The Trifecta of Rejection

The trifecta of rejection is different for every editor. Many factors come into play. Is the manuscript something I acquire? Do I like the concept? Is the query put together well? Those are all about first impressions for me. But when it comes to opening the sample pages, there are a few basic things that can make me reject a manuscript. The trifecta of rejection for me is the following:

Passive writing Was, were, had. Sometimes it’s necessary to use it, more often, it is not. The rule of thumb for me is: the less you use it, the better. It takes the reader out of the action, the here and now.

Broken/Incomplete sentences True, some feel it is “voice” or “style”, I am not among them. If you fancy using incomplete sentences, I am not the editor for you. When used infrequently, they can be good, powerful, but when overused as is common, they lose that impact. If you sign with me, expect to have 99% of your incomplete sentences edited out.

Excessive Adverbs or Adjectives Particularly as tags on the end of dialogue. Don’t do this. It’s lazy. Rather than modify or qualify your adverb or adjective to express a relation of place, time, circumstance, manner, or degree, it is better to use a more powerful adverb or adjective in the first place. Or, you need better phrasing or lead up to it.  

The trifecta will likely be different for every editor. The best thing to do is make sure you have edited your manuscript thoroughly to the best of your abilities, and do your research on who you are submitting to so you make sure they are right for you and your work. For more on my dislikes and likes, you can check out my editor’s blog here

By Heather McCorkle, Acquisitions Editor with City Owl Press.

But Did They?

A trend is arising in manuscripts that leaves readers with a question, one they should not have to ponder. You’ve no doubt read it, and probably written it yourself. I’ve been guilty of it too. You’re reading along~or writing~and come across, “she could hear…”, or “he could see…” Just because you could possibly see or hear something, doesn’t mean you do. Which begs the question, did she in fact hear it? Did he, in fact, see it? We may never know. 

All jesting aside, sometimes this tactic is called for in writing, but more often than not, it isn’t. The key is to try the sentence with “she heard” or “he saw” and feel it out. If it works that way, chances are you don’t need to pose the question. Another good way to determine which way you should write it is to ask yourself, “do I really want the reader to wonder whether or not they saw, heard, smelled, etc. whatever it was?”. If you don’t want them to wonder, why pose the question? 

Hopefully those tricks will help you. And remember, sometimes the rules are meant to be broken, sometimes it will be appropriate to to pose the question. But reducing your use of this often overused writing trend will make it more powerful when you do want to use it, and clean up your writing. 

Happy writing, and if you have any hypotheticals of the situation you’d like to try out, feel free to post them in the comments. 

By Heather McCorkle, Acquisitions Editor with City Owl Press.

Three Ps of Writing Success


Like any sport, profession, hobby, pastime, or pretty much anything in the universe, practice makes perfect, or as close to it as you can get. How much practice? Think of your ability to write as if it were a muscle. The more you work it, the stronger it is. Don’t wait around for your muse to get their head out of the clouds. Write every day, at least a little bit, and it will become easier and easier to get the words flowing. It doesn’t have to be on your current work in progress. It can be completely random, just get those juices moving!


If you have ever submitted to an agent or editor, you know exactly what I mean. And no, hitting refresh on your email a thousand times in one hour isn’t an exercise in patience. Start by finishing your book. It can be tempting to submit or pitch before it is complete. Don’t. Finish it, then have patience while you let it sit and perculate. Come back to it in a week, a month maybe, then revise it. Do not send out a book you haven’t revised at least twice (preferably three or four times with the use of beta readers or critique partners at one stage if possible). Also have patience when you are researching agents and editors. It can be tempting to send out those queries right away. Resist! You need to pick those you are going to sub to carefully. Once you find them and submit to them, again you must exercise that patience and wait at least thirty days for them to respond. Check their website to see how long they typically take to read, don’t bug them until that date. If they don’t list a timeframe, thirty days is safe to assume. My response time is listed at the bottom of this linked page.


No luck placing your first novel with an agent or editor? Welcome to the norm. It is tough to place your first book because competition is fierce, and the more books you’ve written, the stronger your craft is. You can help tip the odds in your favor by editing thoroughly with the help of craft books, workshops, or even a professional editor. While that first book is on submission, you should be writing the next one! Don’t place all your eggs in one basket. Write the next, and the next, and the next. Want your book to be a series? Get that second one going! Not getting any bites? Keep improving your writing skills. Go to workshops, retreats, conferences if you can. If you can’t, get books on the craft of writing that are relevant to your genre(s).

From City Owl Press Acquisitions Editor, Heather McCorkle.

New Addition To Freelance Editors & Writing Coaches

Just added to our freelance editors and writing coaches page:

Allison Duke

From Allie: 
I currently offer manuscript critique, proofreading, and editing. I also have writing, research assistance, and academic writing tutoring listed on my site. My fees are listed as hourly with estimates available.

A Bit From Allie’s Site: 
I dream of writing words and sending them out into the world to make it a better, more beautiful place. I don’t believe in keeping my dreams to myself. I want to take others with me. If you dream of writing, or have done some writing but need help making it better, more concise, and more beautiful, I’d love to help you out.

Genre Lengths in the Industry

Word length is key to being able to land an agent and/or a publisher. Agents and editors both take it into careful consideration. Expected/accepted lengths differ by genre and by the personal preference of the one you are submitting it to. Here are some loose guidelines in a few of the genres that can be helpful even if you are writing to self-publish as they will give you a rough idea of what is expected both by readers and traditional publishing. Please note: These are for full-length novels, not novellas. 

Fantasy: 80,000 to 110,000 A little under is all right, but you will likely be asked to flesh it out some, over by much and you risk having two books instead of one. Not a bad problem to have, but understand that you may be asked to break it up into two books with full story ARC’s worked into both. Many agents and publishers will accept longer fantasy, but be careful not to overdo it. 

Paranormal: 75,000 to 95,000. A little under is all right, but if you drop below 70,000, you may be asked to flesh it out, over 95,000 and it will likely get passed by when it comes to agents and publishers.

Science-Fiction: 80,000 to 120,000. Rarely will you find sci-fi under 80k, it’s just too involved for a shorter word count. On the longer side, you can go over, but don’t go crazy. Know when your story and character ARCs need to complete, don’t go beyond it. Close to or more than 120 might mean you are burying the story (and the reader) in too much description and world building. While this genre requires a lot of both, it is a careful balance. If you find yourself going longer than 120k, think about writing it as a series instead of one book. 

Historical Romance: 75,000 to 110,000. I wouldn’t really go under on this one because then it is likely that you aren’t putting in enough ‘historical’ to give it the right feel, over and it becomes harder to sell. Even approaching the far end at 110k you need to make sure it is a very compelling novel with a good pace that doesn’t lag.

Can you write a novel shorter or longer? Absolutely. No rule is carved in stone or written in blood. But, if you are way off base on the length, you might need to look closer at your manuscript. 

Brought to you by: Enigmatic Editor

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