Monday, September 3, 2007

On Agents Rejecting Manuscripts

I ran across an interesting article by Teresa Nielsen Hayden at Making Light. The most interesting part, in my opinion, is why she rejects manuscripts.

Herewith, the rough breakdown of manuscript characteristics, from most to least obvious rejections:

1. Author is functionally illiterate.
2. Author has submitted some variety of literature we don’t publish: poetry, religious revelation, political rant, illustrated fanfic, etc.
3. Author has a serious neurochemical disorder, puts all important words into capital letters, and would type out to the margins if MSWord would let him.
4. Author is on bad terms with the Muse of Language. Parts of speech are not what they should be. Confusion-of-motion problems inadvertently generate hideous images. Words are supplanted by their similar-sounding cousins: towed the line, deep-seeded, dire straights, nearly penultimate, incentiary, reeking havoc, hare’s breath escape, plaintiff melody, viscous/vicious, causal/casual, clamoured to her feet, a shutter went through her body, his body went ridged, empirical storm troopers, ex-patriot Englishmen, et cetera.
5. Author can write basic sentences, but not string them together in any way that adds up to paragraphs.
6. Author has a moderate neurochemical disorder and can’t tell when he or she has changed the subject. This greatly facilitates composition, but is hard on comprehension.
7. Author can write passable paragraphs, and has a sufficiently functional plot that readers would notice if you shuffled the chapters into a different order. However, the story and the manner of its telling are alike hackneyed, dull, and pointless.

(At this point, you have eliminated 60-75% of your submissions. Almost all the reading-and-thinking time will be spent on the remaining fraction.)

8. It’s nice that the author is working on his/her problems, but the process would be better served by seeing a shrink than by writing novels.
9. Nobody but the author is ever going to care about this dull, flaccid, underperforming book.
10. The book has an engaging plot. Trouble is, it’s not the author’s, and everybody’s already seen that movie/read that book/collected that comic.

(You have now eliminated 95-99% of the submissions.)

11. Someone could publish this book, but we don’t see why it should be us.
12. Author is talented, but has written the wrong book.
13. It’s a good book, but the house isn’t going to get behind it, so if you buy it, it’ll just get lost in the shuffle.

14. Buy this book.

Aspiring writers are forever asking what the odds are that they’ll wind up in category #14. That’s the wrong question. If you’ve written a book that surprises, amuses, and delights the readers, and gives them a strong incentive to read all the pages in order, your chances are very good indeed. If not, your chances are poor.

By the way, joining a good critique group, online or offline, will help an author eliminate most of items #1-10. Of course, the author also has to listen when several critique partners point out these problems. And someone in the group needs to be skilled enough as a writer to notice and point out these problems. Anyway.

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