Ask an Editor: What Makes an Editor Stop Reading a Submission?

What makes an editor stop reading a submission?


It depends on the editor, of course. But following is an opinionated, subjective, in-no-particular-order list of things that have made me stop reading a teen fiction submission:

• Spelling and grammatical mistakes. What a turnoff!

• A first paragraph, page, or chapter in which the “telling” far outweighs the “showing.”

• Overuse of teenspeak (see my previous blog on this topic).

• No inciting incident in the first chapter or so — if I don’t know what I’m reading about, then why should I be interested in reading further?

• Characters who don’t ring true. This can be as basic as a 16-year-old narrator who sounds more like a 13-year-old, and as complex as a male protagonist who doesn’t speak — or think — like a guy. Make your readers believe in your characters.

• Underdeveloped settings, especially in dystopic or fantasy novels. Whether it’s made-up or a mash-up, if I can’t see it and believe in it, my interest will fade fast. A setting can be as rich as a character — I love when that happens, and I bet you do, too. Great examples of well-realized settings are Marissa Meyer’s Lunar Chronicles series and Ann Aguirre’s Razorland trilogy.

• Too many parenthetical asides by the narrator. It can get tiresome — and very winky-wink — unless you’re a master of the device. Someone who nails it is Julie Halpern, especially in her wonderful novel, The F-It List.

• Overuse of dialogue as a narrative driver. It starts to sound like talking heads if I have to parse the story via dialog only.

• One dimensional characters — Stereotypes of female characters, male characters, people of color, people from different cultures or social classes, gay people, old people, etc. It shows me that you don’t really know your characters. If you’re writing a character who is, say, a bigot, then of course, that content is essential to the story, as long as it’s not gratuitous. Again, make readers believe in your characters.

• Experiments in punctuation, dialogue, and/or narration that are gimmicky and have no resonance to the characters or setting.

I could probably go on, but let’s stop here. :)

What keeps me reading is believing — in characters, in story, in setting, in dialogue. I love being surprised by a novel in, say, a genre that isn’t usually my cup of tea.


Author spotlight

Liz S.

Hi, I'm the Editor-in-Chief at Feiwel and Friends/Macmillan. I've worked in the book biz for over 30 years (let's just …

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