Reasons for Manuscript 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 some 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 chick lit 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
“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 over-naming, 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…”