My Thoughts, The Writer's Life

10 Reasons Someone Else’s Novel Shouldn’t Have Been Published

Admit it. You’ve stared, slack-jawed at an open book in Barnes & Noble, stunned by the horribleness of the writing. You’ve whispered your frustration to the universe, a few choice obscenities that brought an audible “harrumph” from a blue-haired woman browsing the nearby Christian Inspiration section.

How is it possible this hack of a writer got a publishing deal and your (almost brilliant) novel can’t even get a literary agent’s attention?

The universe isn’t fair. You accept that. But really? I mean really? This book is utter crap. Except you don’t say “crap.” You say “shit.” And you almost never say “shit.”

Because you just can’t let it go, you buy the offending book and make it your goal to enumerate all of its sins.

Three chapters in, you’ve already found five things that make you throw up a little:

1. The writing is stilted. It’s a hodgepodge of meandering, redundant sentences and pointless sentence fragments.

2. Nothing is happening. I mean nothing. There’s no discernible plot, no tension, no conflict. I have no reason to keep reading.

3. The characters are one-dimensional. Therefore, I don’t care what happens to them. If anything were happening. And nothing is. I think I already mentioned that.

4. The dialogue sounds like it was written by a third-grader. “Mr. Johnson, the curtains were not in the curtain box that was left on my porch which is where they should have been. That is why I am crying about the missing curtains from the box.”

5. “I don’t consider the ‘no adverbs’ advice a hard and fast rule, but after reading three chapters of this novel, I may have to reconsider,” I say, dumbfoundedly.

You keep reading anyway. It’s a painful experience. When you finally get to the last page (74 blurted obscenities and 3 packages of Tums later), you’ve discovered five more reasons this book should never have been published:

6. There are no character arcs. It’s all straight lines. No one learns anything. No one grows. No one changes. No one cares. Especially me.

7. The ending sucks. True, there wasn’t much plot, but just when it was showing signs of potentially being interesting, everything was resolved. In five pages. That’s not an ending, that’s laziness. Or a word count restriction.

8. The whole thing is written in a bland, passive voice. It’s like soggy melba toast. I hate soggy melba toast.

9. There is not one original idea in this book.

10. It’s littered with typos. Okay, so maybe this isn’t the writer’s fault, but I sure wouldn’t let my book out in public looking like this. If necessary, I’d hire my own proofreader to make sure it’s prefect. I mean perfect.

Then, perhaps to compensate for the lack of conflict in the narrative, you take the offending novel, cover it liberally with peanut butter, and offer it to the neighbor’s drooling pit bull.

After moment to savor the book’s destruction, you return to your desk, where you sit with perfect posture in front of your computer. You open the file marked “latest draft” and begin to review your masterpiece – the one that’s been rejected exactly 15 times by literary agents who obviously don’t know what great writing is.

Three chapters in you start to squirm. You clear your throat. You look out the window at the neighbor’s yard. It’s littered with torn pages.

You look back at your novel. It’s littered with bad prose. Your plot wanders. Your characters blend into each other. It’s entirely possible the dialogue falls flat in a few places. Is the ending satisfying enough?


Writing a novel is hard work.

5 thoughts on “10 Reasons Someone Else’s Novel Shouldn’t Have Been Published

  1. It makes me squirm wondering if my story is any good and I guess if I’m thinking that I need to keep editing and rewriting until I don’t feel that. Writing a novel IS hard but at least, (99% of the time,) it’s fun! ^^

  2. This is funny.

    It always startles me when I find some obvious “writer sin” in someone else’s unpublished manuscript, and then my crit partners turn around and point out the same thing in mine. I know better! But knowing isn’t the problem.

    The problem is that we really can’t see our work objectively. I hate it, but it’s true. After I finished the first draft of my first novel, I vowed never to criticize another novel again. I’ve secretly broken this vow a few times, but, generally, I try to remember that, as you say, novel writing is hard work.

  3. The problem is, no matter how much polish you put into a piece, you never feel it’s good enough. A friend of mine wrote, edited, did rewrites, re-edited, revised, revamped until he thought it was perfect. He kept a copy of each draft that he did. His final product kept getting rejected. As a fluke, he pulled out one of his earlier drafts, one that he felt was up to par, and submitted that one. That was the one that was snatched up by an agent and is currently being shopped around.

  4. Great post. I have SO been there! I couldn’t even finish one NYT bestseller because of the sins outlined above. It is definitely easier to see the flaws in someone else’s work than in my own, I’ll admit. 🙂


  5. I’ve read brilliance and I’ve read schlock. I don’t care anymore who gets published. If they jumped through all the hoops and got there with their work, hurray for them, sometimes in spite of them. I’m writing this same comment for the second time today: Just don’t tell me that only the “best” writing gets a contract. Huh-uh. Don’t even. Especially with stats that continually tell us that over 60% of most books published don’t earn back their advances, and almost everyone agrees that many of the “bestsellers” don’t equal great writing. Not always true–or even close.

    I don’t begrudge success. I do “resent” publishers/agents/editors insisting that “only the best writing” will be accepted and published. BS (and the initialed format is the “best” I can say).

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