’t love it, it didn’t build to a big enough climax, and it didn’t wow me.”

“In terms of the internal conflict and characterizations, it’s all out there at the outset, there is nothing much else that the reader discovers about them as events unfold…”

“H/h meet…fall into insta lust… It has no compelling conflict…”

“…conflict don’t grab me, and the story doesn’t feel suspenseful…”

Next week, I’ll follow up with clips from acquisition recommendation reports. What worked for the editors? I’ll give you an idea next week!

49 thoughts on “Reasons for rejection”

  1. This is a really great post. It’s a ‘who’s who’ of why writing isn’t as easy as we think it is! I’m saving this for my once-and-future writing adventures…

  2. Stephanie Griffin says:

    Very good rejection reasons!

  3. This was informative and such a helpful post! Thank you for demystifying some of what rejections are about.

  4. Vonna Harper says:

    Great detail. Rejects clearly spell out the reason(s) I’m sharing this with my writers’ group.

  5. How about a blog about rejections based on e-query letters alone — no ms or sample pages? Is it the query letter itself or the content of the story more important to you? Form rejections with no other comments (“Not right for my list at this time”, etc.) leave the writer without much basis for improvement.

  6. Ni Gig says:

    One of the members of my Critique group put this up as a check list to learn from. It will be interesting to see the “recommendations” list too. I for one intend on using this as a writing tool.

  7. Angela, if I may, here’s a place that might answer some questions regarding queries and how to present them. Not only will she help with queries, she’s got things posted on first chapters and other goodies for authors as well. She’s pretty upfront. Not all of what she says is kind, and she certainly doesn’t beat around the bush.

  8. Rob Graham says:

    Very nice. It will be useful for my own writing. Thanks.

  9. Cerri says:

    A very useful post. Several of the above reasons for rejection are the exact ones I would identify while reading a book for review. I applaud your team of editors for their diligence…even while my alter-ego cringes and scans her own work for similarities. Eek! LOL. Keep up the good work. :)


  10. Megan says:

    Wincing ’cause I see some mistakes I make; thanks for sharing, and thanks to your editors for being so detailed.

  11. Jaye says:

    “She smirks as she watches the writers change their names to protect the guilty, then tries to nonchalantly ease out to find her backspace button, too.

    “‘…Just sign me, Anonymous.'”

  12. Christine says:

    Thank you for such a helpful blog posting. Ive printed this out and using it as a check list as I edit my mss.


  13. Jo Terrero says:

    We focus in the secrets to success, while the reasons for failure could enlighten us even more.

    Thanks Angela for sharing this priceless information with us, I will tell the girls in my writers critique group about it. Beware; you might get a flood of submissions in the next days.

    1. Angela James says:

      Floods of submissions welcome, Jo!

  14. Lorraine Nelson says:

    Greatest feedback list I’ve seen for the dreaded R. It’s hard to correct a manuscript and make it suitable for publication when you don’t know what’s wrong. I, as a newbie, am awed. Got work to do. Thanks Angela

  15. Lorraine Nelson says:

    P.S. I’ll be reprinting this for my critique group if that’s okay?

    1. Angela James says:

      Anyone is welcome to share the information, but I would really appreciate a link back to the post if it’s used online, and of course, that it’s credited to Carina Press if it’s printed out and shared.

  16. Lorraine Nelson says:

    Thanks Angela. I’ll give you the credit, of course, and share the link. Thanks!

  17. Nancy Naigle says:

    ~Hugs and High 5s for this dose of reality. Can’t wait to see the “what works” from the acquisitions notes.

    This is very helpful.
    Thanks Angela!

  18. Bonnie C says:

    @ David – Query Shark may be your answer.

    She’s brutal but very clear on what is working and what is not in the queries she’s evaluating. She’s coming from an agent’s perspective (can I sell this?) rather than an editorial one (can I work with this?) but I think the feedback is really valuable.

    I said she was brutal, right? Just be forewarned.

    @ Angela – thank you, this post (and hopefully it’s upcoming companion) is very helpful.

  19. Jo Terrero says:

    I’m serious Angela; we are nineteen members in the networking group, all aspiring writers, who will be sharing the news with friends.

    Thanks for the welcoming.

    @Bonnie, I agree with you. I’m grateful to Janet Raid for saving me from making the biggest mistake of my writing career.

  20. Hope Tarr says:

    Thanks for the great post, Angela, and for de-mystifying the rejection process. To flip it, it’s a good check list for authors before we submit. Happy Valentine’s.

  21. Bonnie Dee says:

    Today’s and yesterday’s posts were excellent. I shared them with the writers at Romance Divas forums. A lot of very useful info here.

  22. This is great. I’m printing these out and posting them where I can see them. Thanks, Angela.

  23. Liz Flaherty says:

    This is fabulous. I’ve shared it with my critique group, too, with credit and link duly given. I’m far from a newbie, but this post was something we can all learn from.

  24. joylene says:

    This should be printed out and taped to every fiction writer’s monitor in the country. Excellent advice, Angela. Thanks!

  25. Christine Carmichael says:

    Wonderful, wonderful. Did I say wonderful?

    I’m one of Joanne’s critique group, this is excellent and to the point.
    As writers I think we tend to forget that an Editor knows exactly what the reading public want and need. I always try to have the reader in the forefront of my mind, and if I can maintain the reader’s attention that means I’m writing for an Editor too. At least, that’s the plan. Implementing it is something else again. Too much thinking and not enough doing?

    Thank you for this.


  26. Christine Carmichael says:

    Hi Angela

    Joanne has just posted a link to this blog and thread on the link below:

    I suspect you will be busy with submissions over the next few weeks.

    I see a few familiar names here and would ask them to give Angela and Carina the credit when they use the information on their own blogs! We can see you! Resistance is futile! LOL!


  27. Fantastic post, Angela. This reinforces all elements must be present in this very competitive marketplace. A lot to think about. Thank you for sharing!

  28. Very Interesting. I will read this to my critique group and my all genre writer’s group, DFW Writer’s Workshop (70 members). Our DFW Writer’s Workshop Conference on April 10 and 11 will have 10 agents. See dfwwriter’

  29. Diane Craver says:

    Very helpful list. I’ll keep this for future writing. Thanks, Angela!

  30. Molli Nickell says:

    Another great resource for writing queries and such is It’s like an online school for writers who want to get published.

  31. I’m done every one of these at some point in my manuscripts. They just seem to fall onto the page the first time through. That’s why rewrites are so important to me. That’s when my ms starts to get really strong. Thanks Angela, for confirming this important info from the editor’s POV.

  32. Cathryn Cade says:


    Susan Lyons sent this link to the Rose City Romance Writers, and I had to chime in to say ‘READ IT!’

    I learned more from you with my first two published stories than all my English teachers combined, LOL.



    1. Angela James says:

      Thank you, Cathryn, what a lovely thing to say. I’m glad to see you have a website now! You should consider posting a link to your entire free read on your website. I clicked through to the newsletter for the first half and couldn’t locate it.

  33. Judith says:

    Wow!!!! Thanks Angela. It is concise I must say. Recommended to me by my writing instructor.


  34. Jane Holland says:

    Thanks for this, Angela. I’ve linked to it from my romance blog today.

    My only problem is, reading all these submission mistakes is like reading a medical encyclopedia, where you imagine you have every symptom listed. I kept thinking, ‘Oh no, I do THAT and THAT and THAT!’ etc.

    Rather depressing. ;)

  35. Carlos says:

    Bloggers are not appreciated enough, many thanks for taking the time to post this.

  36. Annemarie says:

    Thank you for sharing such valid and worthwhile info. While I am aware of most of these pitfalls, it really helps to keep the “rules” front of mind. It is so easy to get wrapped up in the story and forget some of the vital points that make a submission a success or failure. The reader has an expectation – as writers we need to meet them. Thank you for these helpful points. Back to the drawing board …

  37. Betsy Knapp says:

    Very helpful tips. Thanks so much for sharing.

  38. BookGoggles says:

    Oh my gosh, I love this. I wish I had this a few months ago when I reviewed a self-published book by a particularly angry author who didn’t understand why I didn’t like his book. He hit just about every reason on this list and the examples given.

  39. DAlexander says:

    Thank you, Angela! I’m a newbie to this site and appreciate your post and the level of detail provided by the editors. I haven’t seen anything like it posted on the numerous sites I have researched to find what agents/editors look for when reviewing a MS. Thanks!

  40. BooksandBuzz says:

    Even published authors get this from their editors, it is valuable info that lifts the book and makes it “do what it do”–SELL.

  41. Very well said. Hopefull the authors that received these messages didn’t go on a bender because most of them have very valid points.

  42. Alvin A. says:

    After reading this, I feel a lot comfortable about submitting my novel. I’ve written a novel before, but decided to write a second novel and aim for publishing before going off to the navy.
    Most people that read this can get “pre-hammered” on the issues above and then work at correcting issues thus avoiding common rejection reasons. (Even a non-perfect novel escapes at least 6-8/10 of the reasons above).

  43. Lucinda Lynx says:

    Oh boy! I’ve noticed a few of my own problem areas from your post. It is not easy to fix one’s writing in English, though, if one happens to be a foreigner, from your POV, that is. But don’t they say ‘one step at a time’ ? That is the best way to go, even it is very slow. That’s merely my humble opinion.

  44. Becky Masker says:

    I can’t tell you how much I appreciate this blog post. As an aspiring author this will hopefully help me avoid making cliche mistakes. That being said I am now terrified at the prospect of submitting my first manuscript because I have a sneaking suspicion that it will fall under at least one, and probably more than one, of the rejection reasons listed above.

  45. Angela James says:

    Well, Becky, I’d say a small dose of that kind of fear is probably healthy and means you’ll work hard at polishing! Just don’t let it cripple you…

  46. You have hit the mark. Thought excellent, it agree with you.

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