I was just getting ready to rant a bit about manuscripts when this popped up on the comments:
What are the three most common reasons you reject a manuscript? In other words, if you had stamps you could use on manuscripts, what would the three you use most often say?
There's a wonderful book called The Tipping Point
that illuminates how trends happen, or how something becomes mainstream, or when an idea takes off.
The question applies to the submission pile in this way: what is the tipping point for saying no to something. Before you rush in to say "be positive" and ask what's the tipping point for YES, remember that tipping point signifies change.
Let's assume every manuscript that comes to me will be a YES. What happens to make it a no? What's the tipping point?
Use as an example the manuscript I read just this morning. (You can tell when I'm reading manuscripts and getting annoyed..I blog more!)
This started as a well written first 20 pages in the mystery genre. I asked to see the full manuscript. It arrived fairly promptly. All signs are still good. 100points.
First. The author sent me what she thought was "the rest of the novel". The first 25 pages are missing. She forgot she'd only sent me the first 20. Right off the bat, missing five pages.
Clue to the unwary: when someone asks for "the rest of the novel" send the whole thing. net loss: 5 points.
Second: in what can only be described as just pure bad luck, this writer had almost the exact same stock characters as a novel I'd rejected the day before. It was almost eerie. That was the start of the slide. I kept thinking "been there done that". Unfair to this writer? Agents read a LOT of things that never get published. You really have to be distinctive. minus five points. Net loss: 10 points.
Third: typos. I hate these. I just hate them. It just smacks of sloppiness and lack of professional pride. It reminds me of sellers who want you to see potential in their house for sale when the rooms are badly painted and dirty. Sure..maybe...but you're shooting yourself in the foot. minus ten thousand points Net loss: 11 eleven points really
Fourth: different paper stock, fading printer ink and tilted paper. This really should be 3.5 cause it is the same lack of professionalism. I don't date boys with dirty hair and I don't sign writers who don't give a shit about how their manuscripts look. Just for starters it means every time they send me stuff I have to go over it with a fine tooth comb to make sure it's ok. I want authors I can trust to do a good job. minus another zillion points. Net loss: 11 points still
Fifth: the writing is ok. Nothing special. And then the plot lines start to just fall by the wayside. What I thought was the major focus of the book turns out to just disappear about chapter 30.
Here's a clue: draw your book. Begining is at the start...middle is in the middle, and then..does your plot end at the end? Or does it end halfway through? This happens more than you know. (See post on partials for further ranting). Minus: 20 points. Net loss: 31 points.
Sixth: Two endings. I swear to god. Two. Like I get to choose. This is part of 3.5 above.
minus: 60 points for sheer fucking stupidity. Net loss: 91 points.
Where was the tipping point? She could have saved it ..maybe.. if the plot line was fresh and the story line curved to the end. Figure you can drop five points and still be "sponge worthy" - or you need 95 to stay in the game. She ended up with 9. And this was a manuscript I asked to read. 95% of the query letters are no.
This example illustrates the three top "rubber stamp" rejections I have:
1. The plot doesn't work right. It either doesn't work, it's emotionally unsatisfying, or it's stupid.
2. You sent me something that looks like you don't give a shit about your writing
3. It's not fresh or original enough to be something I can sell with any degree of enthusiasm.
Now, off to write a rejection letter for this poor author. "Not right for us"...yea yea yea.