Common Reasons for Rejections

Hello, [my trilogy] was just turned down by deseret publishing on my first book of this project. I’m 75% done with the second book and will then immediately complete the third of the trilogy. There has never been books like these as they are unique and experientially based. Can you help me?

It is not at all uncommon to be rejected on your first book and by the first publisher you contact. Don’t give up.

The most common reason books are rejected is that they are not a good fit for the publisher. Read the publisher’s submission guidelines carefully. Make sure the publisher you are submitting to is interested in your genre and topic. Make sure they publish things similar, but not the same as what you’re submitting.

The second most common reason for rejection is that the book is just not quite publication ready. Get some critiques on your manuscript. Join a critique group with experienced writers. Go to some conferences that offer critique sessions. Make sure your book is as good as it can possibly be.

The third most common reason for rejection is your query letter isn’t quite up to what it should be. Saying things like, “There has never been books like these as they are unique and experientially based,” is not really very helpful. Unique how? What specifically do you meant by “experientially based”? Is that experiential component going to add to the cost of creating the book? That might be an issue (or not).

And I can guarantee, the publisher/editor/agent is going to have seen something like it before.

Do your research and keep submitting. Good luck!

Dissecting a Rejection

First of all, thank you endlessly for sharing your knowledge with those us who are just starting out and would not have a snowballs chance in you-know-where of succeeding without a little help. [You’re welcome.]

My question involves dissecting a rejection. Are rejection letters by the publisher typically done personally or is there a company form letter specially written to sound soothing and kind to the poor sad sap at the other end of the .com? I want to believe they were really talking to me when they said “It is evident that you have invested a great deal of time and effort developing your story,” and “We hope you will consider us again for your future projects,” but my inner schizophrenic is laughing at me and calling me naive.

My initial query and first 3 chapters were submitted by email as requested on the submissions form so I received an email response, as was expected, in case that helps answer the question. Thank you for your time!

Most companies use form rejections. It’s easier for everyone involved. They may have a couple of variations to the basic rejection that they use depending on the reasons the manuscript was rejected, but pretty much, unless their comments reference specific and unique portions of your manuscript, assume it’s a form letter and MOVE ON.

If there are specific and unique comments (such as, “I loved your main character, Jane Doe, but I really think she’d be more likeable if she wasn’t covered in warts…”), then pay attention to those suggestions and consider making changes to your manuscript. However, if an editor has taken the time to add specific and unique comments, they’ve probably also requested that you resubmit after making changes.

If there are no specific and unique comments and no request to resubmit the same manuscript to them after re-writes, then assume the rejection is a form letter and MOVE ON.

Writing Tip Tuesday: Dealing with Rejection

Rejection happens. It happened yesterday. 29 out of 33 stories didn’t win the Christmas Story contest.

Some of you authors have been writing and submitting long enough that not winning is likely only a blip in your consciousness. Others of you are brand new to this and you’re likely having an entire range of feelings.

I hope none of you are crying but I have to admit that even as long as I’ve been writing and submitting (over 30 years), I still cry when I don’t “win”—and then I eat lots of chocolate. But after I’ve recovered from the chocolate coma, I look at my submission and the comments made about it and I get back to work polishing that thing until it shines. Then I submit it again.

It’s like getting bucked off a horse or crashing on your bike. It hurts but you have to get right back up there and go for it.

Here’s what an emotionally healthy writer does when they’re rejected:

  • First, they are so busy writing other projects that they don’t have time to wallow (or at least, not much time).
  • After the initial sting, they think about their critique (if they’re lucky enough to have one) (which all of you will). Are the points legitimate? Are they helpful?
  • They re-write the piece using the suggestions that feel right.
  • They study the winners and evaluate what is different between their writing and the writing of the winners. They find specific areas they can improve upon and consciously work on those areas.
  • They start a new story for a new contest.

If you’d like to share other coping techniques or things that help you deal with rejection, now’s the time to do it. Commiseration starts now.

Rejection at Committee

When a book makes it all the way to committee, and then is rejected, what are some of the factors that play into that rejection? (You may have already talked about this)

I have sort of talked about it here—see last paragraph.

Most often, it’s a marketing issue—we don’t think we can sell enough copies, for whatever reason, to meet our needed profitibility levels.

Branded for Life?

So if you take notes on submissions received and say I sent something to you when I first started writing and you put in your notes, “Writing needs work (or it sucks) or whatever” Does that mean I’m branded for life with that publisher? I think they would still look at the work but would a first negative impression make it harder later on?

No. We realize that writers change and (hopefully) improve over time. Those notes only effect where in the reading pile your manuscript lands. Let’s say I get 5 mss one day—two are in my log, one with a “good” note and one with a “needs work” note; the other three are new authors. My assistant reads the queries and weeds out topics we’re not interested in or those with so many grammar/technical errors that we know we’ll reject. The rest go in the pile with the “good” note on top. The “needs work” note and the new authors get sorted by our topic interest level.

The only time a bad note brands you for life is if you were extremely rude and obnoxious* about a previous submission and my note says, “I don’t care if it’s the next Harry Potter, I will not work with this person!” (Out of the hundreds in my log, there are only two with this note.)

*Extremely rude and obnoxious means the author blasted me with e-mails/letters/phone calls after rejection, calling me names and telling me I’m the spawn of Satan for rejecting their book.

Rejection Etiquette

I have a burning question that I would be most grateful if you would help me with. I recently received a polite rejection letter, in which I was told in sum: “We are very selective, your submission came close but not close enough, feel free to keep us in mind with future projects.” I originally filed it away with a sigh, thinking it was a typical form letter. But then I started thinking (or over analyzing) that maybe his mention of future projects is at least the start of a bridge.

I am now chewing on the possibility of sending a reply thanking him for reviewing the manuscript, and briefly describing my next project. I’m thinking it would be better now, while he remembers who I am, then when the new manuscript is done and I’m back in the slush pile. But is that too presumptuous? If not, would it be appropriate to send it via email, if the rejection came via snail mail? (And no, he didn’t include his email address in the letter, but it is on the website.)

Thanks so much for the service you provide! It is a confusing world out there.

The mention of future projects might be part of their standard rejection letter, or it might actually be a positive indicator. In our company, we don’t open that door unless we mean it.

If you like this publisher, then yes, send them your next project—when it’s done. Sending an e-mail now for a project that isn’t ready to submit won’t do you much good because they’ll forget anyway. (We don’t log our thank you e-mails, only our submissions.)

If this publisher is like us, when a new mss comes in the first thing we do is check our log to see if you’ve submitted to us before and read our notes. If the notes say, “liked her writing but project wasn’t what we were looking for” then you’ll move up to the top of the slush.

As to whether to communicate via e-mail or snail mail, if they indicate a preference, respect that. If they don’t, then it probably doesn’t matter. If their e-mail is listed on their website, then they’re open to receiving communications that way.

Rejection Ratio

What’s the percentage of rejections to acceptances at your company each month or year?

We accept less than 10% of submissions. That rate has been fairly constant.

Most of our rejections are due to the quality of writing or inappropriate subject matter for our company.

If there are other publishers reading this and would like to chime in with their rejection rates, please do. You can be anonymous, if you like.

Rejected Again


Let’s say you request a full. The author sends it to you and for whatever reason you reject it. How often (on a requested ms.) do you do a form rejection as opposed to stating the reasons for rejecting?

If you sent a standard form and an author asked for more information so they could improve on their next manuscript they sent you, would you respond?

Jeff Savage
(But then again. Who is Jeff really?)

It really depends on what else I’ve got on my plate at the time. Publishing is more than just a vehicle for putting food on my table. I am emotionally invested in helping authors succeed. (Why else would I do this blog, relatively faithfully, and for FREE?)

If it’s a great read, but not a good fit for me, I almost always say so. I try to put one or two personable sentence on the usual form letter to encourage the author to keep trying.

If it needs work and I’ve got the time and I can capture the problem in a sentence or two AND if it’s not LDSBA time or Christmas rush, I try to let them know

But if it really needs a lot of work, I assume that a few quick pointers wouldn’t help because if the author knew what I was talking about they would have done it already. And it’s not my job to teach an author how to write.

Sometimes when I’ve rejected someone and they’re particularly rude about it, I’ll just send form letters to everyone for awhile. Until the sting goes away.


What’s the number one reason why you reject manuscripts?

There is only one reason I reject manuscripts—I don’t think I can sell the book.

Only a publisher would make that distinction, but it’s an important one to understand. It’s the reason why great manuscripts are sometimes rejected, while lesser manuscripts are sometimes accepted. I will sometimes accept a good (but not great) book because it fills a hole in my product line, or it’s really timely and there’s nothing else out there like it.

I always reject bad writing—poor technique, grammar, boring, unrealistic, facts and/or citations wrong, etc. The majority of my rejections fall into this category. I haven’t done the math, but off the top of my head, I’d say about 90%.

I can’t, however, always accept great writing. I will sometimes get a wonderful book that I have to reject because it’s not right for my market (mainstream LDS) or I just published one that is too similar or I don’t publish in that genre or I don’t have the budget required to market it effectively. When this happens, I try to make it clear to the author that it is not the quality of the work I’m rejecting. These books nearly always find a home somewhere, and only rarely does an author feel the need to rub my nose in it. I forgive them because they clearly do not understand the distinction between accepting a book because it is good, and accepting a book because I know I can sell it.

Phone, E-mail or Snail Mail

If you decide to publish a manuscript, do you email, snail mail, or call with an acceptance?

If you decide to reject it, is it always with a form letter?

Does it depend on the manuscript? Does every publisher do it differently?

I always call with an acceptance. If I can’t reach the author by phone, I will e-mail or snail mail, in that order.

Rejections are always with a form letter, although sometimes I will add commentary if I have the time and the inclination. If an author gives me their e-mail, that’s how I send the rejection. If not, then snail mail.

I do all manuscripts the same. I suppose some publishers will differ, but most of the ones I know call with acceptance. I don’t know anyone who has the time to call with rejections.

Can I Just Rant?

Every once in awhile I get so frustrated I just have to blow off some steam!! And since I can’t take it out on the person causing the frustration, you guys get to hear about it.

This is for all authors, especially those writing non-fiction and using quotes:

It is NOT my job to teach you how to quote and do the citations correctly!

It is YOUR job to MAKE SURE you are doing it correctly BEFORE you send me your manuscript!

Here are just a few basics for quoting someone, especially from a published source:

1. You must have permission. I want hard copy, signed forms for my files. (Do not send the permission forms with the submission; I will ask for them upon acceptance.)

2. You must quote correctly–every word, every comma, every italics must be in the right place.

3. If you delete words from the quote, insert ellipses (…).

4. If you add your own words or commentary to the quote, put it in brackets [].

5. If you add italics to the quote, put “italics added” at the end of the citation.

6. Do some research and use one of the standard methods of citation for your quotes. Be consistent. Do every quote the same way.

7. Put citations within parentheses ().

8. Before you submit to me, have someone with experience in editing and in citations go through your mss and make sure your quotes are correct. Have them check each quotation against the original. (You should have photocopies of every quote from its original source and photocopies of the title page AND the copyright page of every book you quoted from. You should have them organized in a way that you can find that original within minutes of my asking to see it.)

9. If a book has been revised, make sure you quote the most current edition.

Everyone makes a mistake occasionally. That is fine. But when I find consistent mishandling of citations and when I spot check quote correctness I find missing or wrong words or punctuation, it’s three strikes and you’re out. My thought process is that if you can’t do the research to learn how to cite correctly and you’re not careful enough with the details to make sure your quotes are actually quoted correctly, then there are probably a lot more mistakes in the mss and it will take WAY TOO MUCH of my time to get it print ready.

Okay, I’m done ranting. We’ll go back to our regularly scheduled posting tomorrow.

Six of One…

If you had to choose between a manuscript that had a great story but was poorly written (needed a lot of editing) and a manuscript that was written beautifully but the story was mediocre, which would you choose?

Neither. Because I wouldn’t be able to sell either one (as is) and it would be stupid for me to invest the time, energy and thousands of dollars into something that would not be profitable for me.

However, if it was a really good story, I might give them notes and ask them to work on it–but that isn’t usually enough to bring it to publishable standards. (See yesterday’s post about rewriting.)

Publishers Directories

Is there a directory available that lists publishers and editors with their home phone numbers? I’d really like to call a few and ask them why they rejected my manuscript.

Thank you so much.

Yes. It’s 1-800-I’ll never publish your book in a million years!

Although the person who sent this question intended it to be humorous, it’s really not that funny when I get the call. (Yes, I get those calls. Usually when I’ve just dozed off for my Saturday afternoon nap.)

With all the resources available these days, it’s not too hard to track down a publisher’s personal info. Don’t do it! I guarantee, they will not admire your tenacity and gumption. Anything else you send them in the future will be an automatic pass. And they’ll probably gossip about you to their publisher friends.

[And it’s not just writers who do this. A million years ago, in a city far, far away, I was a drama critic for the local paper. I gave a show a moderate review, but pointed out several things that were sub-par in the performance. The director called me up and chewed me out–several times. From then on, I always wrote with a pen name. It’s also one of the reasons why this blog is anonymous. I can’t handle conflict. I buckle under criticism. I…well, fine. I just don’t want the aggravation.]

Reader Comments

I have heard that you can request readers’ comments from publishers after you have submitted a manuscript to them. What is the best way to do this? In the query letter? A note after you have been rejected?

You can request them. You may or may not get them. Depends on the company policy. Some companies don’t mind sharing the comments; others won’t.

I would make the request in the query letter. Some publishers file readers’ comments and keep them for a long time. Others simply note them in their log and toss the originals, in which case, by the time you get your rejection and request to see them, they may be long gone.

FYI–Readers’ comments refer to the practice of editors/publishers sending pages out to trusted readers with a comment form. If all the comments are favorable, chances are you’ll be accepted. If they’re not, you’ll be rejected.

However, many submissions are rejected before they go out to readers. Readers are only involved after the editor and a few in-house employees give the manuscript a thumbs up.

Tangent question: What if the editors like it but the readers don’t, or vice versa? Who decides? The marketing department.

We Love You, But No Thanks

Hi LDSPublisher,

I recently received a rejection for a novel that a publisher held for over 2 years. In my rejection letter, it stated that my manuscript had received excellent reviews and feedback. Some of the comments included with my letter said my manuscript, “portrayed the conflict at the beginning and stayed true to it through the entire book,” and “the reader is never lost or confused with unnecessary information.” Further comments: “The conflict is unique,” “reaches a vast audience,” and “balances details of character’s life throughout story very well.” Other favorable comments were also included. Yet, the publisher rejected it.

I was not given a list of its weaknesses, what was negative, or why it was ultimately rejected which, in the long run, would’ve helped me to better understand why it was rejected and work to improve in those areas.

I realize this business is very subjective and I, as the author, do not see the whole picture, and that you cannot directly comment on my specific manuscript, but I wondered if you might be able to shed some light on what else a publisher looks for in a manuscript. What captivates or intrigues you? What makes you pass? What bores you? What makes you happy to be in publishing?


Dazed and confused

If you received positive feedback on your manuscript, then my guess is it was not rejected based on the quality of your writing. Good manuscripts are rejected for lots of reasons. They may have filled their publishing schedule for the year; they may have already accepted too many manuscripts in that genre; the marketing department may feel like it won’t sell well; an established author may have submitted something similar; and the list goes on.

This type of positive feedback is a good thing. Submit to someone else.

Professionalism in the Face of Rejection

I recently had to reject a couple of very good projects for reasons other than quality of the writing. I hate it when I have to do that. I wish I had a budget that would allow me to publish every good manuscript that came across my desk. Sigh.

Most of the time, I do not receive a response when I reject a manuscript. I really do not expect, or even want, a response. But these were unique cases where I talked to them on the phone because I wanted to make sure they knew that they had a top-rate submission and it was my lack of resources and not their writing that was causing me to reject.

Both of these authors were very, very professional in their interaction with me—polite, friendly, understanding. They didn’t fawn or suck up, but spoke to me intelligently and confidently. One of them mentioned some selling points for their book, that perhaps I had overlooked. I hadn’t, but that was fine. The tone was very professional and it was obvious they understood the industry.

Both authors made a big impression. Will I remember them? You bet! Will I recognize their names on future submissions? Certainly! Will I grab their submission off my slush pile and read it ahead of everything else? Absolutely!

As opposed to a few others who have sent me nasty letters and e-mails because I rejected them. Or those who have made it clear that I’ve just made the biggest mistake of my professional career and now they’re moving on to make some other publisher rich beyond their wildest dreams. I’ll remember them too—as people who are mean and unprofessional and have no clue what they’re talking about. These are authors I probably do not want to work with even if they sent me the next DaVinci Code.