Sometimes They DO Love Your Book

You’ve queried for months, maybe for years…

You’ve had full requests, partial requests…

You’ve received encouraging emails…

Yeah, right.

“I loved your work, but it’s not a good fit at this time.”

“I’ll consider your work if you revise this, this, and this.”

So you revise.

“No, thanks, you didn’t nail it for what I need.”

So you query some more.You were upbeat at first, and now you’re kind of pissed off. This whole “keep a good attitude” thing is getting on your nerves.Your beta readers love your work. One of them might even be a published author and really knows what he’s talking about. Why on earth isn’t anybody picking up your book? Maybe you’re on submission. Maybe you’re just looking for an agent. Maybe you’re trying small publishers. Whatever you’re doing, nothing is happening except rejection.

What I Learned This Weekend

I was talking to someone in the publishing industry this weekend – someone who has to reject manuscripts on a regular basis, and although I know the publishing industry is subjective, I didn’t realize it from this angle. Sometimes they LOVE YOUR BOOK. But sometimes they see it will take too much work to fix a certain aspect of the story for the crazy publishing timeline they are smashed into, or sometimes it’s too similar to something else out there, or sometimes they just accepted something similar, or sometimes they know it’s a story that simply will not sell in the market for next year, or sometimes…

You get the idea.

SUBJECTIVE does not concern only the likability or quality of your manuscript. Subjective means timing. Subjective means about a billion other factors. And guess what? Most agents and publishers and editors do not have time to handhold authors and tell them that although their book was freaking awesome, they can’t take it because of this and this and this and this. And it’s not only a matter of time – it’s a matter of business. They send out a form letter and all YOU see is, “NO.”

My point here today is that every no does not always mean your book sucks. It’s like trying to read someone’s mind – impossible. You don’t know the factors that went into that “No.” Publishing is a business. When you start to see things from this perspective more and more things fall into place, including your own writing.

Posted by Michelle D. Argyle


That's why this can be such a frustrating business. Someone can write something amazing and still not be able to find a home for it.

Anne Gallagher

It's torture, plain and simple. I'm sure editors and agents alike are also sad about this as well. But hey, it's a business. And even though some of us dream of the Big 6 every night, there are other avenues now that will, hopefully, bring those AMAZING books to light.

In my head I know everything you said is true, but the nos can still be crushing.

Great post, Michelle. Virtually every writer will face piles of rejections. That's depressing, but I think confident, developed writers with really solid personal gate-keepers can take a lot of heart knowing that there are so many reasons for rejection that every No! need not cause panic.I know one now-successful author who happened to get the insight on why his book was't accepted at one particular house: he had nearly the same name as an author who was just accepted and they knew it would create internal nightmares trying to manage their products. When I was applying for grad schools, I was rejected by my dream school with my dream professor in my dream city simply because his other students were taking too long on their deadlines and not finishing up so he couldn't take me on as a new student. I've heard stories of similar things in the publishing industry. As authors, we have the good fortune of not having to think about the practical minutiae of selling, positioning, and managing our name and our product.Unfortunately, when we take the lump, we rarely know why so it still hurts.

So frustrating, but that's life. The almighty dollar is the biggest factor in anything. I signed up for your newsletter.

Michelle Davidson Argyle

Lois: Yep, it happens ALL THE TIME, unfortunately. This is why publishing shouldn't be validation.Anne: It is torture! It's torture to know there is so much you don't have control over. There are other avenues, though, like you say, and it's lovely to have them open!Patti: Awww, I know. There are so many crushing things in this business, from rejections to negative reviews. Just part of it all, and our attitude does mean a lot when we get into this.Nevets: Yes! You're right about confident, developed writers. New writers often have a long way to go, and this can be really depressing to them. And wow about that successful author. See, it's things like that that make this insane. I wonder why they just couldn't ask him to use a pen name. Who knows. So political!Mary: Yeah, it's life, and business. We just have to write a good story and see what happens from there, or go down different paths.

Thanks for the reminder. I'm about to jump into the query process (probably in February), so I should probably bookmark this post!

Thanks for this reminder, Michelle. Nevets' story is a good example of the randomness of rejection, too. But it's damned hard to take.Last night I happened to catch a bit of the 1950s film "Last Time I saw Paris"–based on Fitzgerald's "Babylon Revisited." The protagonist, played by Van Johnson, becomes a hopeless alcoholic and ends up killing Elizabeth Taylor–all because of the endless rejections he's getting for his novels. And publishing was way easier to break into in those days…

I realize they have all sorts of crazy deadlines and behind the scenes issues in the publishing industry, but I still wish they could send you more than just the NO. Because when I just get the NO, I don't know what to do next. If I'm being rejected because my book has serious problems then I should stop querying and consider making some serious revisions. If I'm being rejected because it's not a good fit or they just published something similar, etc.then you I continue querying. Those are two drastically different courses of action. I guess critique partners, etc. are helpful as to whether a book might have serious problems, but frequently you're left in the cold. I understand if there's a problem. But when I don't know the nature of the problem, I'm frustrated because I don't know how best to address it.

They really can't give you anything more than a "no" because of the subjectivity. They may think it needs revision, when another publisher/agent may not. It's your manuscript, not someone else's. You can't rely on agents and publishers to tell you what to do next because they may instruct you to change things in the wrong direction. Believe me, it happens. Some authors sign with agents who revise the hell out of novels, then wonder why they can't get them sold. Hmm…maybe it didn't need as much revision as they thought.See, subjective. You want to polish your craft to the point where you know which edits and revisions to accept and which to reject. Not all suggestions from professionals are correct or appropriate for your vision.C.S. Lewis' editor wanted to take out Father Christmas from 'The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe' (so did his writing buddy Tolkien). School age children were polled some number of years back on their favorite part of the book and Father Christmas won by a landslide. Good thing Lewis listened to himself.

You touched on the randomness of the submission process, but let me add this: Nearly every successful author will tell you to submit often, repeatedly, and keep writing new material for the next submission.With each submission and each new piece, you increase your chances of being chosen in that semi-random drawing that is publication.In some ways, it is about quantity. – Eric

That's interesting. I haven't started querying yet (I'm already dreading it, I should be starting soon), but I'm already trying to brace myself for disappointment.

Well, yes I suppose I have some issues with the self-confidence thing. And the criteria for who gets published and who doesn't seem so random. I would still like to know the reason why any particular agent/publisher went with the NO. In the meantime, I keep plugging.

Michelle Davidson Argyle

Mariah: Oh, good luck with querying! Anne: It's very hard to take, yes. Like he said on FB, it's like getting a black eye from a pillow. That film sounds really interesting! I should check it out.Mariel: Yeah, I can see where you're coming from, but I agree with Breanne (welcometotheasylum) down below about publishers having such a subjective vision honed into what they need, not what the writer needs. I think we might all be worse off if we knew the exact reasons why we were rejected. This is why I have issues with publishing being a writer's validation – because relying on agents and publishers to tell us where we are isn't how I feel it should work. Breanne: That's really interesting about the Father Christmas thing! I'm glad he listened to himself on that one. 🙂Eric: Hmm, I think networking and increasing your chances with research and submitting to the right places gives you a better chance than anything else (besides writing the best you can write, and that includes a lot of time and work, of course). I don't think for one moment that publication is a semi-random drawing. Tiana: Aww, don't dread it! There's a lot to learn about the publishing industry by getting yourself out there. Things will be disappointing…I'm still facing that all the time, but I do think getting to the point where you know you're ready to query is very, very important step. Go into it with confidence!

haha That's funny Breanne. Ever since I was a kid I've thought, though in varying vocabulary, "What the crap is with Father Christmas in this boo? How cheesy!"

Michelle Davidson Argyle

Mariel & Eric: I do think it FEELS random, but it's far from random. Business dealings aren't usually random. I think the most important step is to get to a point in your writing where you know it's ready. And yeah, I need to do a post about knowing when your work is ready, but it's hard to do a post like that because it's such a personal journey. I'm sure mine isn't like anyone else's.

Ya see, I knew my book was brilliant!

I just got three more form rejections today. I haven't been able to figure it out. I always get a few partial requests, and this one is HIGH CONCEPT and the best I've ever written. But the problem just hit me. I mention in all my queries that I'm collaborating on a nonfic book with a famous (and agented) author. If our book is taken up by the famous author's agent, I'm going to be sort of half-agented and all sorts of contractual problems might ensue. Maybe I'd better stop querying on the novel until the nonfic proposal goes to agent #1. I don't have to jump off that bridge!

When I was younger I was also crushed by the "No's"…….to the point where I didn't even try to submit my work to a publisher. But I never stopped writing.Now I am older…..And I realized I needed to ask myself the question, What is it about the writing process that is important to me?The answer for me is, "It is important to write"……and I never did stop writing.The answer for me is It is also important to be read…….and so I became my own publisher.And my three books to date are enjoying great, albeit local, sales.I am happy with the path I am following……..and since a great percentage of books that are published by a publishing company do not sell even one copy……I know I am way up on the game.Whatever happens and whatever choices you make…..keep writing. Writers write, right?Audrey … Elliot Lake, Canada.

Michelle Davidson Argyle

Charlie: Exactly!Anne: That's an interesting conundrum! Do you think you could just not mention the nonfic book? Usually contracts are open to negotiations, and I'm sure that's something that could be worked out.Audrey: That's a great story! I think it's wonderful that you went your own direction, and it's even better that you're very happy with it! It's important to validate ourselves, and some writers' work just isn't cut out for what traditional publishing wants.

YES! It seems like half of my recent rejections are, "I loved it, but… "It is so frustrating, but also a little encouraging. At least I know it doesn't totally suck!

When I was collecting, "We enjoyed your story, but it does not meet our needs at this time," mimeographs from Ellery Queen and Alfred Hitchock (the magazines, not the erstwhile individuals), I thought it was the worst. I wanted to badly to understand the reasons for their rejection.Then, when I started making academic presentations and submissions of scholarly work and was getting the biting and painfully detailed explanations from panels of three peers as to why my work was being rejected…I longed for the old, plain slips again. Sometimes, I decided, more information is not always helpful. Sometimes it's just confusing and painful.

That is so true! Sigh…

What an interesting post. I would not have guessed that "No" might mean "Yes, but…"

Michelle Davidson Argyle

Natalie: Most likely not! I'm glad that most of the agents at least send form rejections. I've heard some never send anything at all, though, and that's really frustrating because it's like this eternal unresolved thing, haha. Good luck! You'll land something eventually. 🙂Nevets: Excellent point, yes! There are certain things I'm better off not knowing, especially in spades.Misha: Yep!Alicia: Yeah, the politics of publishing. This is just a tiny portion. 🙂

Domey Malasarn

These days I think more about readers not agents, and the same thing sort of applies, doesn't it? A writer could give a blanket statement, like "I didn't like the book," but if you probe deeper, you can discover a million different reasons why they said that. Some you will care about, and some you probably won't.

Michelle Davidson Argyle

Davin: THAT is a very good point, and so true. There are things we're better of not knowing, and many of them we wouldn't care about anyway.


got the first newsletter today… NEAT! I'll have to ask you how to do it! ;-)Hope to win 1 or 2…Great job!Barb

Michelle Davidson Argyle

Barb: Oh, good luck in winning! I'll cross my fingers that the randomizer picks you!And I'm more than happy to help you out with a newsletter if you'd like to make one.

Martin Willoughby

This is just SO correct. I couldn't have put it better myself…even if I had thought of it.

Michelle Davidson Argyle

Martin: Thanks. 🙂

Leave a Reply