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Writing - Why Manuscripts Are Rejected

( Originally Published 1922 )



Nine Reasons Why a Photoplay May Be Rejected. —The rejection of a manuscript is generally a mystery to its author; he can't understand why his work should be returned. On the contrary, he fails to perceive how any editor could exist without his brain child.

In the light of this, a few words from one who has read many hopeless manuscripts might not be entirely amiss.

One manuscript may be rejected because of its theme; another because the plot lacks a worth while idea; but, going through the files of my mind, I find that the nine most frequent defects in a beginner's work, in order of their frequency, are as follows: (1) A frank or veiled repetition of a play, or the major part of a play, already filmed; (2) lacking in dramatic possibilities ; (3) plot composed of a series of incidents, more or less vaguely related, but not leading to a major climax; (4) a wandering plot, beginning at childhood and ending in old age-lightly skipping from Portland to Paris for no particular reason ; (5) theme too morbid or depressing, or dealing extensively with unpleasant subjects, such as, white slavery, drug using, the underworld, and so on; (6) insincere —writer lacks a knowledge of human nature ; (7) lacking in suspense: (8) idea not interesting to the average person ; and (9) lack of motive; consequently, no reason why the play should have been written.

It is not necessary to go into details relative to the above defects. All of them have been treated extensively all through previous chapters of this work. It is sufficient to let the beginner definitely know that these form the "mysterious" reasons why so many thousands of photoplays are returned with the little white slip.

Eight Reasons Why Stories and Articles Sometimes Fail to Sell.—There are only two good reasons why a story or article should be published : either it appeals to the editor or he thinks his readers will like it. There are, however, a number of excellent reasons for making use of the stamps the author so considerately encloses. Stories are most frequently rejected because they are either (1) unfit, (2) unsuitable, (3) untimely, (4) not in harmony with editorial policy, (5) similar to a story already published or waiting publication, (6) too long, (7) too short, or (8) the story does not appeal to the editor.

Reason number one covers about ninety per cent. of rejections. Most submitted manuscripts are not fit for publication; in fact, the majority are not even worth the paper they are written on—and some arrive laboriously transcribed on discarded grocer's sacks, not to mention cast-off wall paper! In short, most stories and articles are not purchased because they are unfit for publication and could not be made salable even by a genius.

Unsuitableness explains the rejection of a great many manuscripts. Often they are interesting and well-written, but offered to the wrong magazine. This only goes to prove that the author usually is a poor salesman, incapable of selling his own work; or he is too wrapped up in writing to make a careful study of market conditions and requirements.

Many scripts come back because they are untimely. It is ludicrous how so many writers fail to realize that an event is good copy until long after the public has ceased thinking about it. Again, many beginners do not understand that magazine articles and stories are purchased fully four months in advance of publication. The amateur often forgets to write a Christmas story until the holidays are almost upon him. Then he rushes off a manuscript a couple of months before Christmas —and the editor rushes it back!

There is no need of discussing manuscripts not in harmony with editorial policies. Keep in touch with what editors want —that's all.

An author deserves sympathy when his story is rejected be-cause something similar is being prepared for publication, or has just appeared. But too many writers knowingly solicit defeat by sending in stories and articles like others they have read. To them no sympathy should be forthcoming.

Some stories are rejected because they are too short for division or too long for one installment. This is another case of the author's lack of foresight and judgment.

Many excellent manuscripts have been refused by magazines to whom they were, as far as experienced judgment could perceive, admirably suited, even when those same magazines were in the market for the particular type of story submitted. The same script, perhaps, was quickly accepted by the next magazine to which it was sent. An editor likes a story, or he doesn't like it. In the latter case, his dislike may be so strong that he doesn't ask himself whether his readers might be interested.

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