There are many reasons why a publisher rejects an author’s work.
Here are some common reasons for getting a rejection
- The work does not adhere to submission guidelines
You may have written the next throb bizz but, unless you’re Toni Morrison, Stephen King or Nora Roberts, follow submission guidelines—publishers are precious about these.
One glance, and the slush reader will automatically reject work that does not meet the required word count, font type, line spacing, cover letter specifics, subject line format…
Just do it, if the publisher says to have the following format in the submission line of your email: Submission: <“Title of story”> <(word count)> by <Author name>
Just heed, if the publisher says We’re not big fans of unnecessary profanity, sex, or drug use…
Just format that manuscript before you submit it, if the publisher says:
All manuscripts should be double-spaced with broad margins and numbered pages.
Use 12 pt Times font, or a similar serif font, such as Cambria, Palatino, Baskerville.
This is where most manuscripts fail the first cut.
- The work is too cliched
Writers face a tough market: there are well-established writers, young career writers and novices everywhere looking to be published.
What makes your work unique? What stands it above the rest? Unless you’re writing fan fiction, avoid groan-inducing plot lines that even a five-year-old knows about. For example:
- orphaned hero fights evil tyrant
- a mystery solved by unveiling a secret twin
- pirates on a treasure quest
- boy-meets-girl…girl plays games…
- …it was only a dream
Story ideas are everywhere—add ‘what if’ and find that angle that makes your idea unique. Don’t join the rejection pile for lack of novelty.
- The plot is too complex
You may have an IQ score of 210, and your story curls the world in a twist, but if the slush reader or publisher doesn’t get your plot, you’re stuffed.
Write something credible that does not give people a migraine to read it.
- Story tackles a controversial topic
Publishers generally would rather not deal with legal issues. Their goal is to sell stories, not alienate readers.
Unless you’re a pundit on the subject, do you really want to write about marijuana legalisation, racial profiling, assisted suicide, or the story of a hero who exploits women through sexual favours in an age of a ‘me too’?
Sure, freedom of speech. Taking a chance on a controversial topic is taking a chance on a rejection letter.
- It’s just not a money maker
There are some really bad stories out there, and they are selling. Sadly, a competitive publishing industry also means that it’s about marketing.
Bios generally don’t sell unless you’re famous, have a million Twitter followers or you have something really juicy the world can’t wait to know.
Your subject matter may be important to you, but irrelevant and unimportant to the target reader.
Publishers know to sniff what’s hot on the market in whichever genre, so it helps to do some market research to see what’s selling (climate change, Trump) and how you can make your work unique in that area.
- The work is unpolished
Never send out a first draft to a publisher. Edit, edit, edit. Where possible, get peer review or someone professional to look at it. Spellings, typos, weak characters and runaway plots are a no-no.
- Opening line doesn’t catch
Remember the publisher is trawling through thousands of manuscripts and simply has no time to put up with a slow start to arrive at the rich end of your story. If your opener does not hook in the first four lines, you’ve probably lost your chance with this publisher.
As part of polishing your work, do your research to get the right tone of the publisher. Read something they have published and understand what hooks them.
- Not the right publisher for your genre
If the publisher says we generally don’t accept poetry, it means they don’t. If they don’t publish science fiction, fantasy or horror, why send it to them?
Even genres have sub genres: the publisher may accept science fiction, but only steam punk.
Again, do your research. Don’t just write and hope it fits somewhere. Send your work to publishers who are the right fit for your work.
- Simply because
The publisher may have no defensible reason to reject your work.
It just may be that the publisher reads your polished work and its superb plot submitted in the right formats, but just doesn’t ‘feel it’.
Or maybe they don’t like your name—there was some terror kid in kindergarten that shares your first or last name. Or maybe the publisher is having a bad day when your work rocks up.
And that’s that.
Review the work and see if you had the right polish, the right story, the right publisher…
Fix whatever might need fixing, then send it along to the next publisher.
Don’t build a shrine of rejection letters.