Dreaming of being the next Hugh Howey or Neal Stephenson? Well, you’ve probably gotta get published first. And sure, you can self-publish, which is often the response to being rejected. That’s somewhat how Hugh Howey did it. But that’s a real challenge in itself. And let’s be honest, a lot of the reasons self-published works are successful are for the same reasons other writers are able to land agents and publishers. So here’s a top ten list of reasons your science fiction novel isn’t get published, or in the case of self-published, purchased.

Your Science Fiction Manuscript is too long or too short

Publishers usually have specific guidelines for the length of books they publish. If your manuscript doesn’t fit within their word count range, they might not consider it. Actually, they probably won’t consider it. For science fiction, the word count can vary but generally acceptable lengths fall between 70,000 to 100,000 words. If your manuscript is too long, it may be considered too expensive to publish, and if it’s too short, the publisher may not feel like it’s substantial on interesting enough. The good news is, many agents and publishers have their guidelines online. Before submitting, make sure to research the publisher’s guidelines to see if your manuscript meets their requirements. If it doesn’t, consider revising it before submitting.

And yeah, we know that XYZ John Smith Author was able to get a 300,000 word novel published first time around, but those are the exception. He or she probably knows someone, or they have already proven themselves in some other way. Bottom line is, publishers don’t want to take a risk.

Plot is too predictable or unoriginal

Science fiction is a popular genre, and many stories have been told before. If your plot feels like it’s been done too many times, the agent or publisher might not think it’s worth publishing. So make sure your story has a fresh perspective and unique twists that will make it stand out from the rest. Consider adding unexpected plot developments or avoiding traditional science fiction tropes to make your story more engaging and memorable. There are a lot of time travel novels.

Characters are flat or unengaging

A strong story needs strong characters that readers can connect with. If your characters feel one-dimensional or uninteresting, the publisher might not think they’re worth investing in. Give your characters depth and flaws. Even if you don’t write them out, think of their back stories. Consider their motivations and the consequences of their actions. Give them unique personalities and let their quirks shine through. Make sure your characters have goals that drive the story forward and help them grow throughout the book. Keep putting them in horrible situations and letting them fight their way out.

Writing style is weak

In science fiction, world-building is often crucial. I say often because I think its almost a trope. But most of the time, if your writing doesn’t effectively create a believable, compelling world, the publisher might not think it’s worth publishing. This is one of the tougher science fiction rules. So to improve your writing style, read widely in the science fiction genre to get a sense of what works and what doesn’t. Use descriptive language to create vivid imagery and build the world your characters inhabit. Use a variety of sentence structures to keep the reader engaged, and avoid repetition to keep the story fresh. If it doesn’t come natural to you,  maybe consider getting some books for some tips.

Pacing is off

Science fiction novels are often rejected because they require a careful balance of action and exposition. If your pacing is too slow or too fast, the publisher might think it doesn’t work for the genre. To improve pacing, make sure the story is always moving forward. Keep the action flowing, but also take time to explain the world and the characters. Use cliffhangers and plot twists to keep readers engaged, but don’t sacrifice character development for the sake of the plot.

Science isn’t believable

Science fiction requires a certain level of scientific plausibility. If your novel stretches the bounds of what’s scientifically possible too far, it may be considered too implausible to publish. No only will readers reject the story, but they won’t even get a chance if the publisher rejects it first. To create believable science, do your research. Make sure the science in your book is based on real scientific principles or plausible theories. Avoid taking shortcuts or creating “magic” technology that has no basis in reality.

Dialogue feels stilted or unrealistic

Good dialogue is essential for a strong novel. If your characters’ conversations feel forced or unrealistic, the publisher might think it’s not worth publishing. To create natural-sounding dialogue, pay attention to how people speak in real life. Use contractions and colloquialisms to make the dialogue feel authentic. Make sure each character has a distinct voice and personality, and avoid long, unrealistic speeches.

Target audience is unclear

Publishers need to know who the target audience for a book is. If it’s unclear who your book is meant for, the publisher might think it’s too niche or unfocused. To identify your target audience, think about the themes and messages

Poor formatting

Formatting is crucial when submitting a manuscript to a publisher. If your manuscript is poorly formatted, the publisher might think you haven’t put enough effort into it. Make sure your manuscript is double-spaced with a readable font, such as Times New Roman or Arial. Use standard margins and indentations, and make sure each chapter starts on a new page. Include a title page and a table of contents if necessary.

Lack of platform or social media presence

Publishers want to work with authors who have a following and can help promote their book. If you have no social media presence or online platform, the publisher might not see a way to effectively market your book. To improve your chances of getting published, build an online presence by creating a website, starting a blog, or creating social media profiles. Engage with your potential readers and build a community around your work. This will show the publisher that you are committed to your book and can help them sell it.

So there you have. Those are 10 rules. They are by no stretch the only things that matter, but they matter.

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