Rejection is one of the reasons I became a publisher. As a literary agent, I found myself with half a dozen perfectly fine manuscripts I couldn’t sell to publishers. The authors had strong marketing plans, the topics seemed timely, and the writing was professional. Yet, these books couldn’t find a home. We organized our own publishing firm (NorLightsPress) to get these books into the marketplace. We also wanted to publish two novels of my own that were gathering dust.
Yes, I too have been stung by the barbs of rejection. Several large publishers considered my first novel, but in the end it landed on the rejection pile because it didn’t fit a specific genre. I finally went with an indie publisher, but that turned out to be a rip-off and I had to buy back the rights to my own work. An expensive lesson. Becoming a publisher at least ensured I wouldn’t fall into that trap again.
Now I want to further explore REJECTION. Why do publishers reject perfectly good books? Because sometimes rejection isn’t based on the quality of your work—it’s because of publishing issues you can’t control and may not know about:
1. The publisher may already have one or more books on a particular topic. They don’t want to publish another book that will compete with what they’ve already placed on the market. Doing so wouldn’t be fair to their authors. (To get around this issue, you might offer a book that supports what they already have in print, but doesn’t compete).
2. The publisher had bad luck with books on the same topic and doesn’t want more of them. Unfortunately there’s no perfect way for you to know which books aren’t doing well for a publisher unless you have access to their sales figures. However, if you have a topic in mind, check a similar book’s Amazon page for sales rankings and customer reviews.
3. A topic was popular, but is no longer hot with the public. Check the bestseller list to see what’s popular, but keep in mind the public’s taste changes often.
4. The competition in a particular genre (especially fiction) is so intense that only a few books can be chosen. It’s like a Miss USA contest with a thousand contestants instead of fifty-one. The judges are overwhelmed by too much of a good thing.
5. Here’s a big one: The author doesn’t have a strong marketing plan. Even with fiction, which does not require a book proposal, publishers need to know you can sell books without their help. You need a detailed and comprehensive marketing plan that heavily incorporates social media—book blogs, book sites, and electronic media.
6. Publishers thrive on imprints and genres. If your book is a hybrid (like mine), it will be harder to sell. In years past, booksellers needed to know where they should place a book within the store. Now, online sellers like Amazon.com organize their lists and marketing around genres.
I could list a dozen more reasons for rejection, but you get the idea.
And here’s the amazing thing: By following the six guidelines above, a publisher may be DEAD WRONG about your book. The truth is, no one really knows what’s going to sell and what isn’t. Every book is a gamble. Publishers like us try to even the odds by following best practices, but we’re often wrong. Joe Biel, the publisher behind Microcosm Publishing says, “Books that sold into the tens of thousands, or more, were books that we were worried wouldn’t sell. Ironically, when we try to make informed decisions to develop titles for commercial success, they always fall flat.”
Joe points out that the books they believed in because of content, not commercial ability, were the ones that immediately took off. There’s certainly a lesson to be learned here, but larger publishers are less able to take chances because their books are filtered through editorial committees. Indie publishers are more nimble.
At NorLightsPress, we agree with Joe Biel. Like his firm, NorLightsPress is more about passion than profit. We want our books to add value to the world, and we would do this for free if we had to. We do have to reject many books. But we do it with compassion, because we know rejection hurts.