This is for all you writers out there:
— J.K. Rowling (@jk_rowling) March 25, 2016
The dreaded ‘rejection letter’ is the most enduring image budding writers have of publishers, with almost every writer being rejected at least once (everyone knows Harry Potter was rejected by nineteen publishers). Most publishers don’t tell you why they’ve rejected your work, so you’re left wondering, ‘Is my writing terrible?’ In the spirit of full disclosure, we thought we should tell you how we look at submissions, and the various things we think about when we go through them:
When you send us your submission, two of us – both seasoned readers who read across multiple genres and have different tastes – go through it carefully and try to answer the following:
- What genre is it? Is it a love story? Is it a crime thriller? Is it non-fiction? Or is it speculative fiction?
- How does your synopsis read? Does your plot hold promise, or is it a clichéd variation of something that has already been published?
- Do you have a writing style that is different from the generic?
- Are your sample chapters sexy enough to make us want to read more?
If we don’t like a particular submission, we write back to the author immediately (more on this below). If we do like it, however, we ask for a full manuscript, and forward it to our commissioning editors across fiction and non-fiction, who read it and ask:
- Is the plot well-developed? Did the submission make the editor fall in love with it?
- Does the submission make the editor want to continue reading? Does the editor want to know what happens to the characters?
- Is there a readership for the book?
Only if the commissioning editor is fully convinced in the manuscript’s future as a book will they take it on for publishing (note our use of ‘fully’). So far, we have already signed up some brilliant writers from their submissions. Read what they had to say about our process here and here. A sample: ‘I dashed off an email with a couple of stories and heard back within a few days asking for the manuscript. A fortnight later, an offer magically appeared in my inbox.’
Writers who’ve been rejected by us will note we try not to send out summary rejections. Our editors try to tell you why we could not publish a work – for reasons of language, writing style, plot or character development. Even if we may not have decided to publish a work, it can certainly find a home with a different publisher, someone who understands your work at a deeper level than we did. And yes, if we’ve taken more than our usual time in replying, it is usually because our inbox has filled up.
PSA: No publisher is impressed if you send them a five-page marketing plan along with a presentation, a three-page long resumé that says you know the world, or a hastily drafted email that tells us very little about your work. Remember, if you don’t make an effort for your submission, no one else will. For tips from our editors on how to make your submission stand out, click here.