Monday, June 4, 2012

From the Intern: Reasons Editors Pass (Part 1)

So I’ve only been on this editing internship at Entangled for a few weeks now, but I thought I could share with you the things I’ve been seeing the senior editors pass on. Now these are manuscripts (agented and unagented) in which the senior editor has already read the query, liked the premise or was intrigued by how many awards the manuscript won, and requested the full.  

Interns read the requested manuscripts first. We make a pass/acquire decision based on the manuscript as a whole and type up a report stating our findings and reasons. If we liked the story, we say why.  If we didn’t, we (in detail) explain what the issues were with the manuscript. The report then goes to the assistant editor who passes them along to the senior editor who then makes a final decision to pass, acquire or suggest an R&R (revise and resubmit).

So here are some of the issues we’ve been seeing in manuscripts and the reasons why they were not acquired:

~Too much front matter. This doesn’t necessarily mean “info dump.” It could, but in our recent case it wasn’t. It means the story is taking too long to get to the “real” story. If your story is about people who eat magical beans and these magical beans can give you special powers and then there is this huge scandal involving the magical beans then the characters should be EATING THE MAGICAL BEANS! And not 50% into the story.

There needs to be some lead in to the story, we understand that, it’s called exposition, but if the action keeps getting pushed further and further back into the story—like past the first third—it’s likely to be passed on.

~Not appealing to the publisher’s current audience. Many readers expect, in a sense, a certain output from specific publishers. Entangled, for example, is widely known for their central romantic storylines. So when we receive a manuscript—even one that is expertly written and represented by a well-known agent—if it doesn’t “fit,” sadly it is either passed on or suggested R&R to add in what’s missing (in our recent case it was simply adding/strengthening the love element and bringing it more to the forefront of the story).

~Lack of execution.  This one’s hard to put into words, mainly because there are so many facets that could contribute to a story working or not. Here are some we’ve seen so far—any story passed on typically has several and, as a result, would be a large overhaul of rewriting.

-unfocused or weak plot

-flat characters

-“flowery” prose

-disorienting scene changes/flashbacks/POV flips

-bats of description (AKA info dumps)

-and the biggest, virtually un-editable one…No voice.    

And there you have it—an editorial intern’s recap. What do you say, should we do this once a month?  


  1. That was very interesting. I see a lot of authors online worrying that their subject matter might get them rejected (e.g. writing in an unpopular subgenre or with unusual story structure) but from what you're saying here it sounds like lack of writing craft is the number one killer. Which I think is somehow hardest for would-be writers to accept - it's more palatable to think that one is being rejected for being too unusual than for simply not being good enough yet.

    Hope you make this a regular series!

  2. Subject matter absolutely plays a part, but since my job is reading mss that have already been requested by the editor, I'm not seeing the queries she's rejected. That might be something to add next time :)

  3. Oh, please, please, please do this once a month! Incredibly helpful!!

  4. Very helpful - thanks for sharing the behind the scenes glimpse.

  5. Nicole, this is great info! I'd love to hear more:)

  6. Super interesting post to read! Thanks for sharing your insight!! :)

  7. Nicole! This was GREAT!!! And I love the once a month plan :)

  8. I love "behind the scenes" posts like this, especially when they're so very enlightening. Thanks, Nicole!

  9. Thank you so much for these! Of course now I feel I should go back AGAIN and see if this is going on in my own MS. Your posts are always so helpful and informative! Thanks again!!

  10. How much does the referring agent have to do with your opinion? Do you give more leeway to MSs referred by big name agents?

  11. I'm coming to the table a year late, but better late than not at all, right? Thank you for your honesty, Nicole. For aspiring writers this post is super helpful. I'll be sure to comb through my MS's for some of these pitfalls and eliminate what I can before submitting :)