7 Reasons Your Manuscript Might be Rejected

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And What You Can Do to Prevent Rejection

It’s first and foremost about a well-written story. But after that, there are many reasons for a novel, picture book or early reader series to be rejected. These are real excerpts from real rejections I have received over the last eighteen months.

  • Right editor, right manuscript; wrong timing.
    QUERY REJECTION: Thanks so much for sending me this query. It sounds fun, and definitely my kind of humor, but I’m afraid XXX actually has two different (same topic) series already in the near future, with enough books signed up that I fear this would be directly competing with them for a while. (Early chapter book series proposal)
  • Wrong editor, wrong manuscript, wrong market because it isn’t a strong enough trade book.
    I appreciate and enjoy the heart you infuse to both characters here, and . . . I think you pull off both voices so that they’re fun and distinct. But. . . I feel like this story is still on the quiet side for our commercial-focused list; I see this book being a better fit for the school and library market, where teachers and librarians will appreciate the authentic portrayal of daily school life.
    (middle grade novel, contemporary).
  • Right editor, right manuscript, wrong market because the book is too much of a trade book.
    I like your style. I like the topic. . . we do look for a pretty strong overlap of trade and education market material and for the education market that means a topic that is touched on by teachers. (Picture book, nonfiction.)
  • Right editor, right manuscript, wrong market because the book isn’t strong enough for a trade book.
    I presented this project to my colleagues at our editorial meeting and while we agree the writing is strong, ultimately it’s just a bit too quiet for our list. (Picture book, fiction.)
  • Right manuscript, wrong editor.
    Your writing and sense of detail are very nice, but I did not find myself compelled enough by the characters. (Middle grade novel, contemporary)
  • Right manuscript, wrong editor.
    Picture book about a dog: This is such a fresh, creative idea, and you execute the story quite well. Even so, as much as I enjoyed the manuscript, I’m afraid I didn’t love it quite enough to move forward. Perhaps it’s because I’m more of a cat person ☺. (Picture book, fiction)
  • Right editor, right manuscript. No broad-based support.
    I’ve shared it with two of other editors here, and we’ve had some good discussion around it. We all found it well-written and compelling. . . After some discussion, I’m afraid it’s a decline for us. (Middle grade novel, contemporary.)

Latin: Rejection certain; hour uncertain. Roughly, it means that you will certainly be rejected; the only uncertainty is when.

Getting that Acceptance

In the end, you need a well-written, compelling story, sent to the right editor at the right time; and it must fit the market of the publisher, not slanted too much toward the trade market or the education market; and it must be a story that can find broad-based support.

It starts with your topic choice. I know editors will tell you to write what you are passionate about. But within those passions, look for topics that will also gain that broad-based support. NO! Your story will NOT be the exception. Problem-based stories for middle graders will probably not fly. If you feel compelled to write about the plight of 11 million children under the age of 18 who live with an alcoholic care-giver, make this a minor sub-plot. Definitely do not make it the main plot, because you will not find that broad-based support needed to produce a best-seller. Maybe for YA, but not for MG. Match your topic to the age of your audience.

Look, instead, for high-concept ideas. (Read this article, which is about high concept nonfiction but the principles apply to fiction, too.)

Know your market. There are trade markets and education markets and publishers who try to cross-market lines. Know where you are submitting and try to match up your story with the needs of the publisher. Remember, they are in the business of selling books and they have established channels for those sales. You must send them a story that will fit into THEIR market. They won’t do special marketing just for you.

Know the editor. Attend conferences, meet editors. It’s the only way you will find out what this or that editor likes. I had no idea that one editor I subbed to was a “cat person,” not a dog person. Maybe, I would have found that out from hearing her at a conference, maybe not. Sometimes, there’s nothing you can do but submit. But if you hear these sorts of things–well, I will definitely send this editor any cat stories I write. As much as it is in your control, get to know specific editors.

It’s a crazy world out there. Good stories, told with compelling voices, are not enough. To sell books, you must also appeal to a certain editor, who can then find a broad-based support across the publishing house for your story. You must also find a publisher whose market fits your type of stories. It’s not easy, but good solid market research is much more possible in these days when editors write blogs, there are dozens of conferences to attend, and there’s lots of info on Google and LinkedIn.

Good luck. You’ll need it.

5 Comments
  • Heather Villa
    April 8, 2013

    I look forward to reading your wise posts. This particular post is personally timely. Thank you.

  • Darcy Pattison
    April 8, 2013

    Heather:
    Glad the post came at the right time. Sorry that you’ve joined in the unfathomable rejection world.
    Thanks!
    Darcy

  • Kellye
    April 10, 2013

    Thanks for the great post, Darcy. One thing I wonder about, though, is that you don’t mention agents. Obviously they’re going to be looking at the things you mention here, too, but isn’t it their job to know which editors want what and which markets each imprint is targeting ? That’s why I’ve been focused on getting an agent, but despite getting some positive and helpful feedback, I’m still getting “pass.” It’s hard. One final thing, lots of publishers say they don’t accept unagented submissions. Are you submitting directly anyway? (And I realize that with you track record you’re in a different place in approaching them than me.)

  • Darcy Pattison
    April 16, 2013

    Kellye:
    Yes, agents should speed the process. But even agents could get the same type of responses that I record here. They can’t know that the company has three (Fill-in your genre or topic) stories already coming out. They might correctly target an editor, but the editor can’t get wide-spread support. I submit without an agent, but mostly to editors I have met at a conference. Or, as a Published Author, I can always query and will almost always get an answer.
    Darcy

  • S
    May 11, 2013

    sorry, but some of these responses seem lame and totally arbitrary and not at all industry-relevant to a serious writer who is on submission. An individual editor rejecting a dog book because he/she is a cat person?!? That’s beyond ridiculous and a writer does not have to know the personal eccentricities of each editor they are submitting to. If a writer wants to submit directly to an editor bypassing the agenting process, then the only key factors they need to know is that the editor has a well established track record of success accepting and publishing that writer’s genre and that the editor buys/publishes regularly and with publishers with a recognizable supportive marketing of authors and a strong reputation for ethical behavior in the publishing industry. If you follow respectable editors on social media, you’ll find that they are all constantly lamenting a lack of real world problem focused-books for MG and YA (like alcoholic caregivers, single parents, abandonment, death of a family member, bullying, sexual assault, peer pressure, academic pressures, absentee parents, etc). Bottom line, if your book is well written with a plot/theme that grabs a reader and isn’t rehashing something that’s been done to death for the last 5 years (ie ghosts, demon hunters, vampires, cliched love triangles, etc), there’s a market for it NOW and you’ll find a publisher. Just do your homework. All the information is out there, online, just go find it.