Why Isn’t The Story Selling?

Okay, yesterday I posted on how to craft a story. Today, I’m gleaning from what I learned at Susan Meier’s workshop, “Can This Manuscript Be Saved?” If you ever get the chance to attend one of her workshops (I think she does them online as well), do it.

She lists the reasons of why a book gets rejected.

1. It doesn’t fit the publisher’s line. This is something that Scott Eagen pounded into our brains as well. Before sending a MS off to a publisher, make sure the publisher accepts that type of work. Even then, often times the editors will say they accept your genre, but you really won’t know for sure what kind of “feel” they have unless you actually read books edited by those specific editors so you can actually get a feel for what they sell. If your heart is set on a specific editor and house, do your homework. Learn everything you can about that publisher and about that editor so you know what they want. That way, when it lands in front of them, they can’t resist it.

2. Not enough emotion or romance, or too much emotion or romance. Again, this goes back to doing your homework about the publisher and about the genre you’re writing in. If you’re writing a mystery, there isn’t going to be a lot of romance. If you’re writing a romance, there isn’t going to be a lot of mystery (maybe surrounding your characters themselves, but that’s about it). If you’re writing fantasy, again there isn’t going to be a lot of romance. If you’re writing erotica, there’s going to be more sex and so on. Also, check out the publisher. For example, Samhain publishes urban fantasy with a strong romantic emphasis.  If I was to send in my MS to them, it probably would get rejected because I don’t have a strong romantic emphasis. Yes, I have romantic elements but the romance doesn’t drive the story. So, again, do your homework.

3. The pacing is bad. Is your story too slow? Is it way too fast? Does the opening scene show your protagonist being thrown into a lake of crocodiles? If so, you’re probably moving a bit too fast. Is your entire first chapter nothing but description and an info dump about the world you created? Your pacing might be too slow.

4. The characters are wrong. Do you find you really don’t like your protagonist? Is your protagonist too whiny, too harsh, too soft, etc? Is your bad guy just not bad enough? Is your alpha a beta when he should be an alpha? Do you have characters who just don’t quite fit yet? I’ve cut out characters in my MS because it just wasn’t the right time to introduce them yet. It’s okay to not put in every single character you’ve thought up into your book. Maybe they’ll show up later on in a different book.

5. The story is weak. What is the point of the story? Are you getting that point across or waffling around it?  One of Susan’s suggestions is to write out a  short paragraph of what your story is about,  cutting out all the other riffraff, and then compare that to the actual story you’ve written. If the paragraph is awesome and sounds like a great story, but yet the actual MS isn’t stellar then you’ve got a problem.

6. Going on number 5 above, if your story is weak then maybe the story is wrong, the scenes are wrong, or the words are wrong or a combination of all three.

When going over your story to figure out what’s wrong, first off you need to know what kind of genre it is coupled with the GMC (goal, motivation, conflict). Is it interesting? Credible? Consistent (flows smoothly)? Compelling–or maybe it’s interesting but not compelling where it avoids a sense of urgency.

So, how do you fix it?

1. First off, save a copy of your manuscript and then read a printed copy of your manuscript. Write down a summary going by what you’ve written, and compare that to the summary of what you want it to be. Are they different? How? Once you can see where the weaknesses are in your story, brainstorm and write down 20 things that can replace what you have that will make your story better. Does the plot need replaced? The conflict?

2. Write out a new summary.

3. Replace what needs replaced in your story.

If it’s a scene problem, create a storyboard. You can buy those really big desk calendars and write each scene in for each date, numbering them where the date goes. Does it flow? Make sense? Does your character grow from beginning to end? Every scene must have a reason to be there, it must be a step in the journey; action, reaction, decision.

That’s all I have for today. Like I said, if you get a chance to attend one of her workshops, do it. Tomorrow, I’ll post about the synopsis.


4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Dan Harris
    May 03, 2012 @ 12:52:16

    Nice article, Tonya – thanks. Purely on the storyboarding/outlining aspect, I’ve found Scrivener to be amazingly helpful, as I rambled about here: http://sailingthevoid.wordpress.com/2012/04/25/scrivener-9/.

    Best of luck with your writing.


    • tonyakerrigan
      Jul 07, 2012 @ 23:34:52

      I’ve heard a lot about Scrivener but haven’t tried it. I’m not the most technically advanced, and I’m afraid I would get frustrated and abandon it.


      • Dan Harris
        Jul 10, 2012 @ 09:57:27

        Sure – there’s a free trial, I believe (or at least there used to be) so you could give that a spin for a few weeks to see how you like it. I seem to remember some pretty good introductory video tutorials to point the way around, and there’s a good help system built in too, but generally it’s not hard to pick up. Best of luck however you write 🙂


  2. Trackback: Friday Favorites – Romance, Love and Storytelling « Shannyn Schroeder's Blog

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