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Five Tips on How Not to Get Rejected

Pub Date: Jun 11, 1998 | Columnist: Susan Sheppard

"Keep on learning. Don't rest on your laurels after your manuscript is revised and edited. Learn from your experience and try not to make the same mistakes next time."

FIVE TIPS ON HOW NOT TO GET REJECTED
(OR "HOW TO AVOID THE MOST COMMOM MISTAKES ROMANCE WRITERS MAKE")

By: Susan Sheppard, Editor, Harlequin Enterprises

1. DO YOUR HOMEWORK

Learn the guidelines. Every romance publisher has guidelines to aid both writers and editors alike. Writers can tailor their work to a particular house or line, or they can choose the publisher who seems to be the best "fit." As for editors, they don't have to waste time reviewing material that is not appropriate to their publishing program.

Set up camp in your local bookstore. Once you've narrowed the field and think there is a market for what you want to write, reading everything that's on the shelf will tell you much more than the guidelines did. From here you should be able to establish which of your prospective publishers/lines is your most likely target. Keeping up on trends is essential for the published author as well.

2. MAKE AN IMPRESSION

Hone the skill of writing an effective query letter. Whether or not you have a completed manuscript, the query letter is the fastest way to get a response concerning a publisher's interest in your project. Go for the high concept. Present your story in 25 words or less. If you can't do this, you aren't ready to submit. Focus on the marketing "hook." From the query letter, the editor wants to know:

a) if this story is marketable,

b) if this book will be successful for the publisher, which is more or less the same thing. Skillfully done, the query will also reflect the personality and writing style of the author, which may be (or may not) be attractive to the editor.

Be professional. In all manner of presentation-written or verbal-professionalism is of the utmost importance. Writing is a business like any other. Letters should be typed in a businesslike fashion, manuscripts should be letter perfect and double spaced without typos or spelling mistakes.

Cultivate patience. It can and does take months for an editor or editors to evaluate a manuscript. It's perfectly acceptable to confirm that the manuscript has been received, if there is any doubt, but it is not acceptable to call regularly for status reports.

3. CREATE A PERFECT MASTERPIECE

Take the road less traveled. While there is a "top ten" list of story lines/plots that editors love for their consistent marketability, these are also the story lines that editors are most tired of seeing. Add your own unique spin to an old standard, polish it up and make it sparkle like new. And avoid cliches like the plague! (Oops.)

The romance is not the plot. Writers often forget this. The plot is the story; the romance is what develops as the story unfolds. They must be inexorably entwined.

Know your characters. Consistency of characterization is extremely important, as is the overall attractiveness of the characters. Readers want to identify with and care about such characters. If you, the writer, haven't internalized your characters you have little chance of engaging your reader.

Pace yourself. Let your reader dwell in one point of view at a time, but avoid overlong passages of interior monologue. Show don't tell. Introduce enough believable, uncontrived conflicts to keep the pages turning, and keep your characters on scene.

You are what you write. Some writers are just naturally funny, some write sensuously without even thinking about it…. If you aren't in the former category, you probably aren't a candidate for Love & Laughter. Forced humor is most painful for the editor, and one suspects, the writer, too. As is forced sensuality. It is abundantly clear when an author is not comfortable writing hot, sexy scenes. Her embarrassment becomes the reader's. Write within your comfort zone.

4. REVISE, REVISE AND REVISE AGAIN

Revision letters are not rejections. A rejection letter does not go on for several pages, it does not say send the manuscript back when it's fixed. Rejection letters say "no thank you." Period. Or maybe, "send us something else (but not this one again)." If an editor gives you all sorts of suggestions for so-called improvements, follow them-no matter how much you think she "just didn't get it."

Develop the power of detachment. Whether you're reading a revision letter or discussing your manuscript with an editor over the phone, try to be impartial and take in what is being said to you. Getting defensive and not listening well could mean the end to good author/editor relations and even to this particular project.

Keep on learning. Don't rest on your laurels after your manuscript is revised and edited. Learn from your experience and try not to make the same mistakes next time. This shows your editor you are serious about developing as a writer. You are a sold long-term investment

5. START OVER AT #1 AT REPEAT REGULARLY

Copyright, Susan Shapperd, Harlequin Enterprises 1998