Why Editors Reject Thousands of Great Manuscripts

Two three-foot high piles of manuscripts teeter on his desk. These represent a fraction of the manscripts he’s received in response to a “call for submissions.”

Every editor hopes to uncover a gem – the manuscript that will rival the works of Alice Munro, Charles Krauthammer, Donna Tartt . . . This editor’s hopes slump. He’s frustrated and maybe saddened.

The twin towers of paper on his desk are destined for the shredder. And it took the editor only a few seconds per manuscript, a quick glance, for him to reject each one.

Did he reject the works because of purple prose, weak plots, one-dimensional characters?

In fact, the editor didn’t read the manuscripts. Didn’t need to.


The writers didn’t follow submission guidelines.

If that seems harsh, consider that every profession has standards. Publishers’ submission guidelines are the standards we writers must follow if we’re serious about the business of writing.

You’ll notice some of the guidelines listed after the video below are slightly different from the guidelines on the excellent video How to Format Your Fiction Manuscript, which goes to show that it’s important to seek and follow each publisher’s guidelines.  ,

And, yes, there are still agents and editors who do not accept emailed submissions.

Ignoring submission guidelines is a sure-fire way to put your work at a disadvantage, and possibly have it rejected immediately.

If a publisher’s guidelines differ with any of the guidelines below, use the publisher’s guidelines. For example, Melange Books LLC requested that Ken’s War, my YA novel slated for publication in 2014, be submitted in rtf (Rich Text Format).

Writing contests always have specific rules writers must follow for eligibility.

Cover Letter and Query Letter Checklist

__ Return address – your name, address, phone number and email address.

__ Address to proper editor, spell name correctly.

__ One-page letter (two if absolutely necessary) of 3 – 4 paragraphs.

__ Letter is concise, polished, courteous, written in business format, yet “human”.

__ Check spelling and grammar. (Donut really on word processor’s spill chick.)

__ Cover letter – SASE large enough with sufficient postage for return of ms or a contract! If you don’t want the manuscript returned, write “disposable manuscript” on it.

__ Queries – business-size SASE for agent’s or editor’s response.


Manuscript Checklist

__ Follow writers/submission guidelines.

­­__ 12p font, Times New Roman, double spaced on 8 ½ x 11, one side only.

__ Proofread for spelling and grammar. (Due note relay on computer spill Chuck.)

__ Capitalize first letter of first word, and rest of words unless small (to, of, in) in chapt titles.

__ Approx 1 inch margins all around.

__ No italics. Underline instead.

__  No handwritten corrections.

__ Mag/newspaper ms: Top left corner – 1st p single-space name, address, tel, fax, cell, email. Mr/Miss/Mrs if first name is unisex. Top right corner – wc, rights offered, dept or column if applies. Drop down ½ way. Center title, By and name. Every p thereafter: Top left corners – last name & keyword of title. Top right corners – p number.

__ Book ms: Title p with title, address, cell, email, wc. Half way down: center title, By, name. Every p thereafter: Top left corners – last name & keyword of title. Top right corners – p number. New p for new chapt, drop down 1/3 –1/4 way.

­­__ End at end.

__ No                                                                                                  “widows”.

__ Cover letter introduces ms. (See Cover Letter Checklist.)

__ Big envelope or ms box (no paperclips).

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Tired of Rejection Letters? One Change Can Land a Publisher

If your manuscript for a kids’ book has been rejected, maybe you’re pitching it to the wrong age group. Or maybe the story is appropriate for the age group you intend, but the length doesn’t fit publishers’ requirements for that audience.

My novel Ken’s War was rejected countless times. Then I changed the query and described the story as a Young Adult novel. Bingo!

Children’s Book Categories

Publishers’ definitions of categories vary. Categories overlap from one to the next. Manuscripts crossing many categories, (teen vocab with toddler plot) won’t sell. Regardless of age, kids read books appealing to their interests and developmental levels. Kids don’t care about book categories. You should care because editors do. Generally here’s how categories break down.

A. PICTURE BOOKS – Illustrations play significant role in telling the story.

1. Baby or board books – Infants and young toddlers, lullabies, nursery rhymes and wordless books. Length and format vary with content. Some made of materials other than paper.

2. Toddler books – Ages 1-3 (under 300 wc), simple stories familiar to a child’s life, or concept (colors, numbers, shapes). Short (12 p), format can be board books, pop-ups, lift-the flaps, books that make sounds, have different textures, etc.

3. Picture books or picture storybooks – Ages 4-8, 32-p books, sometimes 24 or 48 due to multiple of 8-p binding. Stories up to 1500 wc, with 1000 wc the average. Simple plots (no sub-plots or complicated twists) one main character embodying child’s emotions, concerns and viewpoint. Illustrations (on every page or every other page) play as great a role as the text in story telling. Range of topics and styles. Non-fiction picture books can go to age 10, 48 p in length, or up to about 2000 wc.

B. STORY BOOKS – Stories too long for picture books, illustrations included although stories can stand alone without them.

1. Easy readers or easy-to-read – Ages 6-8 starting to read on own.  Smaller trim size, short chapts. Length varies by publisher; 32-64 p, 200-1500 wc, occasionally to 2000 wc. Told mainly through action and dialogue, not description, in grammatically simple sentences (one idea per sentence). Average 2-5 sentences per p.

2. Transition books or early chapter books – Ages 6-9, bridge gap between easy readers and chapter books. Like easy readers in style, about 30 p, 2-3 page chapts, small trim size, b & w illustrations every few pages.

3. Chapter books – Ages 7-10, 45-60 p, 3-4 page chapts, 4000 – 12,000 wc. Meatier than transition books, still contain lots of action. Sentences can be a bit more complex, but paragraphs still short (2-4 sentences average). Chapts often end in the middle of scene to keep readers turning the pages.

4. High interest/low vocab, second chance, remedial, ESL, fast paced, short sentences, simple vocab, interest 2 years above vocab. 3-4000 wc.

C. NOVELS & NON-FICTION – “Real” books.

1. Middle Grade, Junior Novels & non-fiction – Pre-teens 8-12, 100-150 p, 18,000 – 30,000 wc, chapts of equal length, intriguing titles, complex stories (sub-plots involving secondary characters woven through the story), themes more sophisticated. Kids get hooked on characters, hence popularity of series of books with same cast.

2. Young adult or adolescent novels or senior fiction & non-fiction – Ages 12 and up, 130 – 200 p, 8 – 35,000 wc. Plots can be complex with several major characters, one character should be focus. Themes relevant to problems, worries and struggles of today’s teens. J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye set the mold for this genre.

Ken’s War,” slated for publication by Melange Books LLC in 2014, follows Ken as his life is turned upside-down when he and his dad are stationed in Japan. If Ken doesn’t figure out how to reinvent himself, his life will be a painfully long sucker punch in the gut.

Learn 10 hot (and true) tips for writing for children  here!

What Teen Novel Changed Your Life?


We eighth graders were rushing from one end of the school building to the other, when  my friend said, “You have to read ‘The Outsiders.’ ” And she went on about Greasers and Ponyboy and more.

She was prone to exaggerate, so I didn’t hold out much hope that I’d like a book about greasers, whatever they were.

When I read the book, I remember feeling as though I’d discovered something precious and secret – a story with believable, sympathetic teens.

S.E. Hinton’s novel helped me realize that people with backgrounds different  from mine have deep feelings, as do I.

Books that have the power  to change lives typically depict a main character who undergoes a fundamental change. “Ken’s War,” slated for publication by Melange Books LLC in 2014, follows Ken as his life is turned upside-down when he and his dad are stationed in Japan. If Ken doesn’t figure out how to reinvent himself, his life will be a painfully long sucker punch in the gut. 

What book changed your life?

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See more at Young Adult Novels That Changed Our Lives