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May 28, 2021

A Writer's Guide to Rejection

Rejection is a part of life, and part of being a writer. It’s hard, it’s frustrating, and we’re here to help. 

In the world of publishing, some publishers will accept unsolicited manuscripts from you – the author – directly, while others will require an agent. Agents will send your manuscript to an editor, who works at the publishing house, via email and the agent waits to hear back.

The answers will come in and your emotions will flare, but the responses you’ll receive have nothing to do with you; rather, they have everything to do with your book, the state of the market, and the publishing house you send it to.

Rejections: The Good, the Bad, the Ugly

With so many manuscripts being sent to publishers, an editor may not have the time to read your entire manuscript. They may get five pages in and decide it’s a no. Others may read a bit further and provide some feedback during their busy days.

You can expect these types of rejections:

  1. The answer can be a straight forward no, which hurts, but isn’t too bad. These will come first and be more generic.
  2. There are rejections that may have a feedback letter attached explaining how to make the manuscript stronger. These feedback notes may be helpful, or completely shift the vision of your manuscript. As the author, you have to make the best decisions for you and your work. (Think: F. Scott Fitzgerald was told by an editor: “You’d have a decent book if you’d get rid of that Gatsby character.”)
  3. A rejection filled with unhelpful criticisms does happen, and often they do not look to improve your craft. (Think: An editor writing, “This story doesn’t have an audience.”) So, ask yourself, “Does this feedback improve my writing?” And if it doesn’t, ignore it and keep submitting.

Over 99% of all manuscripts are rejected without a word. 

If someone has decided to write at all, it says that you have a noteworthy manuscript. Sometimes if you accept what they are saying to you, and follow through on it by making the changes roughly in the directions they are pointing, your manuscript has a better chance of being accepted.

How you deal with this is partly a matter of creating a relationship with your correspondent. If they have written to you with some suggestions you should write back thanking and acknowledging their input. So when you have made the changes you have decided upon, you have someone to write back to who will be expecting to hear from you.

Publishers are looking for both talent and commercial viability. At Exisle we have often spotted great talent within our submissions, but the manuscript may not have had a market. Just recently a 250,000 word biography became a top-selling book about adventuring in one specific part of the world. The content for this was hidden within the biography and the author responded to the suggestion.

Don’t Take it Personally.

Authors may receive hundreds of rejections; it does not mean they are bad writers. There are a variety of reasons the manuscript could be rejected.

The manuscript could be almost there, but not quite right. That’s what Exisle Academy focuses on: how to pitch your manuscript and ensure it is at it’s best when you send it out.

It comes down to numbers. Publishers are thinking of how profitable your book is and if there is an audience for it. 

How to Minimize Your Chances of Rejection

Do your research on which publishers are ideal for your book. Keep a list of them, including the big publishers and the independent ones.

Consider what books the publisher sells currently and if your book would fit in with the books they have most recently published.

Be practical; if your book is a children’s book, don’t send it to a publisher that specializes in memoir for adults.

Keep in mind, rejection will happen. It’s frankly out of your control how editors will view your manuscript, but at least you can be prepared for all responses, even no responses.

The Publisher Isn’t Getting Back to You

Don’t panic nor think your manuscript is awaiting rejection. This can be a good sign that the publisher is taking their time with your manuscript and deciding if it is right for them.

If the publisher hasn’t gotten back to you in six weeks, send a professional email asking about the status of your manuscript.

Say you meet an editor at a conference or other writing event who invited you to submit your manuscript to them and when you do, you receive a long silence. After 10-12 weeks, write a polite, follow-up email as to why you are following up, attach your manuscript again so they don’t have to dig around their inbox for it, and thank them for their time and consideration. If in another month you don’t hear back, it’s time to move on.

For editors and publishers who accept unsolicited manuscripts, wait 12-16 weeks for a reply. If you don’t get one, assume the answer is no and move on to the next.

Keep Writing, Keep Trying!

The author of your favorite book has experienced their fair share of rejections. This doesn’t mean it wasn’t a good book. As you go through this process, you’ll have thicker skin when it comes to rejections and know you aren’t alone.

When you do get that yes, all those rejections will fade from your memory. To make that happen, keep submitting your manuscript and entrusting that your writing will find a home with a publisher.  

Valentine Sargent
Free Guide: Write a Pitch For Your Book That Publishers Will Love >>
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