Common Red Flags Seen In Submissions

frustrated reader

Love this picture. So cute. 🙂

Note: At the end of this post you’ll see the 4-page critique is back. I know you guys love this, so don’t miss out if you’re keen. Follow the instructions below to enter the draw.

Let’s jump into the Common Red Flags Seen In Submissions. And for those of you seeking an agent or publisher, have you ever wondered how big their submission pile is? It’s huge, and some agents even report as many as 100 submissions hit their inbox in a day. A day! How on earth are they going to get through that many?

If you haven’t guessed it, as they read through these submissions, they keep an eye out for certain things which may alert them to giving a quick “no.” These red flags MAY mean your submission might get rejected before it even gets read. That would be awful, and the last thing any writer wants.

So, what are these red flags? And how do we ensure we don’t spark one?

We make sure we follow some simple rules, and here they are:

  • Follow the agent or publisher’s submission guidelines to the letter.
  • This means you must read their website’s guidelines. They always have a submissions page, and it details exactly what they require of a writer who submits. Follow each directive given, because you’re a professional, just as they are, so ensure your first communication is equally so. If they say to format in a particular font, do it. If they say they want only one chapter, don’t go sending the first three. If they want a blurb, yep, you got it, include it. There is always a list of what they need, so don’t deviate from it.
  •  Incorrect grammar and typos.
  • Oh yeah, your spellchecker doesn’t always pick up the misuse of words like “there/their.” And as a writer, it’s our job to know how to spell, and to use correct punctuation. The only problem is we all make mistakes, so get someone you trust to check your query letter, synopsis, and those first few crucial pages of your manuscript. A second set of eyes never goes amiss, particularly when you usually only get one chance to submit your work to each agent/publisher.
  • Know your word count.
  • Inappropriate word counts are red flags for agents and editors. If they say we take submissions of between 20,000 to 100,000 words, don’t go submitting your 120,000 word novel. It’ll get rejected because it’s outside their guidelines. Why spend your precious time on submitting when it won’t even get looked at. Just move onto another agent or publisher and see if your book will suit them.
  • Don’t over-explain.
  • I’ve heard agents and editors say some writers who submit will over-explain within their query letter. An agent or editor doesn’t want to hear how your mother read your book and loved it, so they should too. 🙂 Yeah, I imagine you get my drift–let the agent or editor decide for themselves. You want to make sure your query letter shines with professionalism.

And lastly, don’t get upset when you get the inevitable “no.” Every writer gets these, and in bucket loads. It’s said, for every thirty queries you submit, expect one request for a partial or full manuscript. I’m not kidding you. The odds are 30 to 1, and that’s not even with a guaranteed “yes” after they’ve seen your partial or full.

Here are some of my statistics, which makes for interesting reading. It certainly shows my writing journey, and that there is a light at the end of the tunnel if you’re seeking an agent or publisher.

To begin with I wrote FOUR BOOKS in 2009. None of these were ever submitted, but I did rewrite the first one in 2011, and its titled PROTECTOR.


THE INHERITANCE was written in 2010. Here I sent out 52 submissions. 12 I never heard back from, 39 gave a “no,” and one UK agent requested a partial, and then said “no.” But the feedback I got from her was invaluable, and I even halted any further submissions on this book in order to set the work aside for a rewrite. What was her advice? To hone my writing skills, but that my ability to tell a story was fantastic. I spent 2010 and 2011 doing just that and studying my craft like crazy.

MOON FORCE was written in 2010. Here I sent out 31 submissions. 11 I never heard back from, and 20 gave a “no.” A couple of the agents though did give feedback They told me the same as the UK agent that year. And as soon as I heard the identical advice, I set this book aside for a complete rewrite.

I wrote THREE further books in 2011. I submitted these in various writing competitions, and it was my way of getting some editorial feedback. None ever placed, but I got the feedback I was after, and as I wrote, I kept honing my skills.

PROTECTOR. This is the first book I rewrote in 2011 after learning everything I could. I felt I really had a chance with this one, so in 2011 I sent out 48 submissions. 23 I never heard back from, 24 gave a “no,” and yes, I had one CONTRACT issued on a full manuscript. Yee-ha!

Now, yay, I seem to be away–

WARRIOR was written in 2012. Here I sent out 1 submission, and yes, one CONTRACT was issued.

WITNESS PURSUIT was written in 2012. Here I sent out 1 submission, and yes, one CONTRACT was issued.

This year I’ll write three more books. I go through the same submission process every single time, and I make sure I follow the publisher’s guidelines to the letter. I cross my fingers and hope for good news, but this truly is a never-ending journey we writers travel. It’s tough and takes hard work, no matter which route we take.

So, tell me where you’re up to in your journey. I love hearing from other writers, so leave me a comment and let me know how it’s going for you? What’s your battle? Are you still struggling with the frustrating rejection letters? If you’re self-publishing, what’s been the most difficult part of the journey for you? Because we’re ALL in this together. We’re writers, and no one else can truly understand us, except for another writer.

* * * *

And since I’m all for writers supporting writers, my offer for a 4-page critique is back . What do you win? Yours truly shall be your second set of eyes to go over the FIRST FOUR PAGES (or 1500 words thereabouts) of your novel.

Amy Kennedy, Kozo Hattori and Heather Jensen have all been winners and had their prize redeemed in the past three months. I loved getting to know them and their wonderful work. So don’t be shy, if you want to enter, take advantage of all the hard slog I’ve put in and get some quality editing feedback. Simply drop in a COMMENT asking FOR A CRITIQUE.

I’ll pick a winner using and post the name next week on my blog, so keep your eyes open for who that is. (Particularly the winner, because you’ll need to get in contact with me via email.)

Okay, catch ya all later. Have a wonderful week.

* * * *

Flower-Art-Pistil-Pink-1-1920x1200 - Copy

PROTECTOR–BUY THE BOOK: Amazon Kindle / B&N Nook / iTunes / Lyrical Press / Kobo.

Flower-Art-Pistil-Pink-1-1920x1200 - Thank You2


50 thoughts on “Common Red Flags Seen In Submissions

  1. Love this post. Thank you very much for all that information. It’s invaluable. And yes, I’d love feedback. PIck me, pick me! 😉

    I’ve only written one novel (and earned 30ish rejections) and several short stories that I’ve never submitted.

  2. I am very much at the beginning of my writing ‘career’ (at least I hope that’s what it will become). I have written about 9 novels over the years, and a novella or two, but it is only the most recent ones that I felt were good enough to really put out there. So far 1 novel has been submitted 3 times, with 2 rejections, and 1 still waiting to hear, My novella has been submitted twice, 1 no, 1 asked for the full story, so I am waiting to hear back on that too, and the third was entered into a comp last year in which it was not successful and is now entered into ABNA. I have had lots of success with my short stories though, having 13 published since April this year. Fingers crossed that’s a sign of good things yet to come!! 😀

    1. Hey Heather. What you’re doing is exactly what I did. You submit your work, and then wait. While you wait, you write another novel. You keep writing and keep submitting. And I love that you’re entering competitions. You never know where those can lead, and the fun part is, you’re usually writing to a deadline. That’s a great lead-in to what it’s like once you get your first contract and you get editing deadlines.

      Your 13 published short stories is huge. It shows your commitment to your craft. Agents and editors want to work with writers who are dedicated in this way.

      And that’s wonderful you’ve been asked for a full. It only takes one “yes.” That’s what every writer says, and I totally agree. With one “yes”, you’re usually away.

  3. That was a wonderful post Joanne 🙂

    I sometimes stumble with genre guidelines. Bear in mind I write erotica or very hot romance but sometimes it’s hard to tell where my story falls, and how I would classify it in the query. Is it hot enough…or too hot, for what they’re asking for? So that is something I will contend with eventually.

    I did have a question: when you got those rejections telling you to hone your craft further, did they include anything else? I would be upset, frustrated and confused if someone told me that my writing needed work and didn’t go on to tell me what I needed to work on. If they don’t say, then it just sounds like a brush off.

    When I was a beta-reader for fanfic writers, I always included what they needed to work on, and like with one of your experiences, I also made sure to tell them what they did right. That’s soooo important 🙂

    1. Hi Cadence. Erotica sells like hot cakes on the market. In fact, the hotter, the better. Most romance publishers will say, “Try and shock me. I dare you.” Also, I know what you mean when you wonder where your novel fits. Sometimes our work falls within 2 or 3 subgenres under the Romance genre, and that’s quite normal. Just include them all in the first line of your query letter.

      Eg, I am seeking representation for my erotic, paranormal, time-travel romance novel complete at 40,000 word. It blazes with heat, and just may singe your eyebrows. As per your submission guidelines, I’m enclosing a synopsis and a sample chapter…

      It doesn’t matter if you list a number of subgenres. That just gives you more options. 🙂

      Oh, and to answer your question on the feedback I was given. It was detailed in a very nice way. I just abbreviated it for this post.

      Gosh, I love that you told writers what they did right when you were a beta-reader. We all need to hear the good in what we do. It sounds like they were very fortunate to have you.

  4. Thanks so much for sharing this, I always like to hear about a writer’s road to publication. Compared to you I’ve hardly submitted at all. A few years back I sent my first book out to two different publishes who both said no.
    Then I got an idea for a book I thought was better and entered it into a comp but didn’t win. I knew I had rushed it and it wasn’t really ready and it’s sitting in my computer waiting for a rewrite.
    And while I was waiting to hear back from that I started the book I’m on now which I think is my best one yet. The other two I still plan on rewriting and sending away, but for now I want to focus on this one. I sent it to 2 agents – one said no, one didn’t get back to me. I also sent it to Harper Voyager when they opened their submissions for their new online imprint. They said no. But I didn’t look at my mss for three months while I waited for an answer, working instead on the second book in the series. Now I’m looking at it with fresh eyes and tweaking it one more time before I enter it into Hardie Grant Egmont Australia’s Ampersand Project. So I’d loved a Critique 🙂

    1. I love hearing about other writers’ journeys too. It’s not easy to get published, and don’t forget those submission odds of 30 to 1. When I saw those odds I realised I needed to spend a week just working on submissions. That paid off big time, because not every agent we send a submission to has time to take on a new author, so they may be open to submissions but not checking them. Plus every agent/publisher is different. Your work might not suit one, but completely suit another. That’s why we have to submit, and submit, and submit.

      I love that you’re entering competitions. That’s where I got my most valuable feedback. Plus afterward, those novels can be submitted somewhere once we tweak them, as you’re now doing.

      Loads and loads of luck for the Hardie Grant Egmont Australia’s Project, and thank you so much for dropping a comment.

      You’re in the draw. 🙂

  5. You’re a wonderful explainer Joanne 🙂 I have another of your pearls of wisdom to add to my jewel box of knowledge! I didn’t know you could classify under more than one genre like that. As ever, you have my gratitude xx

  6. Hi Jo, I’m very familiar with your Common Red Flag, although it is good to have reminders as it’s easy sometimes to forget some of the basics. I always look forward to your newsletters for tips etc to add to my collection. Gave you a mention on my website just recently too. Once again I’d like to put my name in for a critque.

  7. I find your advice so inspiring. I would love to send you a piece of my book, It all began with…THE WART…an unsolved sidesplitting mystery. I have self published it as an eBook thru BookBaby. My biggest challenge is the marketing. it is almost impossible. Thank you Pat

  8. Hi Joanne,
    Thanks so much for this blog – especially your own journey! I have written 3 novels – one is sitting with Harlequin New York in a full request, and I have a full and partial request on the ms I’ve just finished the first draft on from RWA contests. I love hearing how other writers have struggled and been rejected – and not because I’m a sadist! – but because it gives me hope that if I just preserve when I have days thinking “Why on earth am I doing this to myself?” that I too, will someday achieve my goals. So thanks for the encouragement of telling us about your rejections – oh, and yes please for the entry into your 4 page critique! 🙂

    1. Hi Tracey. That’s huge you have a full request with Harlequin New York. They don’t ask for a full manuscript without just cause. Also a full and a partial on another ms as well. Goodness, I’d barely be able to sleep with all that excitement. That’s so cool. Congrats.

      I also love hearing how others writers are doing too. This is a tough industry, and it helps to know we’re not the only ones.

      You’re in the draw. 🙂

  9. This made me feel so much better.
    I realized I can’t just submit to one publisher (until I’m actually published, that is!) I have to do my homework. And then I have to listen. And then (!) I have to take action. Thank you. Your critique was invaluable, I’m not here for another (no matter how greedy I want to be) just to thank you.

    1. Hey, Amy. Thanks for the thanks. That’s so nice of you. 🙂

      Yep, you gotta submit to heaps of agents/publishers. Don’t hold back. I would always start with around a dozen, and then as I heard back from one and it was a “no,” I’d send out another 1 or 2 submissions. I kept replacing the “nos” with a new possibility. And even when I had my partial/full requests, I still kept submitting. I didn’t stop until I had a signed contract.

      Take action. Make 2013 THE YEAR it all happens. I know you can.

  10. I self-pub’d my first novel (a few months ago) and have been really happy with the resutls, but it doesn’t mean that I won’t query a future one. So posts like this are really interesting to me – so thank you so much for sharing!

  11. Joanne,
    I so enjoy your posts. You give me hope. I’m in my last semester working on my MFA in Creative Writing. My novel is finished but in the editing stages. I would love for you to look at it, so pick me. Thanks!

  12. Common sense advice! It is good to know just how many queries you get to really drive home the point that the guidelines are there for a reason. Thanks for the honesty!

  13. Loved hearing about someone else’s trials and tribulations on this journey. I started writing nonfiction and got accepted on my first submission to a magazine. Wow, I thought. I can do this. Then I decided I wanted to write romance. Not so lucky there.
    My first romance novel was done and I pitched it to a Harlequin editor at a NECRWA conference. She shot it down, told me I had no external conflict. I floundered around aimlessly for the next six months, trying to learn on my own. Then I signed up for an MFA.
    Unfortunately, I got accepted on the basis of my nonfiction, so that was my “major.” I feel I really missed out on learning more of the fiction craft. But I’ve kept studying the craft like crazy. Now I’ve written another novel and I would love to be on your list of critiques! Pick me please!

    1. Romance is a tough market to break into. I was sad to hear what the Harlequin editor did. Just remember she’s only one person, and a good editor will give you direction without dashing any hopes.

      I’m so glad you’ve written another novel. When we have a passion for writing, nothing can stop us.

      You’re in the draw. 🙂

  14. I’m in the midst of rewriting and resubmitting. I agree if we want to be seen as professional, we need to present ourselves as competent enough to follow the guidelines.

  15. Thanks for sharing your numbers. Seeing the challenges all writers face braces me to face the querying/submitting stage more realistically. I’m not ready to submit yet (still in the beta and critique stage) and I’d love to be entered to win another wise set of eyes on my WIP.

    I cannot imagine not following every tiny detail of submission guidelines. I’ll most likely obsess over each detail. Maybe that will give me an edge when the time comes?

  16. Hi Joanne…first of all, many congrats on your contracts. Good for you! Second, superb advice on all counts. You just can’t overemphasize what a jungle it is, and how difficult the task just to have publisher OPEN your manuscript.
    Nicely done, my friend 🙂

  17. Pingback: URL

Comments are closed.