Writers in the Storm

A blog about writing

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November 7, 2022

13 Reasons Why Your Submission Could Have Been Rejected

by Diana Stout, MFA, Ph.D.

rubber stamped "No Thanks"

When I received my first book rejection, I cried. (More on that rejection later.) Over the years, I've witnessed many writers who've cried, whined, or raged because of a rejection. Some even proclaimed they're going to quit writing. It's not an uncommon reaction to feel emotional when rejected.

But, take heart. All writers have been rejected at some point in their writing career. All of them. Even published writers get rejections.

The difference between a seasoned writer and a new writer is that the experienced writer knows a rejection doesn't signify the writing was bad. There are many reasons why a manuscript is rejected.

13 Possible Reasons for Rejection

Here are 13 different scenarios, all of which I've heard uttered by editors, publishers, agents, and producers at workshops, conferences, and through my own rejections.

  1. The writing wasn't good. Generally, this rejection indicates a submitted first or unpolished draft.
  2. They liked the story but couldn't get past the many punctuation or grammar errors on every page that become a distraction.
  3. Submission directions weren't followed.
  4. Standard manuscript formatting wasn't used.
  5. Last week, they'd purchased a story much like yours. (This happened to me twice and both times, they wished they had purchased mine instead!)
  6. They love the writing, like the story, but it doesn't fit their needs. While they can't tell you what they're really looking for, they'll know it when they see it.
  7. They love the writing, like the story, but it doesn't fit their audience.
  8. They love the writing, like the story, but they're not sure how they would market it. It just doesn't fit in their wheelhouse.
  9. Your story takes place in New Orleans. The editor hates anything to do with New Orleans.
  10. Your main character's name is Brad. She just divorced her husband of 10 years, whose name is Brad.
  11. The editor is simply having a bad day and is rejecting everything that crosses their desk that day.
  12. The editor had decided to reduce their mammoth query pile. If your project doesn't hook them in the first paragraph, it's rejected.
  13. The editor is looking for a spectacular potential out-of-the-box best-seller. Anything less than that gets rejected, no matter how good the writing.

As you can see, most of these rejections have nothing to do with your writing. It has more to do with the editors' needs or idiosyncrasies.

Only two of the rejections above—#1 & #2—are about the writing and it's because the manuscript wasn't polished. The next two rejections are about not following directions. So, only 4 of the 13 rejection reasons have anything to do with the writing or manuscript itself.

In late 1985, I submitted my first book and eight months later got a rejection with signatory initials that told me the editor had dictated the message. She was a big-name editor. It wasn't the typical mimeographed rejection so many used back then.

After thanking me for the submission, telling me the book didn't fit the requirements of their American Romance line, she said, "It is too melodramatic, based on trite misunderstandings among the characters, as well as contrived circumstances."

I cried. Three days later, upon re-examination, I realized she'd done me a favor. She'd told me exactly why she had rejected it. Also, I noticed she had said nothing about the setting. She liked the setting! Of course, her liking it was my contrivance, but it worked. I used the setting in another story, which Avalon Books later published.

As you submit, keep in mind that

  • rejections are a part of the writing business. It means you're succeeding by moving forward. It's surprising how many writers don't submit.
  • rejections aren't personal. It's always about business and about them. It's about their determination of your writing as a money-maker for them.
  • trying to find an agent, editor, producer, or publisher is like trying to find a marriage partner. Not everyone is a good fit.
  • rejections are subjective. Same with contests. Different editors or judges could mean different results.

Today's typical rejection procedure is that if you haven't heard from them by a stated X number of months, consider the work rejected.

Did your rejection come with a comment or two on what is wrong or on how to improve it? Celebrate it! Any comment means the editor liked something about your work and wanted you to know it.

Did your rejection come with a message of submit again or we look forward to hearing from you again? It means they like your voice and your style of writing and want you to submit again! It's now a matter of finessing a match of a project to their audience.

Do not, however, rewrite a rejected manuscript and resubmit it unless you're asked to do so specifically.

So, what should you do when you get a rejection?

Send the work out again—right away. If you've submitted it half a dozen times, however, and are still getting rejected, it might be time to re-read, rewrite or revise, and get some expert advice from an editor or writing coach.

Good luck on your submissions!

Every author has a rejection story. Please share yours in the comments!

* * * * * *

About Diana

Diana Stout, MFA, PhD

Dr. Diana Stout is a screenwriter, author, blogger, writing coach, and former university English professor of writing classes who loves helping writers. Her students have said, "She smiles when she talks about writing." An award-winning writer in multiple genres, she's been told that she's "a writer to watch." With her most recent publication of Buried Hearts: A Laurel Ridge Novella (#4), she was told by Wild Women Reviews that " the characters—all of them—jump right off the pages. They are so real, so well portrayed. You make it look easy."

Find Dr. Stout at https://sharpenedpencilsproductions.com or on Amazon.

Top Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

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21 comments on “13 Reasons Why Your Submission Could Have Been Rejected”

  1. Thanks for this, Diana! Rejection is a key part of the journey I took to become an indie. I got to know an agent and she explained how hard her job was emotionally. So many of them rejections she sent out had nothing to do with the author or the story, it blew me away. Now that I do indie publishing, I have to write rejections. At first, I wanted to send out more helpful rejection letters, but quickly learned why a form letter is the only sane way to go. Harsh, but less crazy making for all involved.

    1. Everything you said, Lisa!! Being an evaluator of someone else's writing is mentally hard work. Thanks for visiting and taking the time to share your experiences.

  2. “We did review your proposal, and for some reason we don’t feel we can represent it. Some of them come close, and yours may well be one of those, but we do have our reasons for declining.”

    1. So tough to hear, isn't it, Terry? Knowing you were close. I was close for a decade before I finally sold my first book. Thanks for sharing your experience and for commenting.

  3. You are so right. Rejection doesn't necessarily have anything to do with the quality of your writing or your story. I was tearfully frustrated by rejections of my first submission, a children's story. Then I took a class taught by a children's author. She pointed out that I had one child accuse another child of being a murderer (of a glass horse). I changed that ONE word and re-submitted the story. It was accepted! And I received fan letters. I am so grateful for that early lesson. After that I was disappointed by rejections but not as emotionally invested.

    1. You've named the KEY trait that writers need when submitting. To let go of the emotional attachment to our work. That rejection isn't personal.

      How fortunate that you received enough detailed information that you could make a change that created a positive difference!

      Thanks for sharing and commenting. Happy Writing!

  4. Great list--some things we don't think about. You're right that a rejection may not be personal--but it sure feels that way, doesn't it 🙂

  5. I was rejected a while back because they had just purchased a similar MS. Worked out because that publishing house is closing.

    I wrote something else, submitted, and it was just published elsewhere.

    I have plans for writing more.

    Never give up.

  6. I received a rejection from a publishing house that I could tell was done with no review of the story itself. This was back in the days when we submitted a paper copy of the manuscript and supplied a return envelope. The manuscript had a received date stamp just one day before the stamp cancellation. The only personalization was a circle around the word "outlaw" in the title.

    1. Wow, that's quite a story, Linda. So sorry that it happened like that. I bet you never darkened their door again, or at least that one particular person's door. Thanks for sharing your experience.

  7. Many, many years ago I wrote what was then called an "experimental novel." An agent accepted it and it went unsold for a year. At the end of the year the agent gave me feedback: Editors loved the story and the writing, but it always got killed in marketing. I put the manuscript in a drawer and there it sits. After another career, I retired and started writing popular fiction. This experience was more successful. But I often wonder if I shouldn't dig out that old manuscript (typewritten), scan it to digitize it and send it around again.

    1. I would love to know what marketing in particular killed it, wouldn't you?

      Pulling the manuscript out of the drawer. I say YES! I've pulled a number of my projects out of the drawers and am rewriting, revitalizing, modernizing, and utilizing all the craft techniques I didn't know back then. As a result, the projects are better than I could have even imagined back then.

      Good luck! Thanks for visiting and sharing, Pam.

  8. One agent rejected my story because it was set in a "foreign" location. Hmmm? Hawaii is "foreign"? Later, it became my first published book. An editor at a large publisher wanted to buy my story, but she was retiring. Despite her praise of the project, none of the other editors wanted to acquire it. Tells you how subjective and personal editors'/agents' tastes can be.

    1. Subjective is right! It's amazing how subject our submissions become. Same with contests. With different judges, contests would have different results!

      Thanks for sharing!

  9. I've received many rejections over the years but I find the most difficult ones are the ones that don't respond. I'd rather hear what they didn't like, or why, or even a 'no thank you not at this time' than waiting and not knowing if they even reviewed it - especially after all the time, tears, and energy that goes into each submission.

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