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  An Editor's View: Why Manuscripts Are Rejected
By Sharon Good

Submitting manuscripts to publishers is a courageous act. It can also be a frustrating and perplexing one. When you've spent months or years of your life writing a book that you take great pride in, it's hard to understand why editors don't see the value in it that you, your colleagues, and friends do.

Let me share then some of the insights I've gained as a publisher-editor, so you might take your rejections a little less personally and target your submissions more successfully.

Inappropriate subject matter for that publisher
If a publisher does not publish in your genre, you're barking up the wrong tree. Don't submit your romance novel to a publisher of nonfiction, or your self-help book to a publisher of textbooks. It's a waste of the editor's time ... and yours.

Carefully read the listings in Writer's Market. Browse the bookstore for books similar to yours and the publishers that produce them. Then call and get the name of the editor most appropriate for your book.

Manuscript sent without a query or agent
Editors are busy people who work in crowded offices. Be respectful of their time and courteous enough to send a query or proposal first (after verifying that they handle your subject), rather than forcing them to wade through stacks of paper.

Further, many editors, particularly those in larger publishing houses, rely on agents to screen material for them and make appropriate submissions. Submissions that arrive "unagented" are almost always returned unread. Others usually end up at the bottom of the "slush pile" and wait several months to be read—if they're read at all.

Weak book proposal
Writing a proposal can be as hard as writing the book itself. You must make a good case for why your book should be published. Don't take it for granted that the editor already knows the market and competition for your book. Do the research. Consult one or more of the available books that provide guidance and models for writing proposals. Here are two in particular that are worth consulting:

Write the Perfect Book Proposal: 10 Proposals that Sold and Why
By Jeff Herman and Deborah M. Adams

Nonfiction Book Proposals Anybody Can Write By Elizabeth Lyon

Good topic, poor writing
Even if you've chosen a marketable topic, if your proposal or manuscript needs to be substantially rewritten, it's generally not worth an editor's time and effort. Work on your writing skills or hire a ghostwriter. Get feedback and work with a freelance editor to whip your manuscript in shape before you submit it. A poorly written piece rarely gets a second chance.

Saturated market
While it's true that a hot topic will spawn a deluge of books, many publishers, particularly small ones, are looking for books that are unique and will have staying power. If you have an idea for a book in a popular category, be sure your book offers a fresh approach.

Market too small
While it's good to target a specific niche, if the niche is too small, it's not worth a major publisher's time or money. The chances of making a profit are too slim. If you can't broaden the scope of your book, seek out a small press that caters to that niche or a regional audience, or consider self-publishing.

Topic or approach too personal
I can't tell you how many times I've been approached by someone who knows someone with a "really interesting life." While that may be true, interesting lives don't sell books unless they have a hook on which to hang the publisher's marketing and publicity efforts.

Book not to an editor's taste
Unfortunately, there's not much you can do about this, but that doesn't mean your book is undeserving of publication. If you feel it is well-written and marketable, keep sending it out until you find the right match. Literary history is full of stories of authors who submitted their proposals and manuscripts dozens of times before they hit.

Too much advertising and marketing required
In the past, large publishers produced numerous titles, depending on their bestsellers to"carry" their other, more "moderate" sellers. While that's still true to some degree, large publishers today are cutting their lists down while looking for books with a strong market and promotable authors. (Ditto for many of the small presses.) What does that mean for you? That you should expect to contribute to the marketing effort. Further, you should make your willingness to help—and your promotional ideas—known in your proposal.

I hope you'll use these observations to your advantage and find yourself signing a publishing contract in the near future!

Copyright 2001 Sharon Good

WriteDirections faculty member Sharon Good is a writer-editor and co-owner of Excalibur Publishing Inc., a small press in New York City, as well as a publishing consultant and personal coach for writers. She can be contacted at sharon@goodlifecoaching.com.

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