“I’m sorry, but this book just doesn’t meet our editorial needs…” are the cruelest words a writer can hear. But what do they really mean?
The Publishing Schedule Really IS Booked Up
When publishers put out a call for submissions, they can get booked up in a hurry. When they advertise in a prominent place, such as The Writer’s Market, they can be suddenly swamped with manuscripts. Some publisher report getting between 1,000 to 3,000 manuscripts a month.
It is a good idea to try new publishers before they get booked up. The longer they stay in business, the more books and paper writing they will have to choose from. Sometimes the publisher grows and is able to take more books per month, but often the publisher remains small and the amount of submissions grows faster than the publishing schedule. When they become backloggged with manuscripts, your chances of acceptance goes down.
The Manuscript Really Doesn’t Meet Editorial Needs
You’ve sent the publisher a manuscript so far out of their market range that they wouldn’t buy it even if it had been penned by Shakespeare. If a publisher doesn’t accept poetry, don’t send them your book of sonnets. If they say no science fiction, don’t assume they’ll like your book set on Mars because it is so much better than those boring historical they do publish. Don’t try to convince them that it isn’t “really” science fiction—they’ll see right through that ploy. The solution is to find a publisher that matches YOUR needs, or to tailor your next work to be a better fit for the publisher’s list that you have targeted.
Your New Novel is Too Much Like One They’ve Just Published
Publishers generally want a book similar to, but not a clone of, the books they already have on their list. They want books that fit into the range of what they publish but not duplicates of what they already have.
While it is a good idea to send manuscripts to a publisher that specializes in genres similar to your own, if they already have a series about a cat detective, or a specific series set on the Navajo reservation, they probably won’t want two. In this instance, targeting a rival company would be a better bet.
Your Book Doesn’t Suit Their Image
Publishing houses have personalities just like writers do.That’s why it’s important to see just what kind of books they’ve published recently. Publishers usually don’t want a book too different from their others because of reader expectations. A good example is the publisher of sweet romances. An erotic scene would not set well with their readers, and even though you might think they need to “spice it up”, they will probably not be inclined to agree. If a publisher does mostly books for young adults, then they would not be able to market a mainstream adult novel or a child’s picture book. Take a look at the publisher’s catalogue and see what tmarkets they lean toward. That’s where their marketing efforts will be spent.
Genres are Close, But Don’t Match
There are many types of mystery novels. While your idea of a mystery might be a traditional whodunit, a certain publisher might only be interested in hard-boiled Private Eye mysteries. If they are looking for novels in the tradition of Dashielle Hammett and your mystery sounds more like something Dame Agatha might have written, you won’t make the sale, at least to that particular publisher.
Selling a cross-genre novel (one that is a blend of two different genres such as science fiction and western) is rather like trying to sell a zebra as a horse. It may be good, but it’s not a horse. Or at the very least, it’s a very unusual horse. Cross genres either die on the vine or become the new breakthrough bestsellers. Unfortunately, publishers are not often willing to take a big-money risk on an untried idea that is a blend of more than one genre.
Your Book’s Way Too Long or Way Too Short
Many publishers have set length requirements that they adhere to strictly. Usually, these requirements are found in the publisher’s guidelines, and habitually ignored by hopeful authors. Publishers who offer monthly paperbacks in particular are likely to produce novels of uniform size. These publishers are more likely to buy a book within 50 pages or less of their target length than one that would require extensive editing.
If your manuscript gets rejected, don’t give up. Write the best book you know how to write, try to make it as marketable as possible and send it out again.