When a wannabe-published writer reads the stats (only between 1-5 of every 5,000 completed MSS gets published by a respectable publisher), they start to despair.
But then you realise that most of the submitted MSS deserve to get turned down, or their authors deserve to get turned down – and you can feel a bit more cheerful. Or at least you can if you are a sensible writer who is professional about your submissions and your writing.
The truth is that most wannabes, having spent hours, days, years, on an MS, can’t be bothered to take a few minutes to read the submission guidelines for an agent or publisher. Instant fail, deservedly so.
Same if they don’t know how a MS should look when you submit it. No excuse for this, not nowadays. Even I, in pre-internet days in a small developing nation, could find out this much.
Says Malaysian editor, Eric Forbes, “Most of the typescripts I receive are not only badly written but lack content or substance.”
In the first link above, Colleen Lindsay, literary agent, lists the reasons she rejected 20 MSS, which boils down to:
About half of them had not read the submission guidelines, or had ignored them, and therefore did not meet her requirements. You don’t attach something to an email if the recipient asks you not to, for a start. Oh, and don’t forget to spell the name of the agent correctly, ok?
Of the other 10:
5 didn’t actually write a query. They waffled on about other things.
1 was rejected on the lousy writing of the sample pages.
1 sent mutiple submissions to other agents (a no-no).
1 wrote a YA novel which is even longer than my current fantasy for adults. Nothing says “clueless” better than that.
….and two were good enough but not what she was looking for. One of those was referred elsewhere, the other was asked to submit other work if she has any.
And what is my advice for those of you who do all the right things and still get rejected? Well, if you are sure your writing is up to par because plenty of critical, non-family members (preferably people who do a lot of writing and/or reading of the genre you are writing in themselves) have told you so:
1. Keep sending out.
2. Start writing something else.
3. If you receive any kind of feedback, then rewrite and try with a new version.
My own feeling is that lots of writers get too hung up on perfecting their very first finished novel. Well, you know what? Not too many first novels actually get published. I’ll make a complete stab in the dark and say that half or more successful established writers have early novels (quite possibly more than one) stashed away on top of their wardrobes. I have eight. (Ok, my first finished book was written aged 12, so I started early.)
Writing is a process. You get better as you go along.