Rejected! – Common Reasons Publishers Give When Rejecting a Manuscript


Rejection, rejection, rejection…that’s what this post is about. But it’s also about learning and pushing forward.

Your writing is much like a child; you create it, you perfect it, you often obsess over it, and when it’s all grown up, you send it out into the world. Unfortunately, more often than not, your little labor of love comes right back to you. Hopefully, only for a temporary visit. If you stay the course, and continue to perfect your craft, eventually the rejections will cease and your work of art will finally blossom into what you always knew it could be: a book.

As you go about your journey towards becoming a published author, you will, like it or not, face a varied amount of rejection. It truly is simply the nature of the beast that we call the publishing industry. For most writers, rejection is almost a way of life. Some of the greatest authors and, indeed, greatest works of literature have faced rejection. Here are some examples to raise your hopes a bit:

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by J.K. Rowling was rejected 12 times.

The Diary of Anne Frank was dismissed by 15 publishers.

Watership Down by Richard Adams was rejected 17 times.

Lord of the Flies by William Golding faced 21 rejections.

Chicken Soup for the Soul by Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen had a total of 140 rejections!

Even the celebrated Dr. Seuss faced publishing woes. His first book, And To Think That I Saw It On Mulberry Street, was passed on 27 times.

While it is likely impossible to avoid rejection as an writer, you can still work at improving your craft and your submission strategies. If you understand some common reasons publishers reject manuscripts, then maybe you can keep the mountain of rejections to a mole hill.

reasons for rejection

Reasons for Rejection

“This does not fit within our publishing model” or “This is not inline with what we typically publish.” or something similar.

This is fairly self-explanatory. While this could be a way for the publisher to politely decline and also spare your feelings, it could also mean you submitted to the wrong publisher. Do your research before you submit to make sure your manuscript matches their publishing line. Or that they are even looking for the type of story you are submitting.

Our publishing schedule is full.

Again, obvious and straight forward. At least, in this case, the window is left open to re-submit again in the future.

Thank you for your submission, but it isn’t for us.

This one is a bit vague, but likely means they simply didn’t like it. Quite frankly, the majority of rejections will come down to personal taste. Don’t get too discouraged, though. Everyone has their own opinion. Have a 3rd party read your work, maybe hire someone for the job, then make some improvements and keep trying.

It failed to grab our attention.”

If you’ve seen this one, it could mean a re-evaluation of your opening chapters is in order. Publishers/agents often request the first few chapters of longer works. If it’s not hooking them soon enough, your book may be the victim of the “info dump”. Basically, you may be spending too much time explaining things or introducing characters and not enough time blowing things up…so to speak.

We don’t feel we can be successful with your work.”

Don’t get too bent out of shape over this one. There are many reasons a publisher may feel this way. It doesn’t always mean they didn’t like your manuscript, or that it isn’t well written. It could mean your book doesn’t quite match what they are familiar with from a marketing perspective. Or perhaps they don’t have the resources to fully devote to your story what it would need to be successful. Or perhaps they are being very selective based on budget concerns, but simply don’t have time to give a detailed explanation. Of course, it could also mean they really don’t think it will be successful. Either way, it’s just another publisher to prove wrong.

The market is not strong enough.

In this case, do some research into what you perceive as the market for your book, perhaps through Publishers Weekly. There is a market, somewhere, for anything. Practically any kind of book or story you could possibly think of has been published at some point. But if your work falls into a very shallow market, not every publisher is willing (or able) to take that on. Keep looking; there is a publisher out there for you.

This manuscript was poorly put together and clearly lacked editing.

Now, I’ve never received a rejection like this personally, but they do happen. It may seem rude or crass, but honestly, you should be thanking them for being blunt. Never submit a manuscript that has not been edited and polished. Publishers/editors/agents receive far too many submissions and are far too busy to waste their time. If they can tell that you don’t take your own work seriously, then why should they?

“Your story is not good, and your writing is worse. This should never be published.”

This is definitely rude, inappropriate and in my opinion, unprofessional, no matter how bad the submission is. I don’t know how common it is, but I have heard many stories of authors receiving rejections very similar to this, which is truly sad. Here is part of an actual rejection letter given to Ernest Hemingway (yes, THE Ernest Hemingway) for his book The Sun Also Rises:

If I may be frank, Mr. Hemingway — you certainly are in your prose — I found your efforts to be both tedious and offensive. You really are a man’s man, aren’t you? I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that you had penned this entire story locked up at the club, ink in one hand, brandy in the other.

This is quite harsh. The full letter is much worse and much, much longer. Hemingway’s talent and character were bashed and insulted many times in the letter. Hopefully, nothing this unfortunate has happened to you.

But even if it has, so what? Hemingway obviously got over it and we all know how well that turned out. And also just how wrong the person behind that rejection letter was. The Sun Also Rises was a huge success, critically and financially, and still is in modern times. In 2010, it sold over 350,000 copies, just in North America.

Rejections will come your way. Keep improving and keep pushing though them.


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