Sunday, June 13, 2010

How to Accept Rejection

Rejection is a nine letter word that makes us (writers) break into a sweat. It’s the stuff of our worst nightmares. Its something we all dread and fear. It’s a word I personally detest. I would prefer to say that such and such publisher declined my book, or turned it down, or refused it. I would hate to say someone rejected my book. Unlike rejection, decline, refuse and turned down are less harsh and hurt less.

Actually even if we use the word rejection, the sting can be removed from it because there are several reasons a manuscript has been rejected or turned down.

An editor friend of mine from one of India’s biggest publishing houses explained to me that when they refuse a book there are several reasons.

1. Sometimes even good books are refused, books which the editorial committee may have approved in stage one of the selection process  may be disapproved in stage two, because of financial constraints. The publishing house just does not have the money to pump into this book at the current time.

2. Several times books are turned down because publishers are unable to think of a marketing strategy for that particular book. Books that cannot be marketed do not sell well.

3. Very often the publishers have brought out a book similar to the one submitted some time back and do not want to repeat themes. They prefer to tackle different books.

4. Books that do not follow certain trends: read as books on unusual, bold themes, or archaic themes are refused for fear of them not selling well.

5. Books that need a lot of editing, both structural as well as grammatical translates into a refusal. Editors just do not have the time or energy to devote to such manuscripts. Everyone prefers a polished piece that requires minimum editing. Editors don’t mind corroborating with writers when a manuscript is outstanding and editorial changes can further enhance it, turning it into literary magic.

6. Many times even good books are turned down as there is a lacunae, in the style of writing and the theme. The theme may be for older children while the writing style for younger ones, or vice versa.

7. Even good books are turned down as the publishing house’s publishing programme is full for the next couple of years and there is no room for new manuscripts.

8. Books that the publishers feel may be a hardsell. At the end of the day they too a have a business to run.

9. Several times good book by first time authors are turned down in favour of not so good books by authors who publishers consider well known or brand names.

There are several reasons for the rejection of a manuscript. There is no need for us (writers ) to feel insulted or hurt. It’s nothing personal. Do you feel there are any other reasons for rejecting a manuscript? Please share with us.


  1. Great post, Rachna; a good reminder to us poor writers not to take rejection personally as a comment on our ability to write or the worth of what we are writing. I think you covered all the reasons pretty well.

  2. Elizabeth....knowing the real reason for the turning down of our manuscripts makes us feel less bad. Rejection is the worst thing we writers face.

  3. This list does make me feel better. But still...ouch!

  4. It's a great list and I'll add one more reason - at least as far as agents go. I had one agent tell me he had no interest in my setting. He just didn't enjoy books with an Asian setting. I can't deny him that right as I avoid (most) books set in the Americas, but it still hurt as he was otherwise a dream agent. He did comment that I had a good query....

  5. @ Lydia...whatever the reason, rejection hurts badly. For days we sport the bruises.

    @ Victoria...thanks for adding your reason. I can understand your situation. A setting that did not appeal to one agent may be loved by another one. We should never lose hope.

  6. I found your blog!! I'm so happy... I know, I've tried to follow you through your pic on my blog, but it didn't let me for some reason.

    Thank you so much for posting this, I really appreciate it. Elana Johnson said at a writers conference I went to triple edit over you WIP--there's no such thing as obsessive because it will give you the edge and confidence to know that it wasn't rejected because it was poorly written or revised or edited, but it's because it's something that they did, not you...

  7. PS--Rejection is all SUBJECTIVE!! If the agent is having a bad day--even if you are the next NYT best seller, they could still reject your book. :(

    They are only human after all. *Sigh*

  8. Hi Elizabeth...though we writers know that there could be several reasons for the refusal of a manuscript, it still hurts like hell. Actually if you take it at the basic level it is just the opinion of ONE person ( In India the Editor and abroad the Agent). So one person's opinion should not affect us so much.

  9. I'd like to think all great books rise to the top and are published, but I know that's not true. It's a shame there are probably some great books out there that were just passed up.

  10. Rachna,
    Thank you for the list of reasons why we get rejected!
    Yes its true the market has got it’s hang ups! Yes and most of the time it isn’t
    something that we did. Since you have listed a great number of reasons why companies
    do not accept our work, it is not necessary for me to repeat them!
    In response to your question.

    I would like to add a positive spin on this topic.
    Rejection can be a blessing in disguise!

    It’s like a cold call in sales, I hold on to the idea for every fifty NO’s there is one yes!
    This lightens my spirit.

    My storyboard film instructor Lise Swenson said
    “Start a rejection folder! It’s healthy”
    So I have done this as well! It’s almost like a hobby! It’s neat
    and in place! Kind of weird right! I give my rejections respect.

    As Lisa J. Michaels said to me once
    “If it isn’t as good as you feel it should be, you can look back at your
    own published work later on in life and be embarrassed!”
    Yes! She is right. You should have seen what I was trying to send out even
    before you have gotten a hold of my manuscript. It was a whole other story.
    I’m so grateful. SMILES

    I would rather get a rejection than no response at all. The worst is no response, especially if you sent it to an exclusive company! There is some freedom to move forward! When we don’t get an answer at all, it feels like purgatory has set in. At least with rejection we have the opportunity to fix or resend.

    I have a question for you Rachna?
    Off this particular topic. This week I have to prepare a pitch.
    It is for the children’s book conference. It needs to be wrapped up in two minutes.
    Not sure how to even begin! My weaknesses are condensed information. I love to beat around the bush, do it naturally and often miss the point.
    MY little nerves! My poor little nerves! Do you have any advise or experience?


  11. Sytiva, every rejection should just make us improve and polish our work more, so that the next person who reads our work finds it really hard to turn it down.

    Regarding your two minute pitch for the children's book conference I have already emailed you about it.

    All the best for it!

  12. Frankly, I don't care if my work is rejected (yes, I do, but you know what I mean), as long as I am told why. One of the publishers recently send me an e-mail that said, "it does not fit in with our current publishing plans", and when I asked if that meant I could sumbit later, I was told they were not interested. Why the sugarcoating?