Reasons Why Your Manuscript May Have Been Rejected

Getting a rejection is no fun. After all the work that you’ve put into a project, it is discouraging and sometimes demoralizing to receive yet another rejection email. It’s all the more painful if this is the third, or thirteenth, or thirtieth, or three hundredth one.

There could be reasons why. Most editors, agents, and publishers don’t take the time to point out flaws in a submission. And if you ask, you’re likely not to get an answer. So consider these — admittedly oversimplified— problems that could have been the culprit.

Have you written about old trends?

Publishing, like everything else, has trends that ebb and flow. No one has any real idea what is going to be the new hot thing in publishing over the next two years, but you can guarantee, it is not going to be things that were popular a decade ago. If you’ve decided to jump on the teenage vampire train, a la Twilight, you may be disappointed in your reception. The best solution is to think more creatively — tell your story in a way that doesn’t feel like a trend, change your favorite genre or subgenre up so much that you can’t be ignored. Focus on story, not on what is hot!  You’ll be far more likely to be noticed by an agent or publisher. 

Have you submitted poorly edited work?

The work you submit is the first impression that you are giving to the publishing world. Sloppy, careless work won’t be taken seriously. If the story is worth telling, it’s worth telling with excellence.

Have you neglected research?

Editors, agents, and publishers all have specialties and they are looking for specific types of books. Preferences are most often spelled out on websites. Either change your work to fit the agency or house, or find the right house and submit there. 

Have you ignored word count requirements?

Most of the time, agents, editors and publishers will have the size of the book that they are looking for. They have already calculated what word counts sell best, what costs are required to publish books, and what the market can bear. No matter how great the writing is, it’s foolish to push a 100K dragon book into a market that sells 55-65K middle grade fiction. Know the conventions for your genre and subgenera and stick with them.

Have you formatted poorly or unprofessionally?

All submissions should have standard margins, use a basic font, (like Times New Roman) and be 12 or 14 point. In black. This is the absolutely least you can do to appear professional. This is the equivalent of showing up to a job interview in a dress shirt and khakis, or a skirt and blouse. You absolutely insist on a funky font, in pink, with 24 points, or something to demonstrate your “creativity”, then you can be sure no one will take you seriously. Leave the emojis at home too, while you’re at it. 

Have you made presumptive requests?

All agents, editors, and publishers are looking for excellent, completed books written by serious writers. Ideally, they want the relationships they form with these writers to be positive ones. In the beginning, only the foolish would have outrageous demands, like specific artwork, or a specific dollar amount for the advance, or who would play the lead role in the Netflix series. If you want to be taken seriously, don’t even mention these issues. It will not matter how good your book is, your email will be laughed off. 

Do you have over-confidence in your own personal drama?

You may believe that all of your personal experiences are worthy of a marketable book. They may be, but the stories themselves aren’t enough, marketable memoirs need to be told well. If you really have life experiences that are worth writing about, then study memoir writing, creative nonfiction writing, or hire an experienced ghost writer. Do not expect an agent, editor, or publisher to jump on board to help you if you’re not willing to do the work just because your life could be a Lifetime movie.

Do you demand attention?

In the world of publishing, it is not true that the “squeaky wheel gets the grease.” If you demand attention or insist that publishers, agents, or editors review your work again, then you can guarantee that you will be ignored. Just respond to rejections with a “thank you for your time” and move on.

Do you cover-up previous publication history?

In your query, your publication history should be reported. If this work has been been self-published, published elsewhere, or someone else has the rights, then you absolutely must be up front about it. Hiding something is never worth the trouble. Your lack of professionalism will only yield disappointment. 

Do you take credit for something you haven’t written?

This is the greatest sin, as far as writing goes, to write something and present it as your own. Take the time to write your own stuff, paraphrase, find inspiration, or credit it, but do not, DO NOT, pass it off as your own. The consequences of this are severe and are never worth it. 

Do you follow specific submissions guidelines?

Every single entity (agencies, publishing houses, editing services) you submit to has rules they want you to follow. This is kind of like your first test: will you follow them or not? If you can’t get things like margins, font, point size, headings, etc, right, if you can’t carefully respect the restrictions in place, and you insist on being seen anyway, you’re just saying that you’re difficult to work with. This behavior is disrespectful. Take the time, do it right. 

Do you criticize the writing industry in your query?

You can hate a publishers covers, loathe their newest releases, and believe with your whole heart that their haircut makes them look ten years older, but WHATEVER YOU DO, keep these thoughts to yourself. An “honest” appraisal in your query may feel like you are gaining an ally, but it’s really just making you look like a jerk. 

Do you use profanity or unprofessional language in your query?

A query letter is like a job interview. You have a small amount of time to leave a good enough impression. Don’t jeopardize this with unprofessional speech. If you really, really believe that you should be able to “express yourself”, start a blog. Don’t waste the time of agents/editors/publishers who will pass you by for more professional writers. 

Do you bring up money?

If you mention a dollar figure of the kind of deal that you’re hoping to get, then all you’re doing is showing how little you know about the process. If, and only if you get so far to actually get a contract (and the odds are pretty small you will) money will be one of the last things that you get to discuss — and you’ll probably be surprised at how small the advance will be. 

What if you’ve done none of these, but you’re still getting rejected?

Well, then, the problem could be the writing — or not. This is a excruciatingly difficult business to break into and the market is saturated with submissions –many of them very well written. If you want to keep going, then keep going. Tweak your manuscript the best you can. Brace yourself for a rejection but plan to celebrate just in case.

Katharine Grubb is an author, poet, homeschooling mother, camping enthusiast, bread-baker, and believer in working in small increments of time. She leads 10 Minute Novelists, an international Facebook group of time-crunched writers. She lives with her family in Massachusetts.