All right, you’ve sent off your manuscript to agents, waited for a response and kept working, now what do you do when you get negative feedback, or a rejection without a reason?


Of course the first thing is keep your chin up. Repeat after me: fuck the fucking fuckers. Keep repeating until you feel marginally better. It’s best not to bottle your anger up, and DO NOT EVER SEND A REPLY EMAIL TO A REJECTION WHEN ANGRY. Got that? Just blow off steam now, chanting “Fuck the fucking fuckers!”


Okay, feeling better now? Then it’s time for reasoning. Remember, most of this process is luck. Maybe your book is great, the best, in fact, but the agent doesn’t have any contacts for that genre, so they’re only seeking YA love triangles set in the jungle, but didn’t say so on their website. That is usually the reason for non-specific feedback. In other words, if you got a “thanks, but no thanks” without any additional info, cross that agent off your list and wait on other responses. But, by all means, send a polite thank you note or email as they did give you’re their time, and it is valuable.


What if you get specific negative feedback? They key here is not to jump the gun. Wait until you have at least 50% of your expected responses back before acting on negative feedback. In all honesty, you want to react to the first, but that is likely a mistake. Remember, just because this is coming from an agent does not mean they’re right. Many best-selling authors had upwards of seventy rejections, most with notes. Agents can lack vision, or understanding, but they also have insight. If 50% agree on the problem, they’re likely right and you should listen.


You want to wait to see if there is a common theme. Do most/all of the notes on negative feedback mention the same thing? Is it specific? Let’s go over specific/common issues (that are easy to fix) that garner rejections:


-      Too many spelling/grammar/punctuation errors (Go back to editing)

-      Too many ellipsis (those …) (Try making the sentences into two, or using a dash. Be judicious)

-      Too many uses of autonomous body parts (His eyes fell on her is bad, His gaze settled on her is a better choice)

-      Too many clichés in the manuscript (It was a dark and stormy night when the redhead with legs up to here sauntered into my life, but I cut her off at the pass. If you have too many passages like that, delete them)

-      You query was poorly written, had errors, or was overselling the book. (Go back to a new query)

-      It doesn’t follow the rules of the genre (explicit sex in a Regency romance, explicit violence in a children’s story) – (review the rules of the genre and edit those scenes or remove them)


 Now, those are the easy things to fix. If you have a lot of negative responses telling you these are the issues, you can easily fix them. Just do it slowly, carefully, and methodically.


Now, for the bad news. Most rejections are due to broad problems. Here are the most common reasons for manuscript rejection:


-      The characters are not compelling, the reader cannot connect to any nor find sympathy for them

-      Too many points of view – it’s not kept to one character per scene

-      There are too many fucking characters, and they’re almost all stereotypes and tropes

-      The prose is lurid – overly affected, i.e. sounds like it was ghost written by Bram Stoker

-      Your pacing is too slow or too fast

-      You missed the mark on word count…by a shitload


Now, if you followed my writing guide, you should have compelling characters. If you don’t because you skipped writing a character bio, go back, do it, and then go through your manuscript line by line and make those fuckers interesting.


If you have too many points of view…that’s tougher. Sadly, even best-selling authors commit this sin. Especially in romance. It’s that whole he said/she said contrasting views in a conversation. That doesn’t make it right. To fix this, you need to go scene-by-scene and separate two points of view into two different scenes. This will require some rewriting, sure, but it’s not a terribly difficult fix. You can give the first part of the scene to one character, at a semi-dramatic point of internal or external conflict put up your separator (***) and continue with the next character’s POV.


If you have too many characters, that’s a tougher fix. Start by going to your summary. Any character mentioned there should be kept. Now go into the manuscript. Look at all the other characters. A good rule of thumb: unless they have a good reason to be a in a scene (i.e. a waiter does belong in the restaurant, a secretary does belong in the office) or further the conflict or a major plot arc, they do not need to be there. Simply assign any pertinent lines to other characters and delete the ones that don’t further the plot nor meld into the background. And if your characters are all stereotypes or tropes…go back and create character bios for them.


If your prose is lurid, flowery, overdone…this is serious and requires almost a total re-write. Just start with the first paragraph. Say it out loud. Does it sound the way you AND your friends talk? If agents say its lurid and your friends all talk that way, it’s time to stop LARPing and start learning to write. You’ll need to cut down on the adjectives (think doe brown eyes not the limpid chocolate vortexes that dwell in the saddest of seals beholding the ocean out of reach) and switch out truly uncommon words for plain ones. (Sure, you can use frangible, but no one will know what the fuck you’re saying. Use its synonym fragile, and they get it). Line by line remove the extra adjectives, replace the exorbitant words with the very basic ones. Channel Hemmingway.


If the pacing is too slow, what they mean is its’ boring. If the pacing is too fast, they mean it’s confusing. Here is where I regrettably must give you a protip: this problem sneaks into publication so often it’s a fucking shame, so if you like, go ahead and just send it off to more agents (by skipping ahead to the next lesson) if you like. If you would rather fix it, let’s look at how.


If your pacing is too slow, get out your conflict summary. It’s going to be sparse. No matter your genre, you need to spice it up. Insert new conflict in a new color. Go for external conflict, it’s much more exciting. Delay the train with an avalanche, make the car break down and a foot chase ensue, no matter what it is, delay the actual progress of you protagonist in a way that makes them have to analyze and renew their determination. Once you have it all out in the summary, go put it in the manuscript, and edit.


If your pacing is too fast, you’re losing the reader. Chances are you have too many characters. One of the fastest ways to fix this problem is to remove extraneous characters, so start there with the step three before this one. With that done, we now have some options that truly depend on genre.


Here are some quick fixes for a story that is too fast-paced:


Mystery – For every time period within the story where a major conflict has occurred (internal or external) AND a red herring has been discovered, have your characters pause and quickly go over their suspicions as they stand now.


Romance – Delay the sex. Just delay the sex. Delay the love, and delay the sex.


Young Adult – that montage moment (you KNOW you have it). Spread it out. It takes months to learn martial arts, it can’t be demonstrated in a sentence (unless that sentence is “I mastered Wing Chun years ago” uttered coolly by the character after they just kicked ten asses in a fight – and that does not work for your protagonist)


Science Fiction – Battles can be fast, but wars are not. Have you planned out the ten causes of the war? Do your readers know them?


Fantasy – Does almost every step of your hero’s journey come via deus es machina? How about it doesn’t?


Crime – Does the reader really need to know about every little operation the antagonist is involved in? How about a summary a la a rap sheet?


Coming of Age – If you managed to make this too fast paced, I am honestly amazed. Please send me your manuscript and I will help you figure out how to slow it down, free of charge.


Now, you’ve decreased the secondary characters, you did the quick fix. Note the changes on your conflict summary. What does it look like? Your conflict is noted in a different color than the rest of the text, is it wall to wall? If so, the truth is you’re going to have to cut some, and keep the plot. This will require lots of new writing as well as deleting. Be careful and judicious, and do not be afraid to ask for help. A trusted reader can tell you what scenes of conflict they found extraneous. Simply delete those scenes and write new transitions to keep it smooth.


As for word count…the minimum an agent will take is 50,000, the max is 200,000, your target should be about 100,000.  If you swung below 50 or above 200…I have no idea how you did that, but you weren’t following my writing lessons. But simply go back to the lesson on how to hit word count (here, here, and here…seriously, we covered this three times, how did you fuck it up?) and you’ll be good.


These are the most common reasons cited in rejections. Please note that rejections without reasons may or may not be due to this. The best thing to do when you get no reasons is just to submit to new agents. After two rounds of no yeses, try to figure out which of these reasons may be the culprit. Fix the error, repeat the critiquing and editing process, and once more into the fray!


Of course, one common reason for rejection is being rude to the agent. But of course, you didn’t make that mistake did you? You would never bite a hand you’re hoping feeds you, right? You’d never be that stupid, right? Good. Remember to always treat people as you wish to be treated, it works. Good luck!