1. There isn’t a strong enough hook to draw you straight into the story.
This is vital. The reader will only buy the book if she’s caught up from the very first paragraph. Give an indication of the problem on the first page and make it strong. Don't ever overload your first pages with too much back story. Start the action with a bang and slip in any necessary details and explanations later as and when needed.
2. Unsympathetic, weak characters.
Readers must feel able to identify with the viewpoint characters, and care about them. They must be strong and well-thought-out. The hero must be heroic. The heroine too. But they must also have flaws, be human, fallible, and likeable so that the reader understands the motivation behind all their actions. Make a biography for each and every major character so you don’t make the mistake of changing their eye colour in Chapter Five. You will learn more about them as you write, which you can add to your bio. Decide whose story it is. Whose viewpoint works best for any particular scene.
3. Lacks Spark.
This may have something to do with your prose style. Are you trying too hard? You’ve read all the how-to books and now you’re carefully following the rules. The danger is that it could end up seeming mechanical or wooden. The quality of the prose is vital. Don’t settle for less than your best. Dialogue must be sharp and engaging. Find your voice and make your writing special.
4. Not compulsive.
This may mean that there is a problem with pacing, plot or character. Have you varied the pace or laboured some points, wallowed in a quagmire in the middle? Does the narrative drive have the energy to power the story along? Or have you run out of plot? Problems, tension, conflict and complications. This is the stuff of fiction. Make a list of all the obstacles you could put in the way of your key-character achieving her goal. Give your story pace. Milk the scene, push it to its limits. Make your characters strong, your love scenes sexy, your story exciting.
5. Poor structure.
Check that your story has a beginning, middle and end. It should build to a climax and finish with a satisfying denouement in which the problem is resolved.
6. Lacks credibility.
Have you fallen into the trap of using coincidence to get your character out a sticky situation? Banish it from your story. Life is full of chance, coincidence and random actions, but fiction must have motivation, logic, order, and a cohesive whole. Character motivation needs to be sufficiently strong to make their actions logical. Have you done sufficient research to help you handle an idea in a realistic fashion? Don’t fudge. Find the answer. Make it real.
7. Not emotionally compelling.
Are you nervous of digging into your own emotions or simply of putting them down on paper? Forget what people you know might think of your book, your mother, your daughter, and write what you feel. Banish all negative thoughts, all those little voices over your shoulder which ask ‘What will my dad think of this!’ Examine the inner conflict of your main characters. How are they are reacting to what is going on around them? How do they feel? Is there sufficient tension between the hero and the heroine? The reader should care about those characters and want to keep turning those pages.
The editor may not quite put it that way, but it is a common reason for rejection. They’ve seen it all before. It isn’t fresh, the characters don’t come alive, the plot is predictable and lumbers along. True, they’ve seen every plot before, so don’t expect to come up with something unique. But don’t give them time to think about that, keep the pace moving, and never settle for your first idea. Write down every possibility you can think of, and then dig deeper. Eventually you’ll hit on a different angle, a new twist. The best ideas come when you are actually writing. Strong characterisation can guide you through the mire of plotting. They should be able to tell you what is going to happen next. See below for ways to stimulate your imagination.
9. Not commercial.
Is it written for a market? Have you done your market research? It’s vital to know who would want to read your book. The bookseller or etailer, as well as the publisher, will want to know where he is going to put it on his shelves. The reader will wonder if she will like this book? What sort of book is it? If you don’t know, why should they? Publishing is a competitive world. If you are to succeed you must aim to be as good as the best in any given genre.
10. Spelling and grammar issues.
Don’t think these aren’t important. If you don’t take the trouble to present your manuscript as well as you can, using a dictionary to check every spelling, check every fact at least twice, why should an editor waste time even reading it? Polish, polish, polish.
Most important of all - if you get a rejection - don’t give up. Cry into your coffee, then read the rejection letter again. Listen to their comments, heed any advice which seems appropriate, then send it out again.