Why Good Writing Fails to Get Published

Rejection from publishers is something that virtually every writer will experience in his career at some point. In fact, some professional writers acquire so many rejection letters that they probably could paper their walls with them. As a beginning writer, it’s difficult not to get discouraged by these personally hurtful little pieces of mail, but rest assured: Rejection letters often have no bearing on the quality of your writing.

The reality of publishing is that a book (or any other text) gets published when it is a good fit for the publisher. At the most basic level, this means you have to submit to publishers that produce your manuscript’s genre. Don’t submit a science fiction novel to a romance publisher, for example, no matter how confident you are you’ve written the greatest thing since Star Wars.

Beyond submitting within the right genre, you have to explore what the publisher is producing at the current time. The manuscripts a publisher receives vary over given periods. A publisher who publishes biographies, for instance, might get 100 biographies one year and 1,000 the next. If the publisher has an overflow of a certain type of work, it can be much more picky about what manuscripts it selects to meet the publishing goals within that genre. Your odds of having your manuscript selected go down as a result. Publishers may even announce that they are no longer accepting submissions within the genre that has the overflow.

The simple solution to this issue is to do a bit of research prior to submitting your proposal package to the publisher. Look on their website or use resources such as Writer’s Market to determine the types of titles and plots the publisher has put out recently. Then analyze whether your manuscript fits one or more of the publisher’s immediate production needs. You need to be able to show that your manuscript fits what the publisher is doing and thus prove marketability, but you also need to be able to show how your manuscript has fresh ideas compared to previous publications.

Some publishers reject great writing not because of improper publisher/genre/manuscript matching, but because they quit working when they write the last chapter of the text. They construct a so-so query letter that doesn’t catch the editor’s eye, has basic grammar or spelling errors and that doesn’t truly summarize the plot or the author’s experience. No query letter can be completely cookie cutter because ideally you should customize each query letter to the publisher to which it is sent, but every query letter needs to have an excellent hook, flawless presentation and prove your competence. As you try to promote your work, don’t make the mistake of judging the manuscript on the editor’s behalf within the query–let the editor decide for himself whether you’ve got a text that could propel you to fame.

Great writing sometimes doesn’t get published because, quite simply, writers don’t take a chance on themselves. For whatever reason, they don’t think what they’ve written will make the cut, or they are afraid of the possible rejection editors can give. Subsequently, they submit nothing and have their worst fear realized–they never get to see what they write in print. Meanwhile, less worthy texts find places on bookstore shelves.

Publication also can evade amazing writers because the writing isn’t right for the time. For example, stories with vampire themes have been wildly successful over the past decade or so (notably, the Twilight saga). Had these books been written in the 1600s, the period where witches, vampires, werewolves and the like were highly ostracized in the United States, they might have had no hope of publication. In the same way, people who write in the style of Charles Dickens might be labeled as too archaic and complex for modern readers, even though Dickens’ work is considered classic.

Finding solutions to these issues isn’t always easy, but you can do your best to send your manuscript to the publisher most likely to need it. You can customize and perfect your queries. You can get feedback on the manuscript to build your confidence before you submit it. And you can be mindful of the market, researching what sells and what doesn’t. All you have to do is start.


How to Write a Killer Query Letter

If you want to break into the writing business, your job isn’t over when you finish your final draft. You have to keep going and write a killer query letter. This document essentially introduces your work to an editor, so the better your query letter is, the more likely it is that the editor will take a gander at the manuscript you’ve sent.

Your first job with the query letter is to make sure you’ve listed the contact information for the editor/publishing house. Always address the letter to a specific person rather than using “To Whom It May Concern” or “Editor” unless you are specifically instructed to do so in the submission guidelines. If you don’t know to whom you should address the letter, email or call the publishing house and ask. Next, include your contact information–you want the editor to be able to contact you quickly and easily if they get interested in your work. Also include subject and date lines so the editor knows right away what the purpose of the letter is and how long ago you wrote it.

The first paragraph of your query letter introduces your manuscript. It includes a “hook” or engaging line that catches the editor’s attention. Don’t shortchange the time you spend writing the hook–if you can’t catch the editor’s eye here in the first few lines, he might not keep reading. Be creative and to the point.

The second paragraph goes into a little more detail about the manuscript, summarizing some of the main plot points (think dust jacket here). Include a specific word count. Explain to the editor how the manuscript fits his publication needs and tell why it is different from the competition. This shows you’ve done some basic research into the publishing house and have an idea of why your work could sell compared to other manuscripts in the same genre.

The third paragraph of a query letter details some of your publication experience, if you have it. This gives you some credibility, which helps the editor decide whether you’re prepared for the publication process and whether the public would accept or believe what you wrote. If you don’t have any publication credits, then focus on your education or other experience that has made you an expert in writing the manuscript. For example, if you want to write a book on anatomy, you might mention you are an M.D. or have taught anatomy for x years.

The last paragraph of your query letter brings attention to the enclosures you’re sending (i.e., the manuscript, your writing resume). At the end of the paragraph, invite the editor to contact you if he is interested in your work, and reference your contact information. End with a professional closing statement such as “Sincerely” or “Thanking you in advance.”

Once you print your letter, be sure to proofread it. The letter is the first experience an editor has with you, and he won’t take you as seriously if your first correspondence already contains errors. Have a friend or family member read it over, too–you might miss something, as people have a tendency to skim over document text.

After you know your letter is perfect, get your enclosures together, sign the letter, and get it all in the mail. Now all you have to do is wait for a response!