Not too long ago I received an email from a friend, a kindred spirit in Writing except she likes to write all the stuff I refuse to publish. There were no salutations or “How Are You?” or anything like that. It started out with a simple sentence: “I got rejected” .

My reaction was somewhere between sympathetic and stoic. Even on the fringe of the publishingĂ‚  industry where small publishers like BGP exist, annual rejection letters can easily outnumber good manuscripts 100-to-1.Ă‚  When we chatted about it via Instant Messenger, some of her frustrations came out as if by being a publisher I was somehow in cahoots with the publishing house that rejected her. The following is a rough transcript of my side of the conversation that I whipped up into a short essay meant to provide some insight into what rejection letters can mean.

With all sincerity, I feel your pain but I can’t bring myself to offer an apology about a rejection letter. If I did, it would be fake. Rejections are part of the game and half the time they have nothing to do with the quality of your manuscript or whether or not you have talent. This is especially true when it comes to the big publishing houses because they don’t accept unsolicited manuscripts anyway and generally the only way to get to them is through certain literary agencies they deal with. Even still, because these publishing houses often have dozens of editors across multiple imprints, if they even suspect that another editor within their conglomerate has a title in production similar to your manuscript you’re going to get rejected. And sometimes you might get rejected just because it’s Tuesday.

Aside from all the obvious advice about constantly striving to make sure your package (query letter, synopsis/sample chapters, and manuscript) is tight, you might want to focus your energies on landing a literary agent. The reputable agencies will only agree to represent you if they think they can sell the title to a publisher and if they’re really on their game they might be able to have several publishers bidding against each other to buy the rights to your book. They won’t get paid until the book is sold, usually for 15% commission.

The only thing that rejection letters mean is that someone doesn’t “get it” — whether the publisher doesn’t understand what you’ve got to sell or you don’t understand what the publisher needs — and it’s different in every scenario.

Hope that helps… Good luck on the quest.

— Max Nomad