Not Just a No: The Decision Behind a Rejection

Let’s face it—getting rejected sucks. You poured your heart and soul into a book and were brave enough to ask other people to read it…only to get shot down.

Quite frankly, doing the rejecting isn’t all that fun either. We editors and agents know the hard work that goes into writing a manuscript, and it’s never a good feeling to know you’re crushing someone’s dream. We’re not sitting behind our desks, holding red pens and grinning evilly as we write a giant “NO” on someone’s submission. We want to fall in love with books. We want to publish them. But not every submission will be a fit, and here’s why.

It’s not the right writing. The number one reason I say no to a manuscript? Weak writing. Reviewing the style and voice of a novel is a relatively subjective undertaking (check out my post on being a subjective editor), but there are some things that can be universally problematic. That list includes blatant typos, repetitive structure, and poor word choice, to name a few.

It’s not the right story. Sometimes, even technically proficient writers are not storytellers. A book needs more than beautiful syntax and proper grammar to be great. Plot and character development are key, and when those elements are lacking or missing in a submission, I’m likely to reject it.

It’s not the right market. If a vampire YA novel dropped on my desk tomorrow, even if it was really, really good, I would still be hesitant about publishing it. The book world has fads and trends the same way the fashion world does, and certain genres can blow up and then disappear in the space of a few short years. As an editor, I need to consider the types of books readers are buying and acquire accordingly.

It’s not the right time. I love retellings. I love them so much, that sometimes I end up with three or four in my inbox at any given time. And because I can’t be the sole publisher of retellings—my marketers would kill me—I have to pick and choose. There have been instances when I’ve had to say no to a very cool book because I have something too similar already on my list. Timing is everything, and the tough part is you may not know what else that editor or agent is reviewing in that moment.

It’s not the right person. It’s a rare scenario, but sometimes editors or agents just don’t click with an author (and vice versa). This often comes down to personality quirks or each party having a different vision for the manuscript. If the partnership is pursued, it can be a rocky road at best, or a total disaster at worst. Luckily, this has only happened to me once or twice, and we’ve all had the good sense to part ways before things got through the contract stage. Situations like this are why it is so important to find an editor or agent you connect with. (Check out this post about finding the right fit.)

So how do you avoid getting rejected? Work on your craft. Seek feedback. Revise, revise, revise. Research your market. Do your homework on prospective agents or editors. And wish for some luck. (Oh, and keep reading this blog for more tips, obviously.)

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