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The sting of rejection

Why has my manuscript been rejected?

‘Those bastards at the publishing house have rejected my manuscript! What do they know? My story is GOLD, pure gold! I have worked on this for more than a year! HOW VERY DARE THEY!!!!’

You may well have these thoughts or similar when the manuscript you have sweated over, cajoled, attacked, prayed over and finally polished has been rejected by a publishing company. I know I have! But believe it or not receiving a rejection doesn’t always mean your manuscript is bad, so bad that it is headed straight for the bin, closely followed by two empty bottles of wine and the wrappers from a block of chocolate. There are many other elements by which a manuscript is assessed.

Although sometimes a manuscript is rejected because the writing standard is poor, that is only one of the factors under consideration. An editor will also look at whether a manuscript has a distinctive tone of voice, a spark, an edge, something that sets it apart from others they have read. They might consider the information that is being presented…is it clear, factual and, above all, interesting? If the topic in question is mundane, is it written about in an interesting way? The topic of a manuscript need not be sensational to capture a reader’s interest (i.e. someone dying or being afflicted with a disease or overcoming some type of trauma), more often than not it is the manner in which a story is told that is captivating.

Has this type of story been told before? Is there currently 82 other books out there on the same topic? (Or ones that publishers know about coming out in the next two months from other publishing houses? Not that you would be expected to know this…just saying that sometimes there are things already in motion that you just don’t have information about…and sometimes even publishers supposedly are caught out by this.)

And then there is the marketing side of a manuscript. How broad an audience would this manuscript appeal to? Is it targeted at women only? Men only? Is it a story that might sell well in independent bookshops, which might order two or three copies but not in Big W or Kmart, which can order up to 1200 copies at a time? Do you as the author have a large network of people who are guaranteed to buy your book or have the prospect of holding lots of talks and events where your book could be sold? Are there places other than a bookshop that your book could be on sale?

Essentially a manuscript is assessed not only on its writing merit but on its ability to pay back the costs associated with publishing and marketing it. Good editing, proofreading, typesetting and cover design are vital for a book to hold its own in the current marketplace and these don’t come for free. Then there are the printing costs, which can be astonishingly eye watering at lower volumes (say anything under 2000 copies) plus the cost of advertising and promotion. Given that the average book of a new or relatively new author sells roughly between 1500 and 2000 copies, the profit margins can be very low, both for author and the publisher.

So sometimes, and I would say in our case, most times, manuscripts are rejected not because they are badly written but because they don’t fulfil all of the above criteria. Publishing is basically a business, and if a book doesn’t cover its costs this decreases the overall profitability of the business. And that means no one gets paid! Yes there are books that do more than cover their costs and we kiss those books everyday!!!! They are the ones who help us take chances on other books we love but which may fall a bit short in the commercial prospect department. However, if we took this attitude with every book we would be out on the street pretty soon.

I would encourage all authors out there to keep the above points in mind and just keep trying… and if you do get rejected remember it is most likely, and almost certainly, not because your manuscript is bad.

Samantha Miles

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