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Why Do First Manuscripts So Often Get Rejected?

by Nikki Arana

The biggest reason that new writers receive rejections is because they send out their manuscripts before they’re ready. Quite often emerging writers think when they finish their first ms that they have a book that is ready for the marketplace. In almost all cases, that isn’t true. If it has been written with the guidance of a critique group of other unpublished authors, it’s probably a good first draft. If it was written without any mentoring, it’s probably a detailed outline. That’s what the first draft of my first book was . . . the agent I sent it to tipped me off! (grimaces)

After you’ve learned all you can about writing fiction through the resources available to you, the next step toward publication is to become familiar with the elements of commercial fiction. If your novel doesn’t have them, the chance of agents and publishers rejecting your submission is very high. Do you have an internal and external story? Does your novel open with the inciting incident? (That is the moment/incident that sets your hero/heroine on their journey.) Is your novel cohesive? Meaning does EVERYHING relate in some way to the plot. Even the sub-plots need to tie-in in some way to the storyline. Are scenes followed by sequels that move the plot forward? All of these are the solid building blocks of commercial novels that will garner sales advances that will allow you to make a living from your writing.

Study the elements I’ve listed above. If some of the terms are unfamiliar to you, try looking online for further explanation. The most difficult one to fully understand is the internal and external story. When I teach story structure I explain it this way: It is like the book of Hosea in the Bible. Hosea is the story of a man who married a prostitute. That is the external story. But it is really about God’s love for Israel. That is the internal story. In the Wizard of Oz the external story is about a girl who is caught up in a tornado and goes to a mythical land called Oz. But it is really about Dorothy’s self-discovery that there is no place like home. Perfecting the technique of portraying a universal truth through an external story is well worth the work it takes to learn how to do it. It will set your book apart from the many others that agents and editors have to choose from.

Hiring a professional editor will help you reach the next level in your writing. Consider the money spent on editing like college tuition. If financial difficulties prevent you from using an editor, then try and find a published author to guide you. They can be just as valuable, but often can’t give the time needed. There are also conferences, workshops, and classes.

Pray with all your heart and work with all your might. Give your God-given talent every opportunity to prosper.


Nikki Arana is an award-winning author of women’s fiction, poetry, and magazine articles whose work has been published in the United States and Canada. She has won several national awards, including the Carol Award for Women’s Fiction (twice), the Write Touch Readers Award and others. To learn more visit: www.nikkiarana.com.

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