There are many reasons a manuscript may be rejected, but given the number of submissions they receive, editors rarely have time to tell the writer why.
Sometimes, it has nothing to do with the writing itself. Perhaps the editor just acquired a story with similar elements and the list doesn't have room for two.
Maybe the story isn't right for the line or imprint to which you've submittted it. For example, erotic romance author Dalton Diaz recently told me there are no babies in any Ellora's Cave stories. So if you have a secret baby in your manuscript, one of the Harlequin lines would be a better fit.
Editors are people too. Sadly, your story might just land on their desk on a bad day.
But quite often, the rejection is all about the writing. I was checking the Carina Press blog and Angela James has listed a number of common problems there. I thought I'd elaborate on a few of them here for you.
POV problems~As a general rule, a writer should stay in one head per scene rather than pinging back and forth between characters. You risk giving your readers whiplash.
But wait, I hear you saying, Nora Roberts head-hops! Yes, she does. But she does it with such skill only those of us who look for point of view tells realize it. If you must switch POVs mid-scene, write a POV neutral paragraph before you place your readers into a new consciousness.
Overuse of Adjectives~There's no substitute for using specific nouns and descriptive verbs. Why say 'small bird' when you can say 'wren?' Don't let your characters walk when they can stride, shuffle or glide. I especially love using nouns as verbs. In STROKE OF GENIUS, my heroine's mother 'swans' across a room. In one word, you get a vivid image.
Telling rather than Showing~Readers read because they want to bring something to the experience. They want to use their imaginations and read between the words for the real story. If I say "John was angry enough to be violent" I'm insulting my readers by telling them something they could figure out for themselves if I say "John was a tornado boiling over the horizon."
Awkward Dialogue~Dialogue in a book cannot be totally realistic. You have to ping back and forth and leave out the boring stuff that clutters real life. And you absolutely cannot let a character give an information dump disguised as conversation.
Internal dialogue~If you invite your reader into your character's head, make sure it's real. A person's secret thoughts should be eye-popping, relevatory and unique. Don't bother inserting a thought that a reader could infer from the character's actions. A double no-no is having your character think something and then say the same thing.
Full of clichés~Simile was a Victorian parlor game. At that time, the point was to name the common saying--quiet as a mouse, smart as a whip, etc. No one wants to read them now. Make sure your writing is fresh.
Grammatical errors and misspellings~Don't give your prospective editor/agent a reason to say no to you. If you don't have the grammatical skills, find someone who does. Spell check is your friend. Writing is an art and a craft. Grammar and spelling is the easiest part of craft. A writer's job is to make her editor's job easier. A clean manuscript means you understand your job.
Poor Characterization~From the first page, your characters need to breathe on their own. Don't introduce too many all at once. Give them unique names. Tolkien may have been able to get by with Eowyn and Eomer, but most of us give our characters names that start with different letters.
Hope this helps you. These are all things I remind myself of with regularity. When/if I receive a rejection, I want to make sure the problem isn't with the writing.
One of the things I have to watch for is sentence length. I never met a clause I didn't like. Commas are my favorite punctuation. Part of my editing process is going through and splitting my over-long sentences into more manageable short ones.
What do you have to work on?