A catchy tile isn’t it? How to get your work rejected. It’s a great way to get a writer’s attention, and it certainly got mine as I checked the list of panels Context offered this year. I knew right away that if I didn’t attend any other panels (and I didn’t, ran out of time), this was the one I wanted to do. Sure I’ve had my fair share of rejection letters. What writer hasn’t? It’s the accepted gauntlet all writers must endure as a rite of passage. Mostly, I wanted to attend to see if science fiction writer Jack McDevitt had anything new to say that I hadn’t already gleaned from the stack of rejections letters I’ve managed to accumulate over the last few years. I’m happy to say, this panel didn’t disappoint. It gave a lot of useful information, which I am now passing on to you. Enjoy.
Don’t write too much. Overwriting is the biggest issue editors see in submissions. If you can use a larger word, then use it, but use less words. Want to know how little to write? Try writing like Hemmingway.
Don’t tell the story. What a writer is really trying to do is to create an illusion, not tell the story. Make the reader forget where he is and melt into the story. Let him be a part of the story. Don’t break the heart of the characters. Break the heart of the reader. If the reader thinks he is reading a book, then you have failed at drawing him into the story.
Character actions. Let the character’s actions make the story come alive.
Things to ax from the story. Get rid of adverbs, adjectives, and ly words. Get rid of clunky phrases, including dialogue. Get rid of extraneous words that do nothing to move the plot forward.
Dialogue. Make conversations sound natural. Read it out loud to see if it does.
Make it a riveting read. Don’t give the slush reader an excuse to put the story down. Give him no choice, but to keep on reading until the story is done.
Cut characters. Often stories have too many characters. Who in the story is doing little or does nothing move the story forward? Ax them. Or merge two or three characters into one.
Make characters real with real problems. Make realistic characters with feelings and flaws. Let them bleed. Let them make mistakes. Let them fail. It’s how a character moves past (or doesn’t) these dilemmas that makes a story interesting.
First drafts don’t count. Don’t worry about a smooth first draft (and don’t submit a first draft to a publisher!). Use drafts two, three, four, ect to be fix and problems with the story and characters.
How many drafts does it take to finish a story? As many as it takes. Don’t rush the process. Let the process guide you to a finished piece.
Clarity. Make it clear. The reader needs to know what’s going on. If the story or a section of the story sounds like a muddled mess when you read it out loud, chances are the reader will feel the same way.
Grammar. Make sure grammar is strong. Not strong with grammar? Hire someone to check the work before sending off to the publisher.
Honesty is the best policy. Find someone you can trust who will look at your stuff and tell you the truth.
Don’t get mad over critiques. Do not allow yourself to get annoyed or angered over criticism. Remember it is a learning process. No one is perfect and every story has problems. Be open to the problems in your story. It may hurt. It may suck. But you will be a better writer, because you allowed yourself to hear the truth.
What makes your story important enough to read? Each story needs a narrative and needs a driving force to the story. Ask yourself the question… “Why should the reader care about my story?”
Character and conflict. Put the characters in positions they have to work against their instincts.
Symbols evoke strong emotion. The way to make emotions powerful is to use symbols. Such as: a flower, a letter, weather, or anything that can display the feel of the story or an idea of the story. Example: Remember in Charles Dickens The Christmas Carol where the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come tells Scrooge that Tiny Tim dies? You shouldn’t. All the ghost had to do was point to Tim’s crutch laying against the wall. That symbol was enough to know what happened without a word being said.
If you read my blog post last week Some Things to Keep in Mind When Self Editing, notice that some of the information in that post is a repeat of this post. Coincidence? Not at all. I find that I like it when different writing experts say things I have already heard before. It just reiterates the fact of how important the information is and helps me remember it even more.
Do you have any advice on what should or should not be done to get writing rejected? Feel free to comment below.