Real Reasons Some Books are Rejected

Most authors and aspiring authors are open to direction and crave constructive comments to help them advance their craft and career. Hopefully, you have had a chance to be part of a good critique group which provided assistance in a manner you found energizing and helpful.

When a book is rejected by a publisher or agent, sometimes the reasons behind the rejection are not what you might classify as energizing and helpful.

We’ve addressed poor proposal development in this agency blog before and hopefully regular readers will follow the guidelines for any agency to make sure they have all the necessary information to make a decision.

Still, the person doing the rejecting might just be busy and rejects whatever is in front of them at the moment, so they have a reasonable chance of catching up on all the backlog of proposals sometime in this millennium.

You took rejection personally and it was anything but personal.

Let’s face it, every person alive has been in situations where the input exceeds capacity to effectively respond and we find ways to cut corners. People in publishing are finite and human, like everyone else.

It brings to mind a scene from the film Bruce Almighty with Jim Carrey, where he thought he could do a better job at being God, than God. He received prayers from people all over the world via email. Overwhelmed, he handled the millions and billions of prayers with a copy/paste “yes.”

Chaos ensued.

There are some less-than-inspiring reasons books have been rejected.

–They don’t particularly like your theological perspective.

–The comparable titles you chose did not work for them.

–They disagree with the premise of the book.

–They have a similar book from someone else.

Some (thankfully, not most) publishing rejection-decisions are made without thoroughly considering all factors in a proposal. The editor or agent has such a backlog of proposals to consider, they simply reject because something didn’t catch their attention within seconds.

If you want someone to “Just read my manuscript and I am sure you will like it,” you are asking someone to invest hours into something when they only have minutes, or seconds to spare.

As an agent, I’ve had a proposal rejected by a publisher because:

–The publisher already had a similar themed book, published twenty years ago. (If applied to every proposal, no new book would ever be published)

–The publisher already had several books with a certain word in their title, also found in the title of the proposed book. (Maybe change the title?)

–A publisher didn’t connect with the twenty-word short description provided in the proposal.

–A publisher didn’t connect with my short email cover note to the proposal. (I guess I shouldn’t have used the phrase, “I hope your weather is nice.”)

Consider this as a possibility:

The answer to every proposal is “no thank you” until the agent or publisher sees something requiring they respond positively. If you start slowly or badly, you will need to get to the good stuff quickly or else.

This is the result of an over-heated “audition” process which requires every decision-maker trust their first impression, jump to conclusions, and make quick decisions.

This is part of the reason just about every best-selling book or author has been rejected by multiple agents or publishers before finding a literary home.

It also reveals the effect of what happens when an agent representing a few dozen clients at a time, gets a few thousand proposals every year, or a publisher looking for 25 new books, but has 2,000 great proposals from agents to consider.

If you insist on getting to the bottom of every rejection, be ready to hear reasons which are neither helpful or inspiring.

More proof publishing is not a scientific venture. It’s a lot more like being a parent than anything else. You can do everything right, teaching right and wrong and encouraging proper behavior, but your little one still flushes your smartphone down the toilet for no good reason.


Leave a Comment

When the Market Is Too Tight

Previously I posted about sending rejections saying the market is too tight as a reason for the decline. Let’s take a closer look. Subjective? “The market is too tight,” sounds objective, doesn’t it? As in, “There isn’t enough room for your book because no one is buying this type of …

Read More

I Hate My Job!

Well, I don’t always hate my job. I only hate it on the days I have to send rejection letters. Or maybe I should say, I only hate it during the moments of the day that I must send rejection letters. If you receive a rejection letter either from my …

Read More

You Are Not Your Words

Writers love words. That’s a good thing. But when we become attached to our own words, that’s a bad thing. I see it often in meeting with writers and offering critiques at writers’ conferences. The writer will hand me a piece of his or her work, “to see what you …

Read More

Writers Learn to Prepare

Preparation is awfully important if you are planning to climb Mt. Everest. If you show up in a t-shirt, shorts, flip flops, and a sack lunch it is likely you will perish during the ascent.

The same idea applies to the writer. You must do the hard work ahead of time to achieve success.

There are No Shortcuts

Read More

I’m Always Open to Submissions

Sometimes authors send me an email asking, “Are you looking at new submissions?” or “Are you accepting new clients?” I appreciate these authors’ desire not to waste my time or theirs, but I’ll say it here: I’m always open to submissions and new clients. Now, does this mean I’m open …

Read More

What’s Wrong with my Book?

As you can imagine, we see hundreds of proposals and manuscripts each month. And, as you can also imagine, we must decline most. However, there are a few mistakes you can avoid to help your submission rise above others: Not beginning the story in the right place. All too often, …

Read More

The Right Number of Words

More times than I’d like, my office must send out letters advising aspiring authors that their manuscripts are too short or too long. Much of the time, the author is talented but hasn’t investigated the market well enough to know if the word count is right. Submitting a project that’s …

Read More