Common Reasons for Rejections

Hello, [my trilogy] was just turned down by deseret publishing on my first book of this project. I’m 75% done with the second book and will then immediately complete the third of the trilogy. There has never been books like these as they are unique and experientially based. Can you help me?

It is not at all uncommon to be rejected on your first book and by the first publisher you contact. Don’t give up.

The most common reason books are rejected is that they are not a good fit for the publisher. Read the publisher’s submission guidelines carefully. Make sure the publisher you are submitting to is interested in your genre and topic. Make sure they publish things similar, but not the same as what you’re submitting.

The second most common reason for rejection is that the book is just not quite publication ready. Get some critiques on your manuscript. Join a critique group with experienced writers. Go to some conferences that offer critique sessions. Make sure your book is as good as it can possibly be.

The third most common reason for rejection is your query letter isn’t quite up to what it should be. Saying things like, “There has never been books like these as they are unique and experientially based,” is not really very helpful. Unique how? What specifically do you meant by “experientially based”? Is that experiential component going to add to the cost of creating the book? That might be an issue (or not).

And I can guarantee, the publisher/editor/agent is going to have seen something like it before.

Do your research and keep submitting. Good luck!

Local vs Online Critique Groups

My MS is gradually approaching the point where I would like to share it with a critique group. However, my home is a thousand miles away from the epicenter of LDS publishing.

My question is this: Would I be better off meeting with a local critique group who may not be familiar with the church and the LDS market, or should I try and find an online group of other LDS writers to work with?

A local critique group will give you real-time feedback. You can ask questions and get answers immediately. You can hear the intonation they use when they make comments, see their facial expressions, hear them snicker in appropriate places (or not). That type of feedback is very valuable. While online groups can give you good feedback, you don’t get to see or hear that immediate emotional reaction to your writing.

If you can find a local group without religious bias that is willing to work with you, that is your best bet. The fact that they may not be familiar with LDS culture is not necessarily a negative thing. If your writing is clear enough that non-LDS readers can understand the LDS concepts without feeling preached to, and they can relate to the universal human emotions and experiences that are also part of your story, then you’ve done some good work.

If, however, you can’t find a group that is open to religious writing in general, and/or LDS writing in specific, then your only option is online. Which is not to say that online critique groups don’t also provide a valuable service to the writer. They do. So don’t feel bad if you can’t find a local group.

Reader Comments

I have heard that you can request readers’ comments from publishers after you have submitted a manuscript to them. What is the best way to do this? In the query letter? A note after you have been rejected?

You can request them. You may or may not get them. Depends on the company policy. Some companies don’t mind sharing the comments; others won’t.

I would make the request in the query letter. Some publishers file readers’ comments and keep them for a long time. Others simply note them in their log and toss the originals, in which case, by the time you get your rejection and request to see them, they may be long gone.

FYI–Readers’ comments refer to the practice of editors/publishers sending pages out to trusted readers with a comment form. If all the comments are favorable, chances are you’ll be accepted. If they’re not, you’ll be rejected.

However, many submissions are rejected before they go out to readers. Readers are only involved after the editor and a few in-house employees give the manuscript a thumbs up.

Tangent question: What if the editors like it but the readers don’t, or vice versa? Who decides? The marketing department.

Age is Relative

I recently attended the LDStorymakers Conference and received a recommendation from a couple of authors that I increase the age of my main character (it is a romance novel). At the beginning of my book, she is 19 but the bulk of the book transpires when she is about 23-24. What age range would you recommend? Is 25 still too young? Thank you.

I generally don’t like to have a character introduced at one age, then jump forward in time five years to where the story actually takes place. You can sometimes get away with this in fantasy by using a prologue, but prologues aren’t really the “in” thing right now. Maybe it’s tolerable if something happens to the character as a very young child, and for some reason it needs to be described in real time, and then you jump ahead 20 years. But even then, it usually is going to be better to start the story at her current age, then fill in the backstory at appropriate intervals.

As to what age your main character should be, it depends on the story you’re writing. Teen romance is fine, if it’s not explicit or too sensual and follows LDS dating standards and guidelines. Romance in your early 20s is fine, and generally this is when most LDS girls fall in love and get married so I don’t see a problem with it.

Not knowing anything about your story, I can’t say why the authors thought your character needed to be older or if they are correct in that advice. But if those advising you are successful published authors in your genre, I’d probably listen to what they had to say.

Improving Your Writing

I have a question. LDS Publisher, I would like to see you post a blog about what, in your opinion, LDS authors can do to increase their quality of writing. I’m whacking my head against the wall to drag the very best of myself onto the page, and yet I still seem to be falling short. What does a publisher look for that they’re not finding?

1. What can LDS authors do to increase their quality of writing? This is a hard question to answer because everyone is at a different skill level and what I’d suggest to a beginning writer is different than what I’d suggest to a more experienced writer, but I’ll try to cover some very general areas.

First, increase your basic writing skills. This means grammar, spelling, and the other technical parts of writing. Many people believe their skills in this area are higher than they really are. They get feedback from family and friends who have similar skill levels and so they do not catch the mistakes. I’ve had writers go into shock when I point out the grammatical errors in their manuscript. (I’ve had published authors go into shock when I point out the errors in their published books.) Take some brush-up classes, review some basic grammar texts or find someone with editing experience who is willing to go through your stuff and help you learn. If you use Word, it will underline your grammar errors in green. Word is not always correct, but if you don’t know why that green line is there, you need to find out why.

To increase the quality of crafting your story, there is nothing like practice. Write every day. There are so many books out there with writing prompts and other exercises to help you improve. Read some of them and do the exercises. Get in a good writers group, either face-to-face or online, where you can get feedback on your work. Then listen to that feedback.

Read a lot of books, particularly ones that are selling well or those by your favorite authors, but don’t just read for fun. As you read, ask yourself why this book works. What are they doing? What is the structure behind the writing? What techniques do they do well? Where did the story slow down for you and why? How could they have done it differently? If you don’t know why a particular books works or doesn’t work, take a class or read some books on analyzing literature. Study plot building, characterization, dialogue, scene development, descriptive language, foreshadowing, etc.

Learn about genres. Try writing in several of them and decide what you like best. Then learn the rules for that genre. What elements must be included in a good mystery? What in a good romance? They’re different.

Learn the basics of manuscript formatting and the usual guidelines for submitting. Again, there are lots of books and magazines on this topic. Read, read, read. Take notes. Learn.

2. What does a publisher look for that they’re not finding? Another hard question. It’s much easier to tell you what I’m getting that I don’t want. I want stories that speak to deep, universal themes–things we can all relate to–but told with a bit of a twist, so it’s not just another book about whatever.

As an LDS publisher, I want stories, characters and topics that speak to our unique culture. I want historical fiction, modern fiction, women’s stories, mystery, romance. I personally want to see YA and stories for boys, ages 12-18, but the PTBs here at my company aren’t very enthusiastic about them because they don’t sell as well as adult fiction.

Okay, I just noticed how very long-winded I’m being today, but I don’t have time to go back and be more succinct. Have to get back to work. Sorry.

Critique for Charity

An author named Brenda Novak hosts an annual online auction to fund the search for a cure for diabetes. A lot of her author friends offer their books and other stuff for sell at the auction. There are a few who are offering manuscript critiques. The one that I think would be very valuable is the one offered by Kristin Nelson, national literary agent who specializes in women’s and speculative fiction (but also does others). If you write in that area, you might want to keep an eye on her item.

I’ve never tracked this auction before, so I have no idea how high the bidding will get. But what an opportunity!