Rejection is a word every writer knows all too well. The reasons for that rejection aren’t always as clear (hello, form rejections!). I’ve listed a few reasons why a submission may have been rejected below.
- Lack of external goals: Characters need an external goal, not just an internal one, meaning they need an objective. They have to be working toward something. Out of all the submissions I’ve read as an editorial intern, only a small percentage met the criteria. One submission was SO close, but I couldn’t recommend it because of that lack of strong character goals. If those goals aren’t clearly defined (or are non-existent), then the reader has nothing to root for, and you risk your work being low-concept.
- The character needs an active role: This relates to the first point. The MC needs an active role in that they have to be doing something to advance the plot. If your character has a goal but doesn’t do anything to achieve that goal, the reader is going to get bored. You don’t want the MC just being thrown from one situation to another to see how they react. You want them to actually do something: make decisions, take action, even make mistakes… The important thing is that they make things happen, and not just have things happen to them.
- We’ve seen it before: If your work is too familiar, if it’s something we’ve seen in every other story, it can be easy to lose interest. Tropes can be awesome, but there needs to be something new. You want to avoid cliché plot elements. We don’t just evaluate the quality of the submission, we also have to check if it will stand out in the market.
- It doesn’t start in the right place: The first chapter needs to introduce your MC and their problem (or one of their problems). Basically, you need to answer these questions: who is the main character, what is their problem, and why should I (the reader) care? I’ve read submissions where the first chapter(s) was all backstory. You want to avoid this. Something has to actually happen to move the plot forward.
- The stakes aren’t high enough: Writers are always told that the stakes need to be mentioned in their query. But we don’t just want stakes – we want high stakes. Whatever problem your MC is facing, it has to affect them in a big way. What will they lose if they don’t achieve X? If it’s not going to be a big loss, if the reader is thinking “so what?”, then the stakes aren’t high enough.